Nurse practitioners are quickly turning into the preferred healthcare professionals in the United States. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Americans make a total of 1.06 billion visits to nurse practitioners each year (A.A.N.P., 2021). With the number of licensed professionals standing at only more than 325,000 in the United States (A.A.N.P., 2021), the projected growth rate for nurse practitioners is higher than average, at 45% from 2019 to 2029.
A nurse practitioner is considered as someone who fills a more advanced role in the field of nursing. Unlike registered nurses (R.Ns.), nurse practitioners can be primary caregivers and have more autonomy to make clinical decisions for their patients. Suffice to say, pursuing this practice is quite a journey in itself. First, you need to complete your Master of Science Nursing (M.S.N.) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) to qualify for the nurse practitioner licensure exam. Next is you need to have advanced clinical experience as a registered nurse (R.N.) in preparation for the more comprehensive and specialized approach of nurse practitioners when it comes to health management and healthcare.
If you already have these two fundamental requirements and are interested in advancing your career to become a nurse practitioner but are not sure where to start, this article on the top online nurse practitioner degrees is for you. In this guide, we will walk you through the best online nurse practitioner programs, including the list of specializations, costs, admission requirements, and more to help you make informed decisions as you take the next step to advance your career.
Nurse practitioner programs can be taken completely online. While on-campus classes are still available, online degree programs are available to nurses who would like to have more flexibility and accessibility, especially if they are fully employed or live far from the university or academic institution they want to apply to. Furthermore, the number of required hours and credits vary according to the specialization you want to pursue.
Online nurse practitioner programs’ biggest advantage would be having the option to attend synchronous or asynchronous classes. While the majority of these programs are designed to accommodate the busy schedule of nurses, the freedom to choose between being a part-time and full-time student is definitely a great advantage.
According to a study, 61% of leaders in human resources believe that the quality of credentials earned online is the same as those earned by attending in-person classes. Moreover, 71% of HR leaders revealed that they have hired applicants who fully completed their degrees or credentials online. According to the hiring leaders involved in the study, the difference between the degrees or credentials completed online and on-campus are pretty much nonexistent. With online college education becoming more and more common, especially after the massive transition to distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more employers are recognizing the quality and value of online education.
Online degrees are recognized across the globe but the academic institution and, sometimes, the type of degree or program play a vital factor in securing employment. Most of the time, online degrees from accredited and reputable institutions can help you land a job in foreign countries. When it comes to working as a nurse practitioner abroad, however, other factors outside academic qualifications may be taken into consideration, such as domestic regulations on this particular profession.
The best online nurse practitioner degrees help prepare students to be advanced practice registered nurses or A.P.R.Ns. Nurses who plan to become nurse practitioners have a number of specialization options, such as family nurse practitioner (F.N.P.), neonatal nurse practitioner (N.N.P.), oncology nurse practitioner, women’s health nurse practitioner (W.H.N.P.), and psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner (P.M.H.N.P.), among others. With any of these specializations, nurse practitioners are certified to be responsible for the overall health care of their patients. In some cases, they also have the autonomy and authority to prescribe medications and manage the treatment of those in their care (Nursing License Map, 2020).
Like other nursing degrees, nurse practitioner programs can be taken online or traditionally. While both formats have similar qualifications, admission requirements, and subject areas depending on the specialization being studied, the differences lie in the teaching and learning approach, as well as the availability and accessibility of programs.
Online programs are much more convenient and recommended, especially in a time of a pandemic. There, however, are students who prefer the familiar environment of on-campus classes. This learning format is beneficial to students who thrive in personal interactions with their professors and classmates. One of the advantages of traditional college programs is it provides students with a more structured schedule, which works for students who feel more motivated by having a regular routine. Furthermore, students will also have access to facilities and equipment designed specifically for a program or course, something that online programs, except for hybrid programs, may not include.
Online learning, on the other hand, is best for those who want more flexibility in their schedule. Based on a survey of college trends taken before the pandemic, 47% of students chose online learning options due to existing commitments that would hinder them from attending regular classes in a traditional setting (BestColleges, 2019). Fast forward to 2021, COVID-19 has become the main reason why students prefer online or distance learning (60%). Flexibility and convenience, however, are still among the top motivators for prospective students and online program graduates (BestColleges, 2021).
Aside from flexibility, one of the biggest advantages online formats have over on-campus is the availability and accessibility of programs. For example, the university closest to where you live or work may not offer the degree or program you want to take. It is, however, offered by another university in a different city or state. In cases such as this, enrolling in an online program or degree will be more convenient.
The cost of college education is one of the biggest concerns for a lot of students. This not only plays a vital role in choosing a degree or program but also in choosing the academic institution. Typically, there are more affordable online master’s degree programs than their on-campus counterparts. While the cost of tuition fees varies significantly among private and public institutions, online programs or degrees can save you from other costs commonly associated with attending on-campus classes, such as travel, room and board, and using campus facilities.
Despite doubts some people have on the effectiveness of online learning, studies show that this format of education has increased its legitimacy over the years. Even before the pandemic, the number of universities with online curriculum has steadily increased, as well as the number of students taking online degree courses. Furthermore, a study also supports that the majority of employers (55%) do not see any difference in credentials earned online and through traditional learning formats.
Source: Online Education in 2019: A Synthesis of the Data
The cost of online nurse practitioner programs depends on a number of factors including the type of college or university, the specialization, and what educational level you are starting on. If you have a bachelor of science degree in nursing (B.S.N.), you will have to take a master’s degree that focuses on nurse practitioner programs, such as master’s of science program in nursing (M.S.N.). BSN to MSN degree costs $18,810 to $185,280 on average. And if you want to pursue a doctor of nursing practice degree (D.N.P.), the average cost can fall anywhere between $17,660 – $169,510 (Schlette, n.d.).
When it comes to choosing a nurse practitioner specialization, there are accredited universities and colleges that offer the top online nurse practitioner programs at a more affordable cost, such as Purdue University Global and South University Online, whose annual tuition are approximately $11,414 and $13,316 to $16,839, respectively (OnlineU, n.d.). Furthermore, there are institutions that offer student scholarships that may cover this program.
The value of an online program can be measured by its employment potential. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners have an average job outlook of 45%, which is faster than average. The growing demand for nurse practitioners has a correlation to the aging population of the Boomer generation. Because nurse practitioners possess advanced skills and knowledge in health management, a growing number of primary care centers believe that nurse practitioners are on par with primary care physicians when it comes to health care management.
In “Nurse practitioners as primary care providers with their own patient panels and organizational structures: A cross-sectional study,” published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, Poghosyan et al. state: “NPs can help meet the increasing demand for primary care by taking responsibilities as primary care providers, and organizations can assign NPs their own patient panels. Supporting NP independent practice within organizations promotes NP role as primary care providers. Policy and organizational change focused on promoting NP work environments so NPs practice as primary care providers can be an effective strategy to increase the primary care capacity” (Poghosyan et al., 2017, pp. 1-7).
Furthermore, employing nurse practitioners will be more cost-effective than employing primary care physicians.
Aside from its potentially high employment rate, nurse practitioners also receive competitive payment. Among the nurse professionals in the U.S., nurse practitioners are among the highest-paid with an annual mean wage of nearly $115,000 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Typically, a nurse practitioner program can be completed within two to three years, but longer for part-time students. The path to becoming a nurse practitioner, however, starts way before choosing a nurse practitioner specialization, completing that program, and earning a certification. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (A.A.N.P.), the main requirements are having a B.S.N. degree and being an actively licensed nurse. If you have a bachelor’s degree in other areas of medicine, you must first obtain a B.S.N. and become a licensed R.N. before you can enroll in a nurse practitioner program (American Association of Nurse Practitioners, 2020). There, however, are universities that offer accelerated programs for those who have an associate degree in nursing (A.D.N.) as long as they have an active RN license and have at least a year of clinical experience.
Students who plan to enroll in an online program must have an access to a good desktop computer or a laptop and a high-speed Internet connection. A good pair of headphones is also required, as well as a decent camera. The applications and other digital tools used for online classes and study materials will depend on what the university requires. Usually, this information is outlined on the university website or sent to students before classes start.
Nurse practitioner programs have a number of specializations that may require a focus on different areas of study. Below, however, are some of the core courses you may have to take as part of a comprehensive nurse practitioner program.
Pathophysiology. A course in pathophysiology helps students understand the impact of environmental and human behavior on health conditions, maintenance, and health restoration. This course also allows students to explore the different levels of pathogenesis (cellular, systemic, behavioral, etc.) to have a deeper understanding of how diseases develop and how they affect the human body.
Nursing and health policy. This course is all about the study of federal regulations and legislation on nursing practice and education. By taking this course, students will learn more about how they can contribute to creating policies that can improve the overall healthcare system.
Global and public health. This course delves into the study of a variety of factors that affect the health of a community or region and its general population. While this is not as comprehensive as a master’s degree in public health, this course hones crucial analytical skills as it involves the study of statistical data as well as conducting comprehensive research and applying its results in improving the public’s access to quality healthcare services.
|Online College/University||Type of Institution||Location||Annual Tuition|
|Great Basin College||Public||Elko, Nevada||$3,128|
|Brigham Young University-Idaho||Private||Rexburg, Idaho||$4,118|
|University of North Carolina at Pembroke||Public||Pembroke, North Carolina||$5,067|
|Clayton State University||Public||Morrow, Georgia||$5,079|
|Western Governors University||Private||Millcreek, Utah||$6,070|
|University of Wisconsin-Green Bay||Public||Green Bay, Wisconsin||$6,298|
|Arkansas State University||Public||Jonesboro, Arkansas||$6,540|
|Louisiana State University in Shreveport||Public||Shreveport, Louisiana||$7,070|
|Chadron State College||Public||Chadron, Nebraska||$7,384|
|Thomas Edison State University||Public||Trenton, New Jersey||$7,519|
Before deciding on what nurse practitioner program you want to pursue, you may want to take the following factors into consideration:
Online nurse practitioner programs are offered by different academic institutions, so it is important to verify if a particular university or college has the right accreditations. Currently, there are two main accreditors for nursing programs, namely the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. By going to the official website of these accreditors, you can check if an online nurse practitioner program offered by the university or college of your choice is accredited.
Another important factor to look into is the cost of the program you plan to take. Keep in mind that private and public institutions have a significant gap in tuition and others fees. The cost also varies whether you plan to enroll in an in-state or out-of-state college or university. If tuition and other fees are among your top consideration in selecting school, you may check the most affordable private and public online colleges that offer the degree you want to take.
Accessibility and your availability also matter in case the online program you have chosen requires on-campus visits. Some online course offerings are actually hybrid programs so it is best to verify this information and see if your location and schedule will not restrict you from on-campus activities.
Furthermore, it is important to note that not all universities and college divulge all the information about how much a nurse practitioner program can cost you. Some may charge you for certification review materials, signing up for the nurse practitioner licensure exam, health insurance, processing your credentials, and others.
A nurse practitioner is not only a promising profession in terms of career growth and salary, it also comes with a sense of fulfillment and freedom for those who have a passion for working independently or as part of a team in the field of healthcare. Because of their advanced skills and knowledge, nurse practitioners are trusted not only by their patients but also by other medical professionals when it comes to making the right decisions for the people they are taking care of. And with public health still being threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for nurse practitioners continues to grow, which makes it and other health-related programs sit among the best online degrees to date.