What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s Nurse Practitioner Program?

Online nurse practitioner programs are a concentration within the the master of science in nursing (MSN) degree and offer the same educational quality as on-campus courses with greater convenience to students. Full-time nurses have the opportunity to complete their courses at times more suitable for their schedule, and nurses wanting to fast-track their careers have the option of enrolling in one of the many accelerated programs available. When choosing your online degree program, make sure to weigh all your options and look into each program’s offerings to find one that best suits your needs.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s in Nurse Practitioner

Family Nurse Practitioner Family nurse practitioner programs prepare nurses to act as primary care providers for families throughout their lifespans. Family nurse practitioner in a physician’s office, private practice or as a traveling nurse
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Neonatal nurse practitioner focus on the care needed by preterm and full-term infants up to the age of two can include the attendance of high-risk births and resuscitation efforts when necessary. Neonatal nurse practitioner in neonatal intensive care nurseries, usually in major medical centers
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Skills and knowldege to care for chronically ill and healthy infants, children and adolescents. Emphasis is often placed on prevention and well-child care. Pediatric nurse practitioner in a doctor’s office, hospital or clinic
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Prepare nurses to provide targeted advanced care to women of all ages. Programs focus on reproductive health, prenatal and postpartum care. Women’s health nurse practitioner in a hospital, community-based setting, healthcare centers and outpatient care facilities
Emergency Nurse Practitioner Builds on the foundation of family nurse practitioner and teaches nurses to apply those skills in an emergency setting. Emergency nurse practitioner in a critical access hospital, main emergency department, fast-track emergency department and urgent care facility

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Nurse Practitioner

Curriculum offerings and requirements for your MSN vary between schools, so it’s important to consider how different programs integrate in your daily life and whether they meet your professional goals. Some online programs limit coursework to online offerings while others will require some time on campus. Clinical hours may be necessary and some programs may allow you to complete these at your place of employment while others require them to be completed on-campus.

The curriculum required for your nurse practitioner MSN will vary depending on which focus you choose. Already having your BSN will also affect your coursework versus entering a program designed for RN or ASN students. Some courses common for most nurse practitioner MSN programs include:

Advanced Pharmacology Exploring pharmacology, pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics so nurse practitioners can manage prescription medications ethically and in a cost-effective way.
Advanced Physiology The study of physiology throughout all stages of life to teach students the contributing factors in chronic and acute illnesses.
Diagnostic Reasoning Addresses how to diagnose acute and chronic illness in patients and apply treatment options effectively.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree?

The time it takes to complete your online master’s degree depends on several factors, including the type of program you’re enrolled in, the required coursework and your lifestyle. Master’s programs generally range from 35 to 60 total semester credits (or 60 to 90 quarter credits), depending on the field of study and institution. This amount of credits result in roughly 12 to 20 courses, which the average student can complete in about two years, although if the pacing is slower, it could take three to four years.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Nurse Practitioner?

Most nurse practitioner programs require the completion of 60 credit hours, allowing full-time students to complete them in about three years. Part-time attendance can increase the time needed to fulfill the course requirements while accelerated programs can decrease completion time.

Other factors that affect the length of online coursework include enrollment in a cohort-based program, which requires students to work at a pace set by their group, versus a self-paced program. Having a BSN can also affect program completion times as the course requirements differ from students entering an RN or ASN-to-MSN bridge program. Finally, the online school you choose can have an impact on how quickly the program can be completed based on the differing course requirements between educational institutions.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Nurse Practitioner Prepares For

Family Nurse Practitioner Certification Graduation from an online MSN program with a family nurse practitioner concentration prepares you for certification through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) certification boards. Certification exams include pharmacology and physical assessments and allow nurse practitioners to care for patients throughout their lifespan.
Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Certification Online MSN programs with a focus in Adult-Gerontology offer the education you need to pass the exam offered through the ANCC and the AANP, certifying you to care for adolescents and young adults with a focus on health advocacy and preservation. The exam covers a range of issues, such as cardiovascular, psychiatric and gastrointestinal, and requires a master’s degree and RN license.
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification Online MSN graduates with a psychiatric nurse practitioner concentration have the knowledge needed to take the ANCC certification exam. Candidates should have an RN license and a master’s degree and will test on subjects surrounding the assessment and diagnosis of neurological functions along with standard anatomy and physiology knowledge.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Nurse Practitioner Degrees

When selecting an online program to obtain your MSN with a nurse practitioner concentration, make sure the schools you’re looking at are accredited. Accreditation signifies the coursework offered meets the standards necessary to ensure you learn the skills required to do your job effectively. Seeking a degree from an unaccredited university can jeopardize your job prospects and can limit your ability to seek certification or continue your education further. Any school you choose that offers a nurse practitioner program should have accreditation from at least one legitimate source, such as:

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Nurse Practitioner Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

The field of nursing, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts a 15 percent increase in demand through 2026, a rate that is much faster than average. For nurse practitioners, that number more than doubles, with a projected increase of 31 percent. Although having your bachelor’s degree in nursing offers significant job prospects, obtaining your MSN with a nurse practitioner focus gives you twice the opportunity.

Expected Salary

Another advantage of obtaining your MSN is the effect it can have on your salary. Average salaries for nurse practitioners of every specialty range from around $70,000 to more than $130,000 as shown by the chart below.

Nurse Practitioner $74,000-$117,000 $92,433
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner $79,000-$135,000 $100,893
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner $77,000-$120,000 $97,357
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner $69,000-$108,000 $86,733
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner $70,000-$106,000 $87,403
Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) $83,000-$122,000 $98,523

Source: PayScale.com

An MSN is required to adopt the title of nurse practitioner and the extra education can be justified when compared to the salaries of registered nurses in the same, or similar positions. Note the difference in average salaries is in the tens of thousands when comparing a nurse practitioner to registered nurses with a BSN or less.

General $92,433 $63,217
Psychiatric $100,893 $60,080
Neonatal $97,357 $61,281
Pediatric $86,733 $58,451
Womens Health $87,403 $63,217
Acute Care $98,523 $63,865

Source: PayScale.com

Career Opportunities

There are several career opportunities available to you with an MSN and a nurse practitioner concentration. Higher education gives you the negotiating power to raise your salary, opens the door to positions with greater authority and allows you to pursue promotions within your current organization.

Nurse Practitioner Nurse practitioners, or advanced practice registered nurses, offer medical care similar to registered nurses but with greater autonomy. Additional duties include prescribing medications, ordering medical tests and offering diagnoses for the patients they see. General nurse practitioners often collaborate with physicians but have the option of practicing independently. $103,880 per year 36%
Nurse Midwife Nurse midwives specialize in women’s health services, including reproductive care and birth assistance. Care for women’s partners can also be provided in the interest of improving reproductive health. $100,590 per year 21%
Nurse Anesthetist Nurse anesthetists are responsible for administering anesthesia and providing any associated care before and after the anesthetized procedure. They are also responsible for identifying any prescribed medications that could interfere with anesthesia and monitoring vital signs while a patient is unconscious. $165,120 per year 16%

Professional Organizations

Like most industries, nurse practitioners have a variety of professional organizations available to them. These organizations are good resources for keeping up-to-date on the latest industry news, networking with other professionals, gaining access to professional tools and obtaining required continuing education credits. As an MSN-holding nurse practitioner, some of the organizations available to you include:

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners: As the largest nurse practitioner organization, the AANP works to support its members and help them develop professionally. The organization offers invaluable resources and advocates for issues that effect nurse practitioners.

American Nurses Association: This organization is available to nurses of all types and focuses on the standards of nursing care along with improving nurse work environments. In general, the ANA is considered a nurse advocacy group.

Sigma Theta Tau: This international group offers nurse research grants, hosts research and education conferences, provides online classes for continuing education credits and offers programs for leadership and professional development. Membership is available to nurses who hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Nurse Practitioner Degree

One appealing factor of obtaining your MSN degree online is the financial savings online programs often provide. However, even with a lower cost to complete your degree, some students may still find themselves in need of financial aid. Just as with a traditional brick-and-mortar program, your first step in seeking financial assistance should be filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to take advantage of federally funded grants and loans. Private options are also available through various organizations, in the form of scholarships. Find out more about potential financial aid options below.



Scholarships Details
American Association of Nurse Practitioners Award: $1,000-$2,500

Deadline: March 15

Eligibility: Open to nursing students interested in pursuing their MSN or DNP degrees.

American Nurse Practitioner Foundation Award: $2,000

Deadline: August

Eligibility: Available to nurses working toward their MSN who are able to provide official sealed transcripts and can solicit a recommendation from a professor or mentor.

CVS Pharmacy Award: $2,500

Deadline: Varies but is regularly posted on the website

Eligibility: Must be a nursing student pursuing an MSN or DNP.

NURSE Corps Scholarship Program Award: Tuition, all eligible fees and a monthly allowance

Deadline: Varies but is regularly posted on the website

Eligibility: Any student enrolled in a nursing program who is willing to work for two years in a Health Professional Service Area (HPSA).

Nurse Practitioner Healthcare Foundation Award: $1,000-$3,500

Deadline: Varies depending on scholarship, applications posted on website in November

Eligibility: Nurse practitioner students seeking their MSN or DNP.