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There has been an impressive rise in the need for nurse practitioners. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that predicted to grow 31% from 2014 to 2024 This increased need for additional training by nurse practitioners have prompted many nursing schools to offer online nursing programs, including the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) as well as the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. The purpose of this guide is to equip aspiring nurse practitioners with detailed information to help them earn their online nursing degree.


A nurse practitioner is a sophisticated practice nurse with more responsibility than a staff or registered nurse. A nurse practitioner can generally assume tasks without oversight from a physician. Nurse practitioners can function in most medical settings, even though principally work in hospitals and doctor’s offices.

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Nurse practitioners are more of experts and a more sophisticated kind of registered nurse. Accordingly, all nurse practitioners are certified registered nurses, but it is not always the case that registered nurses are nurse practitioners as well.

Minimum Degree list_tickmarkAssociate degree in nursing (ADN) list_tickmarkMaster’s degree (MSN), although a doctorate degree (DNP) may soon be the new minimum degree.
Working Environment list_tickmarkHospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices and outpatient care centers list_tickmarkHospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices and outpatient care centers
Job Responsibilities
  • Interacting with patients to obtain medical history and symptoms
  • Administer medical treatment and medication with a physician’s supervision
  • Some work is completed online, while some work is completed on campus
  • Perform medical tests
  • Instruct patients how to improve and maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • Interacting with patients to obtain medical history and symptoms
  • Observe patients in order to diagnose medical issues
  • Administer medical treatment and medication in accordance with a physician’s instructions
  • Analyze patients’ medical information in order to identify proper treatment
  • Order and perform medical tests
  • Instruct patients how to improve and maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • Perform physical examinations
Specializations Virtually any specialization is available to registered nurses. However, they have relatively limited autonomy and work under the supervision of a physician. As with registered nurses, nurse practitioners have a wide range of specialties available. NPs have more responsibility and autonomy in that they can often make their own diagnoses and can offer treatment without physician oversight.
Licensing & Certification
  • Registered nursing license required
  • Certifications generally optional and a large number are offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center
  • Registered nursing license required
  • Certification in area of specialty usually required, depending on the state practicing in.
  • Organizations offering certifications include the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, among others.

There are many career options open to nurse practitioners because of their specialization in treating various types of patients. Some career options available to nurse practitioners includes neonatal, gerontology, oncology, pediatrics and much more.



How do students access lectures and classes?
Schools utilize an online system that allows the student to watch videos online, ask questions, and submit and receive assignments. Many online nurse practitioner programs have live lectures with real-time communication between the students and the lecturer, where the students have opportunities to ask their instructors questions and also discuss with other students. Recordings of lectures are made available to students that cannot attend the live classes to enable them to watch on their own schedule. Lastly, some online classes have in-person requirements such as clinicals and on-campus intensive sessions. The on-campus courses consist of the practical clinical simulation exercise.


What on-campus elements are included as part of online NP programs?
There is one principal on-campus requirement of online nurse practitioner programs- on-campus intensives (OCIs). On-campus intensives usually last several days and require in-person skill exercises where students are required to perform in front of faculty members in a simulated setting. The number of on-campus intensives depends on the particular online nurse practitioner program. On-campus intensives are neither tests nor exams, but another medium for faculty members to provide additional medical instruction to students.

How do distance-learners complete clinicals and hands-on learning?
In addition to the on-campus intensives, hands-on learning- through clinicals or workshops- are provided for students. These practical classes are organized by the program to provide the necessary training and experience required by students in a place and location suitable for the student. Students are allowed to suggest possible locations in some online programs. With these proposals, the school looks into the possibility of the students taking part in the clinicals from the viewpoint of logistics and academic quality.


Do online programs prepare students for certification exams?
After graduation, graduates are required to seek board certification in their individual areas of specialization. Accredited online nurse practitioner programs merely prepare students for certification and do not necessarily tutor to the certification. Students are required to study on their own for certification and should not rely solely on the educational training for certification in their area of expertise.

Are online programs approved?
Basically, all online nurse practitioner programs are accredited. However, students must research for the accreditation of their specific program’s accreditation before enrolling. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is the main body responsible for accrediting both online programs and on-campus nurse practitioner programs.

ONLINE DEGREE FOR NURSE PRACTITIONERS: Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice

A graduate degree is required to become a nurse practitioner. There are two main degrees available for aspiring nurse practitioners; the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Currently, the Master of Science in Nursing is the common path to becoming a nurse practitioner but times are changing rapidly, and the Doctor of Nursing Practice may soon become the new minimum degree required for nurse practitioners.


The Master of Science in Nursing opens up different career paths to nursing students in addition to becoming a nurse practitioner. For instance, students can use their Master of Science in nursing degree to become a certified nurse midwife, certified nurse specialist or a certified nurse anesthetist. The Master of Science in Nursing usually takes two years and 50 credit hours to complete, assuming the nurse already holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and attends school full-time. On the other hand, the Doctor of Nursing practice usually takes three to four years to complete.
Some of the courses found in a typical Master of Science in Nursing includes:

Graduate Epidemiology This course introduces the student to the foundation of diseases and how they affect the population in which they exist. This course examines past and current research on disease theories.
Clinical Diagnosing Across the Lifespan This course makes use of a hands-on approach and requires students to apply their classroom instruction and prior experience to diagnose patients, making sure they provide proper and complete medical care, yet take conscious steps that are both cultural and developmental to provide responsive and adequate medical care.
Leadership and Informatics This class teaches students the application of information systems and how they can be utilized to enhance leadership, medical policy, and patient care.
Acute Care Management Medical theories and clinical treatments for catering for patients suffering from protracted and short term acute pain and illness are taught in this course.


The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a safe option for nurses aspiring for a doctoral level degree in nursing to improve their nursing practice. With the possible shift towards Doctor of Nursing Practice as the minimum requirement for nurse practitioners, students who hold this degree need not worry about any other minimum educational requirements to practice. The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, unlike the MSN degree usually takes twice as long and includes a capstone project, which is not the case in MSN projects.

Many schools offer the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree online, just like the Master of Science in nursing degree. Online DNP Programs usually include a hands-on approach since clinical nursing is intrinsically a hands-on profession. With the on-campus intensives and clinical hour requirements embedded into the DNP curriculum, students are made to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to real-life situations.
Below is the typical curriculum of the online Doctor of Nursing Practice degree:

Advanced Pharmacology This course provides students with theories and instruction relating to how drugs interact with body organs and the disease each drug is designed to treat.
Research and Biostatistics     This course examines the quantitative and qualitative techniques used for the analysis of clinical data. This course also discusses research, data analysis methodologies.
Medical Ethics This course reviews the potential ethical dilemmas that may be encountered by nurses during their practice. Students will be involved in a debate to discuss what their moral principles should be in light of the ethical requirements of medical practitioners.
Advanced Evidence Based Nursing Practice This course gives students the opportunity to apply their research findings and their overall medical knowledge to provide medical care that is effective.
Health Policy In this course, students learn about the connection between medical science, public policy and laws, and how they affect the patients’ treatments and care.



Students are better positioned to seamlessly fit their schooling and non-academic lives since online nurse practitioner programs allow students to schedule time for their classes. Flexible scheduling of classes is a major benefit of getting an online degree. This allows students with more time for their personal business and their family.

Option to continue working full-time

Students can continue working part-time or full-time in current jobs since online nurse practitioner programs allow for flexible scheduling of time. This helps students to offset part of the cost of attending online courses.

Reduced costs

Students save money on commuting and living by not attending classes traditionally or other on-campus participation. With the online learning option, students are not required to move to the location of their schools or commute to every class as often as they would do in a traditional nurse practitioner program.

Working at a comfortable pace

Although many online nurse practitioner programs have strict schedules for each semester, with assignments and other course related tasks due at specific times, students can complete and submit assignments at their own convenience. There are various accelerated online programs available for those would like to complete their nurse practitioner degree without delay.



Virtually all online nurse practitioner programs will be accredited, but it is proper to always double-check before enrolling. Additionally, each state has specific rules concerning distance education instruction for nurses that wish to practice in their state. For instance, if a nurse wants to earn a degree through a California-based school but wants to work in New York, the nurse will have to confirm that the New York organization will recognize the online degree obtained from the California school. Most online schools will normally explain this further on their website.


The same opportunities with regards to specialization and concentration are not offered by all online nurse practitioner programs. Students should ensure they confirm that their preferred school of choice has the desired area of concentration a well as confirming that the course is available through distance learning.


Each school has specific requirements for new students. Some schools provide some form flexibility for students that don’t possess certain minimum degrees or students who haven’t taken certain classes. However, whatever the case, students may be required to complete the prerequisites for the course before moving on to the main curriculum classes.

Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice

At the moment, only a Master of Science in nursing degree is needed to become a nurse practitioner. Nevertheless, there is a strong move for a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree to become the minimum degree required. Students are advised to carefully weigh both options when choosing between either degree.

In-person requirements

In-person, hands-on clinical requirements are a common feature of all accredited online nurse practitioner programs. Many schools will consider the student’s geographic location and establish local sites to allow students complete their clinical requirements as conveniently as possible. However, students must endeavor to confirm this before enrolling.

Online learning format

Individual schools have their own take in providing instructions for their online programs. Off-campus learning options are ideal for students that need the maximum amount of flexibility possible. Other students with a less hectic schedule can opt for a hybrid program that offers a more traditional experience.

Application Requirements

Different online nurse practitioner course has different application requirements. While some programs require GRE, other programs make this requirement optional. In some cases, programs waive the GRE requirement altogether if the student’s GPA is at a certain level.


There is a wide variety of choices available to nurse practitioners if they decide to embark on a particular specialization. Some nurse practitioner who wishes to help a larger population choose to specialize in overlapping areas such as midwifery and family care. We have listed some common specializations available for nurse practitioners in either the Master of Science in nursing or the doctor in nursing practice degree below.


computer-itThis is a more comprehensive area of specialty. Family health nurse practitioners usually work with providing a wide variety of medical treatments and health care to individuals for a greater part of their life. The primary course work for family health nurse practitioners will cover topics in disease management, diagnosis, and preventive care.


teachingPediatric nurse practitioners work with children from infancy to adolescence to provide treatments for sicknesses and also administer preventative care. The primary focus of pediatrics is usually hands-on and classroom instruction. Pediatrics nurse practitioners can work in hospitals, walk-in clinics, and pediatricians’ offices.

Women’s Health

page1-img1The work of a women’s health nurse practitioner usually covers prenatal and postnatal care, and they care for female patients through most of their adult life. The focus of this specialty is specific health issues that are common to women.

Nurse Midwifery

whiteThe focus of these nurse practitioners is on obstetric and gynecological concerns of women during the childbearing process. Students opting for this specialization will learn about women’s health topics as well as go into detail concerning the health needs of women during pregnancy. Students that specializes in nurse midwifery can expect to work any medical setting where medical care is provided for pregnant women, such as clinics, hospitals, and doctor’s offices.