Nurse practitioners (NPs) play a crucial role in the U.S. health care system. They can perform many of the same functions as physicians, such as evaluating and treating patients and prescribing medication.
Professionals who are interested in pursuing advanced practice nursing careers should start by obtaining an education. Prospective students may wonder, what degree does a nurse practitioner need? Although the current minimum requirement for this position is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is likely to be required in the future.
In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) unanimously agreed to endorse the recommendation that the level of training for nurse practitioners should move from master’s to doctorate-level training. Since then, many Master of Science in Nursing degree programs have transitioned to Doctor of Nursing Practice degree programs.
An option for BSN-credentialed RNs is earning an online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. This program provides current nursing professionals with the opportunity to expand their knowledge base and pursue an advanced degree in nursing. BSN to DNP programs also give nurses the opportunity to skip earning an MSN. It can be helpful to learn more about what degree a nurse practitioner needs prior to pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner.
Types of Nursing Programs
The timeline for becoming an NP depends on the type of nursing program students enroll in. As such, aspiring NPs will need to consider this along with several other factors, like professional experience required, when choosing their educational path. Following is comparative information for those who are interested in pursuing either a Master of Science in Nursing degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.
Master of Science in Nursing Degree
Traditional MSN programs can normally be completed in two years, but programs may vary. Applicants will need a current registered nurse (RN) license and experience working in a health care setting, as the coursework is designed to build upon students’ existing skills.
Prior to pursuing an MSN degree, prospective students should first earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and pass the NCLEX-RN exam, offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The exam tests prospective RNs on a large breadth of nursing topics. Those who pass the exam are qualified to work as a registered nurse.
MSN students can choose from a number of specializations, including the following:
Adult-Gerontology: This specialization teaches students how to provide acute or primary care to adult (13+) patients. Those who decide to specialize in adult gerontology may become adult gerontology – primary care nurse practitioners (AGPCNPs) or adult gerontology – acute care nurse practitioners (AGACNPs). AGPCNPs provide primary care in outpatient settings, while AGACNPs provide acute/critical care in inpatient/emergency settings. These professionals provide care for the adult population. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that the top clinical focus areas for AGPCNPs are primary care, geriatrics, and oncology/hematology. The top clinical focus areas for AGACNPs are critical care, cardiovascular, and hospitalist.
Pediatrics: This specialization teaches students how to provide care to infants, children, and adolescents. Those interested in furthering their careers in pediatrics may pursue positions as pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs). While these professionals specialize in caring for younger populations, they also collaborate with their patients’ caregivers to provide optimal care.
Psychiatric Mental Health: This specialization teaches students how to work with patients facing mental health challenges. Nursing professionals who study psychiatric mental health may become psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs). They provide care for patients of all ages with mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and addiction. They can also prescribe medication to help their patients manage their mental health.
Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree
Individuals interested in what degree a nurse practitioner needs should learn more about the DNP. Although some DNP programs require a relevant master’s degree, others, such as the Regis College online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to DNP program, only require a BSN credential. All DNP programs require a current RN license and at least one year of relevant work experience. Completion of BSN to DNP coursework takes approximately four years, but programs may vary.
As with traditional MSN programs, many DNP programs offer specializations in primary care, as well as an acute care, pediatrics, and psychiatric mental health. However, professionals who graduate from a DNP program have a terminal degree as opposed to a master’s degree. A DNP is the highest level of education a nurse can achieve in their career.
Professionals with a DNP have the credentials to train new NPs, as well as to lead a team of nursing staff. Moreover, these professionals have achieved the highest level of clinical and scientific nursing knowledge. DNPs are the future thought leaders of the field.
The online BSN to DNP program at Regis College offers two additional study tracks:
Family Health: This specialization teaches students the skills they’ll need to work with patients of all ages.
Women’s Health: This specialization teaches students how to address women’s comprehensive care — as opposed to midwifery, which focuses on helping women during pregnancy and childbearing — no matter their stage in life.
Benefits of DNP
There are many benefits of a DNP for students pursuing careers in advanced nursing. In 2018, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties said that by 2025 a DNP should be the required degree for anyone who wants to pursue an advanced practice nursing career. This points the way to changes in the future as far as what degree a nurse practitioner needs.
DNP graduates will be well prepared to address key challenges in the nation’s health care system, including the following:
Several factors are causing demand for nurses to outpace nursing school enrollment. Insufficient faculty and resources have constrained enrollment at some nursing schools at the same time a growing cohort of nurses is nearing retirement, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).
Additionally, the aging U.S. population has increased the need for geriatric care. The COVID-19 pandemic has also strained the health care field and boosted demand for nurses.
Increased Use of Technology in Health Care
NPs should stay current on health information technology (HIT) to manage patient records. NPs who understand how to use HIT in conjunction with electronic health records (EHRs), such as patients’ medical histories, will find that they’re able to improve scheduling, increase patient safety, obtain faster lab results, and streamline record keeping.
Continued Need to Interpret Health Care Policy as It Evolves
NPs should remain up to date on health care policy changes, including changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance. They’ll also need to monitor the role the government plays in these changes, should steps be taken to move the nation toward a single-payer system.
Discover a Rewarding Career in Nursing
Licensed RNs who are interested in advancing in their careers will likely find that pursuing a doctoral degree comes with many benefits. After completing the program, graduates should not only have the clinical expertise they’ll need to work in an advanced practice nursing role, they also should be well positioned to take on leadership and administrative positions.
Discover how Regis College’s online BSN to DNP program can help RNs gain the knowledge and acumen to take their nursing careers to the highest level.