The Online Nurse Practitioner Curriculum

Nurse practitioner helping patient

The critical shortage of qualified physicians in the United States has led to an increased demand for nurse practitioners (NPs) to fill the gap in delivering quality health care. Registered nurses (RNs) must complete a master’s degree in nursing program to qualify as NPs.

Many colleges and universities offer an online nurse practitioner curriculum for those RNs who want to pursue their studies while working. A master’s degree program, typically a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), usually takes two to four years to complete. After earning an MSN, nursing students can also look into choosing nurse practitioner specialties and earning online post-master’s certificates.

Typical Online Nurse Practitioner Curriculum

A typical MSN online nurse practitioner curriculum may include core courses on the following subjects:

  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Advanced physical and clinical assessment
  • Advanced care management
  • Health promotion and health care delivery
  • Leadership and interprofessional collaboration
  • Health care finance and economics
  • Health policy
  • Statistics, biostatistics, and epidemiology in health care

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

After completing an MSN program as well as a post-master’s certificate, nurses may apply to sit for a certification exam that evaluates their knowledge of nursing theory and clinical techniques in their desired specialization. These exams are administered by one of several certification boards, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center, American Association of Nurse Practitioners, and National Certification Corporation. Most nursing subfields also have their own boards and exams; for example, the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board administers the Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN) exam.

Passing a certification exam allows NPs to apply for licensure in the state in which they wish to practice. NPs who are already certified in one specialized field may also choose to enroll in other certification programs to further expand their practice and provide a wider range of health care services.

Key Skills Development

At each stage of their careers, nurses develop new skills that prepare them to provide patients with a higher quality of care. Post-master’s certificate courses offer nurses the technical foundations needed for advanced practice by exposing them to an array of advanced competencies, including the following:

Advanced Health Assessment

Nurses are often responsible for evaluating incoming patients, determining the severity of their conditions. At the postgraduate level, student nurses learn to use health histories and advanced physical assessment techniques to diagnose patients. Upon completion of the program, certified NPs should understand how to collect and analyze in-depth patient data that other health care providers can use to inform their clinical decisions.

Advanced Clinical Pharmacology

Certified NPs are qualified to prescribe medications (although some states require physician oversight). To prepare them for this responsibility, an online nurse practitioner curriculum educates nurses about various drug interactions and side effects. Courses also cover a range of related pharmacological topics, such as pharmaceutical chemistry, biochemistry, and human toxicology.

Advanced Practice Management

NPs who intend to seek management positions must learn business skills that apply to clinical health care environments. Also, some states permit NPs to work independently. Mastering advanced management skills will serve these NPs well as they lead their own primary care practices and support staff members.

Advanced Clinical Practice

Every clinical specialization requires nurses to be proficient in a distinct set of skills. Post-master’s certificates offer concentrations that allow students to practice and refine these skills in hands-on clinical environments. Certified NPs demonstrate the necessary knowledge to perform complex medical treatments while delivering safe, quality care.

An online nurse practitioner curriculum not only provides students with the necessary clinical knowledge to perform their work, but may also provide the opportunity for them to develop other critical skills.


Strong verbal and written communication skills are essential to effectively convey important information to other health care professionals as well as patients and their families. Students are also exposed to the importance of listening.


NPs are often put in charge of other nurses and health care staff. This requires excellent leadership skills to ensure the efficient operation of a health care facility or practice.

Decision-Making and Problem-Solving

In the fast pace of many health care settings, NPs are often required to make decisions and solve problems that arise. Students can learn different ways to analyze situations and improve these critical skills.


Health care is often a team effort. Students can learn the importance of working with others and develop mechanisms to ensure healthy collaboration. This is vital for providing quality health care.

Time Management

The ability to schedule and prioritize time is highly important for NPs, who often work in busy, fast-paced environments. NPs also need to be adaptable and flexible, as situations and priorities can change at a moment’s notice.


In line with time management, students can develop their organizational skills. Sound organizational ability is invaluable. It can help ensure that tasks and projects run smoothly and take the pressure off health care staff.

Stress Management

The work of an NP can be extremely stressful. Students may learn techniques to deal with stress and remain calm under pressure. They can learn the importance of maintaining a good work-life balance and pursuing off-duty activities that help prevent the buildup of stress.

Nurse Practitioner Specializations

The online nurse practitioner curriculum in different post-MSN programs can provide nursing students with the opportunity to study different aspects of nursing. NPs can specialize in one of several categories that target different sectors of the patient population:

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)

This degree specialty offers RNs advanced courses in pharmacology, pathophysiology, nursing theory, and health assessment. Students may learn to manage the clinical assessment and health care of children and young adults ranging from birth to age 21. Apart from health issues, various biopsychosocial needs of patients are addressed. Specialized courses may include the primary care of pediatric patients.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

In this specialty, students can learn about the clinical management of family members throughout their life cycle, from infancy to old age. They may gain valuable knowledge of pediatric, adult, geriatric, and women’s primary health care.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

This specialty includes coursework in contemporary psychotherapies and advanced psychopharmacology, with the objective of preparing students to provide primary care for psychiatric and mental health patients. Students may learn about the diagnosis and clinical management of dementia, depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)

Students can learn to manage the primary care of women through all stages of life, addressing specific women’s health, gynecological, and reproductive concerns.

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP)

Preparing to provide primary care for adult-geriatric patients, NP graduates may learn to investigate the sociological, political, and economic factors that impact aging. Students in this specialty may also learn about the unique challenges facing older people regarding access to health care.

Job Outlook and Salary

NPs are in great demand and have many opportunities to secure jobs in hospitals, clinics, medical practices, schools, and colleges. In many states, NPs are permitted to work independently and can open their own private practices. In this case, an NP develops interpersonal relationships with physicians and medical specialists and refers patients to them when necessary. Some states do not allow NPs to work independently, and physicians must oversee their work.

Qualifying as an NP may enable you to increase your career prospects and develop a meaningful career with competitive compensation. Earning a post-master’s certificate may also offer nurses the ability to expand their scope of practice and qualify for higher-paying jobs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs earned a median annual salary of $73,300 as of May 2019, while NPs earned $115,800. Earning a post-master’s certificate may also enable nurses who previously earned an MSN in a nonclinical specialty, such as informatics or education, to reroute their careers to focus on advanced clinical practice.

A graduate of an NP degree program has the potential to enter a growing field. The BLS reports that the demand for NPs will increase by 26% from 2018 to 2028.

Learn More

The NP role is attractive to many practicing nurses because of the opportunities for specialization, independence, career advancement, and leadership. The post-master’s certificate program prepares students for their specialties and to sit for one of the six national board certification exams. Regis College offers five NP certificate specializations in its online post-master’s certificates. The online nurse practitioner curriculum allows for studying for the nursing career you want in a way that fits into the lifestyle you have.

Recommended Readings
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Online Training: Fulfilling Our Future Medical Needs
5 Areas of Study for the Master of Science in Nursing Student
The Unique Need for Women’s Health NPs

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Practitioner (NP) Certification
American College of Clinical Pharmacology, What Is Clinical Pharmacology?
Monster, Essential Skills for Today’s Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants 
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners 
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses