So You Want to Be a Nurse Practitioner? Choose the Right Program

Marie Napolitano, PhD, FNP; Tracy A. Klein, PhD, FNP


October 22, 2012

In This Article

State Board Regulations for NP Education

Program accreditation is a voluntary process for academic institutions. Programs in nursing may be accredited at the state, regional, or national level or all 3 levels. Each level of accreditation ensures that the NP program under consideration has met identified standards.

National accreditation. National accreditation in nursing is conducted by either the CCNE or The National League for Nursing Accreditation. National school accreditation is often required for the eventual licensure of graduates. Lack of national accreditation may also affect access to financial aid or the ability to use the degree title once it has been conferred. Accreditation can be used to evaluate whether programs meet nationally established standards of quality for a profession.[4]

Regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is voluntary for schools of nursing. Regional accreditation does not evaluate the nursing program and its curriculum specifically but instead focuses on the university or college as an institution. State universities and colleges are all regionally accredited. If a program is not regionally accredited and a student transfers to a regionally accredited program, credits may not transfer. A 2005 Government Accountability Office study found that 14% of postsecondary institutions will not accept transfer credit from programs that are solely nationally accredited.[5]

State accreditation. State accreditation (voluntary) or approval (often mandatory) of NP programs is generally conducted by the state Department of Education, Office of Degree Authorization, and/or Board of Nursing. Resources are provided at the end of this article to help prospective students check the status of an NP program's state accreditation. Not all Boards of Nursing review or evaluate NP programs, which means that complaints about a program must be directed to a regional, national, or school-based authority for resolution.


Degree requirements for licensure. Although the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) Consensus Model[5] recommends completion of an accredited graduate-level APRN program, many states have specific degree requirements for licensure. For example, some states require a graduate degree in nursing, whereas others accept a graduate degree in other fields. Some states will not accept a post-master's NP certificate if the original degree was not in nursing. As of this writing, most states recognize either a master's degree or a doctorate as entry into practice for the APRN to practice as an NP.

Licensing issues for students and faculty. If clinical experience will occur in the student's home state, separate from the school, how will the school accommodate regulatory requirements for faculty and students? Most programs require that NP students hold an RN license that is not encumbered (eg, restricted by conditions such as probation). Encumbrances to the RN license before or during a student's clinical rotations as an NP may affect the student's ability to complete his or her clinical practicum and may also affect the graduate's ability to obtain NP licensure and prescriptive authority.

Students attending an online or hybrid program where faculty and clinical practice are located in another state need to identify the licensing requirements for both the student and faculty or preceptors in any state where clinical participation or teaching occurs. The first source for this information should be the program itself. Students who are responsible for providing their own preceptors and site visitors in their home state may find that the process of selection and licensing requirements are quite variable. It is important to contact the state Board of Nursing in both the state of licensure for the APRN student as well as the state where any clinical experiences and schooling will occur for further information.

The APRN Consensus Model

The APRN Consensus Model and its implementation by educating, licensing, accrediting, and certifying stakeholders will significantly change the scope and standards for NPs of the future.[6] Prospective students considering an NP education will want to know that the degree, population focus, and role are congruent with this model to ensure future portability of licensing from state to state. See the links at the end of this article for further information about the model and its impact on the future NP role and population of practice.

A Good Fit

NP education is undergoing a great deal of change. For example, changes in program design and delivery make programs more accessible but sometimes more difficult to evaluate as a prospective student. The informed applicant obtains information about various aspects of NP programs and state requirements for licensure before making a final determination that a program is a good fit.

Web Resources

List of contacts for all state Boards of Nursing

Links to all national, regional, and specialty accrediting bodies and information on accreditation generally

APRN Consensus Model Toolkit

State Authorized Degree Granting Institutions

CCNE List of Accredited Graduate Programs

AACN Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice

National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission List of Accredited Programs

NONPF Core Competencies for Nurse Practitioners

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Student Resource Center

HRSA Nursing Grant Programs

Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners 2012 Scholarship and Grant Information