As nurses advance to nurse practitioner roles, they have several tracks available to follow. First, to become a nurse practitioner (NP), a registered nurse must hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and then complete the national NP board certification test.
NP degree programs train future nurses to treat a specific subset of the population, which is something prospective nurses might want to keep in mind when applying. NPs can switch their population focus after graduation by enrolling in an additional degree program like a post-master’s certificate program.
Prospective NPs will notice population foci listed as specialties on school websites. (They might also be referred to as specializations or concentrations.) Typically, NPs complete their core nursing coursework followed by specialty courses and clinic hours related to their population focus.
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The National Council of State Boards of Nursing created the Consensus Model for APRN Regulation to provide universal guidelines for licensing, accrediting, certifying, and education of advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) in the US. Nurse practitioner is one of four APRN roles; the remaining three are nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, and certified nurse specialist. All APRNs are required to choose training within at least one of six population foci: family/individual across the lifespan, adult-gerontology, pediatrics, neonatal, women’s health/gender-related, and psychiatry/mental health.
All APRN education programs are accredited, including degree-granting and post-graduate education programs, and consist of a broad-based education. This involves graduate-level courses in advanced physiology/pathophysiology, health assessment, and pharmacology, in addition to appropriate clinical experiences.
All developing APRN education tracks go through a pre-approval, pre-accreditation, or accreditation process before student entry. APRN education programs are placed within nationally accredited graduate programs whose graduates must be eligible for national certification used for state licensure.
Specialties evolve as the needs of the public emerge. Here are a few NP subspecialties worth considering, depending on your interests.
Working with patients of all ages to examine, diagnose, and treat issues related to the skin, hair, and nails, dermatology NPs choose to focus on subspecialization such as cosmetic, surgical, or pediatric dermatology. RNs wishing to pursue a career as a dermatology nurse practitioner must pursue an MSN or nursing doctoral program. Only a few dermatology nurse practitioner degree and certificate programs exist, so choosing a related specialty, like family or adult medicine, can allow nurses to obtain the basic skills needed to begin with. Then they can add on more targeted education as they advance in their career.
Oncology NPs help patients with cancer and can specialize in several areas of treatment such as bone marrow transplantation, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Prevention and early detection are also subspecialties. Numerous MSN and DNP programs have NP oncology tracks.
Providing primary care to patients with acute or chronic kidney/urologic disorders, nephrology NPs help individuals going through dialysis and those who are preparing for, or have undergone, kidney transplants. While kidney disease affects people of all ages, the majority are older adults with complex medical issues; many patients suffer from diabetes and heart failure in addition to renal issues. Many schools offer nephrology programs for APRNs.
These nurses care for patients with diseases and disorders of the musculoskeletal system, often treating conditions like fractures, arthritis, and joint replacement surgeries. This is often an extension of the AGNP (adult-gerontology nurse practitioner) focus. Some universities allow this to be added to a degree program.
The most common specialty of the AGNP, these NPs care for patients suffering from cardiovascular disease. Some specialize in treating diseases of the heart, blood vessels, and circulatory system. Cardiology NPs evaluate, diagnose, and treat issues related to high cholesterol, heart attack, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, and other heart-related conditions. Graduate and postgraduate programs abound.
Essential to all types of surgeries, routine or emergency, NPs prep patients for operations and help with post-op care. NPs often choose to focus their surgical assistant work in a specific field like cardiac, pediatric, orthopedic, or plastic surgery. They can either practice in that particular field after graduation to become surgical NPs or pursue surgical fellowships. Completion of a post-graduate nursing degree (generally an MSN) is also needed. Surgical nurse certification is available through:
Nurses who improve patient care and reduce suffering of those facing terminal, chronic, or serious illnesses are called palliative care nurse practitioners. These skilled clinicians have a wide breadth of knowledge on medical conditions. They may also provide emotional support to patients and families. Training can be an extension of AGNP-AC, AGNP-PC, or PMHNP degree programs.
From youth to senior citizens, emergency nurse practitioners help patients experiencing acute or life-threatening health issues, providing medical care in emergency departments, trauma centers, and urgent care facilities. Many emergency nurse practitioners are family nurse practitioners who obtain additional specialty education through completing academic or post-graduate fellowship programs that allow for board certification.