Guide to Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

What is a nurse practitioner, and what do they do? Some of their duties may include assessing and diagnosing patients, ordering tests, creating and managing treatment plans and prescribing medicine. Through online NP programs, you may gain the knowledge and skills to become a nurse practitioner.

Find the Best Online Nurse Practitioner Program For You

Georgetown University’s Online Master’s in Nursing

Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 23 months. 

  • Earn your MS in Nursing in as few as 23 months
  • Choose from one of four APRN specialty areas: AG-ACNP, FNP, NM/WHNP, or WHNP
  • Gain hands-on clinical experience in evidence-based practice


Earn Your MSN Online from Simmons University

Earn an MSN online from Simmons University. Choose from two program options — FNP or PMHNP — and prepare to raise the standard of patient care.

  • Choose from two program options — FNP or PMHNP
  • Complete in as few as 24 months
  • Full-time and part-time tracks available


Can You Become a Nurse Practitioner Online?

Yes, you can become an NP online. According to the American Nurses Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), a national membership organization for nurse practitioners, there are about 400 NP programs nationwide—some of which are online nurse practitioner programs. A master’s degree is generally the education requirement for nurse practitioners, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports, though some people may choose to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). 

Becoming an NP online means you’ll attend classes virtually; some may be at your convenience, and others may be at live, specified times with the rest of the class. When researching online healthcare degrees, you’ll want to choose a school that best aligns with your goals and needs. Some factors you may want to consider include the program focus areas offered, part- or full-time class schedules, admissions prerequisites, cost and availability of financial aid, and accreditation. The Commission on College Nursing Education (CCNE) and Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are two credentialing bodies for nursing programs.

The AANP website offers an NP Program Search tool that allows you to filter by state(s), the degree you wish to earn and the program focus area(s) you’re interested in (e.g., pediatrics, family, women’s and neonatal NP). After you’ve selected your filters and clicked “submit,” you’ll receive search results with schools that meet your criteria. 

How Does Hands-On Clinical Experience Work During an Online NP Program?

Nurse practitioner programs, just like registered nursing programs, require hands-on student clinical experience. Many online nursing programs have reciprocal arrangements with hospitals in other regions or states where their distance-learning students may complete their clinical or field experience hours. Many online NP programs also allow you to gain clinical experience locally. For example, if you work in a clinical setting while you study, you may be able to complete your clinical experience in that setting. 

If you want to pursue your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and are not currently working at a hospital, research or call the school you’re interested in to ask how required clinical experience for nurse practitioners works in their online nurse practitioner program. Some schools have preceptors (instructors) around the nation who they are able to connect you with. In other cases, schools may expect you to find your own clinical instructor, which they would then approve.

Online Nurse Practitioner Program Admissions Requirements 

As you might expect, requirements for online NP program admissions vary by school. You’ll want to research the specific requirements for the online MSN programs you’re considering. However, here are some general online NP program admissions requirements you may come across:

  • Bachelor’s degree in nursing (or higher); if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, you may consider completing an RN to MSN nurse practitioner program, which generally requires an associate degree in nursing 
  • Current status as a licensed registered nurse (RN) in the United States
  • Undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher (on a 4.0 scale)
  • Completion of prerequisite courses; for example, this may include undergraduate nursing research and/or statistics courses, with grades of C or higher
  • Prior clinical experience 
  • Resume that highlights relevant nursing and volunteer experiences
  • Personal statement or essay that describes your past work, educational experiences, any relevant prior employment and volunteer work in your proposed specialty
  • Official transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation 
  • Criminal background check

Online NP Program Curriculum

Typical nurse practitioner courses build upon what you learned during your previous degrees. Classes may cover topics related to medical knowledge, leadership, health policy and wellness promotion. 

Below are some examples of nurse practitioner courses you may have: 

  • Assessment and Intervention for Families: focuses on the intersection of family systems and healthcare needs, including assessment, intervention and evaluation processes that improve and enhance family health.
  • Childbearing Care: provides instruction on treating women before, during and after pregnancy; topics include routine assessments, complications, and the physical and mental aspects of childbearing.
  • Evidence-Based Practice: teaches graduate-level nurses to research medical literature and use what they find in clinical practice to improve standards of care.
  • Healthcare Policy and Advocacy: covers healthcare systems in the United States, how politics and legal issues affect those systems and how nurses can lead policy change to improve quality of care.
  • Integrated Pharmacology  and Pathophysiology: offers advanced study of key diseases (e.g., seizure disorders, asthma/COPD, thyroid disorders, blood disorders, cardiac disorders), the medications used to treat them (e.g., antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals) and how the human body responds to those medications.
  • Primary Care Across the Lifespan: focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of common illnesses (acute, chronic and mental) during all stages of life.
  • Psychotherapeutic Treatment Modalities: emphasizes mental health disorders and treatments through every stage of life; designed master’s candidates who plan to be psychiatric nurse practitioners.

Note that nurse practitioner courses vary depending on your program and specialty. 

Online Nurse Practitioner Specialties

There are multiple NP specialties available to those studying to become a nurse practitioner through online NP programs. Below, we take a look at NP specialities in psychiatry, acute care and women’s health. We also discuss DNP programs. Depending on your nursing specialty, your career options as a nurse practitioner and nursing degree salary may differ.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Programs

Duties of psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHMPs) include seeing clients, assessing and diagnosing their conditions, creating and carrying out treatment plans, and prescribing medications, according to the AANP. Online PMHNP programs prepare graduates to work with patients who have a variety of mental health issues or illnesses. Students learn to provide therapy and counsel patients suffering from depression, anxiety, behavioral disorders, substance-abuse issues or trauma. In an online psychiatric nurse practitioner program, your courses may cover topics such as crisis intervention, neuroscience and psychotherapy. You also may analyze the effects developmental factors and social and physical stressors have on individuals. 

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

The difference between primary care and acute care is that primary care tends to be an ongoing relationship between the NP and patient—dealing with regular health and illness issues over time—while acute care focuses on patients who are critically ill, medically unstable, dependent on technology to survive (such as a ventilator), or recovering from a traumatic event. According to the AANP, acute care nurse practitioners are often certified in pediatric acute care and/or adult-gerontology acute care.

Whether through in-person or online acute care nurse practitioner programs, acute care NPs are trained to work with a medical team to help patients through their current medical situations. While primary care NPs may work in private practice and doctors’ offices, acute care NPs often work in emergency rooms, intensive care units and nursing homes. Online ACNP programs may offer the opportunity to further specialize in acute care for pediatric or adult-gerontology populations. 

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Programs 

As the name suggests, online women’s health nurse practitioners programs train students in providing primary healthcare to women from adolescence through all the stages of their lives. Women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs) are trained to assess, diagnose and treat conditions. They also provide preventive care (such as HPV vaccines, mammograms, Pap tests and birth control), prenatal and pregnancy care, and menopausal care. The AANP notes that WHNPs are also aware of how the patient’s gender, sexual orientation, social class and ethnicity may affect their medical situation. Online WHNP programs may prepare students to work either in primary care or specialty care with a reproductive focus.

Doctor of Nursing Programs 

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree focuses on equipping nurses with training and knowledge applicable in clinical roles and leadership positions. Online Doctor of Nursing Practice programs may be a beneficial option for nurses who already have an MSN and are looking for a flexible learning environment. A DNP degree builds on your master’s training. Online DNP programs allow students to specialize in acute care, family care, pediatric care, psychiatric and mental healthcare, adult-gerontology care and more, but graduates may also be prepared to work in hospital leadership, policy or management roles. Besides hospitals, DNPs may work in private practice or at universities. 

Is an Online Nurse Practitioner Program Right for You?

There are multiple types of nursing degrees available, and deciding whether an online NP program is right for you comes down to your goals, passions and schedule. Once you understand which nursing degree is right for you, you may pursue a master’s or doctoral program to become a nurse practitioner. For example, if you currently have an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in nursing, you may want to explore bridge programs to a master’s degree. If you have a master’s degree in nursing but are interested in a leadership role, a DNP degree may be helpful. When researching online NP programs, check that they align with your goals.

Last Updated February 2021