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Question: How Long Does it Take to Complete a Post-Master's Nurse Practitioner (NP) Certificate Program Online?

Answer: It typically takes one to two years to complete an online post-master’s certificate program in a Nurse Practitioner (NP) specialization for Registered Nurses (RNs) who enroll in a program part-time. However, the time to completion can vary based on several factors, including a student’s prior graduate-level coursework and training in nursing, the area of NP specialization, and the total number of credits and clinical hours required by the program. RNs who hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in an Advanced Practiced Registered Nurse (APRN) specialization may be able to complete an online post-master’s certificate program in less than a year of full-time enrollment. RNs whose master’s degree is in a non-APRN field, such as nursing administration, may require a year or more of full-time coursework and clinical training to earn a post-master’s NP certificate.

Most post-master’s NP certificate programs, including those offered online, have a procedure by which program administrators review each student’s academic records to determine the exact number of courses and credits it will take to complete the program. This procedure is commonly referred to a gap analysis. Once a gap analysis has been completed, students who have taken graduate courses in advanced pharmacology, advanced pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, nursing informatics, health policy, and other subjects that may be part of NP certificate programs may be exempted from having to retake these courses, thereby reducing the number of required credits. Students who have not completed prior coursework in these areas are typically required to take them in order to earn their certificate.

Components of a Post-Master’s NP Certificate Program

There are essentially three components of a post-master’s NP certificate program: general clinical practice courses in advanced pathophysiology, pharmacology, and patient assessment (which may be waived for students who have already taken these courses); specialization coursework in a specific area of NP practice; and clinical training hours in that area of practice. A typical post-master’s certificate curriculum includes three or four general NP courses that may only be required for RNs who have not already completed them. Specialization coursework may encompass four to six didactic courses, as well as up to 600 or more hours of clinical work under the supervision of a qualified preceptor. The actual number of required clinical hours may vary depending on a student’s prior graduate-level training. Students who have already completed clinical practicums in areas included in a post-master’s certificate program curriculum are typically not required to repeat that clinical training.

It is important to note that the clinical component of a post-master’s NP certificate program must be completed in-person at a patient-care facility under the supervision of a qualified preceptor. While there are many post-master’s NP certificate programs that offer all or most of their didactic coursework and instruction online, supervised clinical hours can not be completed online. While some online programs have clinical placement services, others do not and require students to find a site and a preceptor in order to complete their clinical hours.

Completion Time for Post-Master’s NP Certificate Programs

As a general rule, graduates from MSN programs in a NP specialization can earn an NP certificate in a new specialization in a year or less. RNs whose MSN program did not include coursework in advanced pharmacology, advanced pathophysiology, and/or advanced patient health assessment, typically require more time, usually one to two years.

Many post-master’s NP certificate programs, including programs that are offered online, have flexible enrollment options, allowing students to complete coursework and clinical hours at their own pace within certain bounds. Students who enroll full-time in an NP certificate program and complete the equivalent of three or four courses per semester, can typically graduate in less than a year. Students who opt for part-time enrollment take fewer courses per semester and generally take a year or more to complete an NP certificate program. Most RNs are able to earn a post-master’s NP certificate in two years or less.

Note: Admissions requirements for online NP certificate programs vary by program. Some programs will accept graduates from any type of accredited MSN program, regardless of specialization. Other programs are designed for licensed APRNs and require applicants to have an MSN degree in an APRN specialization. RNs who are exploring online NP certificate programs should review admissions policies carefully and/or contact a program administrator regarding eligibility requirements prior to submitting an application.


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