Question: What is a Post-Master's Certificate in Nursing Program?

Answer: A post-master’s certificate in nursing is an academic program that provides Registered Nurses (RNs) who hold a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing with advanced-practice training and instruction in a new nursing specialization. Among the specializations that may be pursued by RNs who are eligible for a post-master’s or post-graduate nursing certificate are Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) and Nurse Practitioner (NP) specializations, as well as non-APRN specializations, such as Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL), nursing administration and leadership, nursing education, forensic nursing, and nursing informatics. Post-master’s certificate programs in APRN specializations are designed to prepare RNs for licensure and certification those specializations.

Graduates from Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs who would like to add a new specialization can typically do so in one to two years through a post-master’s certificate program. These programs are designed to provide RNs who have already completed a graduate degree in nursing with training in a new specialization without requiring students to complete an entire degree program. RNs who hold an active and unencumbered license to practice and an MSN degree can earn post-master’s certificates in non-APRN and APRN specializations.

Non-APRN specializations include:

  • Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)
  • Forensic Nursing
  • Nursing Administration and Management
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Nursing Education
  • Nursing Leadership and Health Systems Management
  • Patient Safety and Healthcare Quality

APRN specializations include:

  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  • Nurse Practitioner (NP)

NP specializations that can be pursued in post-master’s certificate programs include:

  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
  • Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP)
  • Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP)
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)

In addition, there are a number of NP sub-specialties that are offered through post-master’s certificate programs. These include:

  • Cardiology
  • Dermatology
  • Endocrinology
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Gastroenterology
  • Immunology
  • Neurology
  • Occupational Health
  • Oncology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pulmonology
  • Sports Medicine
  • Urology

Many post-master’s certificate programs are offered online and in hybrid formats that combine online coursework with traditional campus-based classes. Many of these programs are designed to accommodate RNs who intend to continue working full-time while earning their certificate.

Eligibility for Post-Master’s Certificate Programs in Nursing

As noted above, licensed RNs who have completed an MSN program may be eligible for many types of post-master’s certificate programs in nursing. However, some programs have additional admissions requirements. RNs who are interested in earning a certificate in an NP specialty, for example, may need to complete MSN-level courses in advanced pharmacology, advanced pathophysiology, and advanced physical health assessment before they can enroll in some programs. RNs who have already taken courses in one or more of these areas, commonly referred to as the “three P’s,” are generally not required to retake these courses.

There are also programs designed for NPs who want to add a second specialty and that require applicants to hold an MSN and be licensed in an APRN specialty. Finally, some programs are designed specifically for APRNs who have training in a particular specialization and who want to earn a specific type of second NP specialization (e.g., FNP-to-PMHNP). RNs and NPs who are looking to add a new specialization through a post-master’s certificate program should review each program’s admissions requirements carefully.

Components of a Post-Master’s in Nursing Certificate Program

RNs who are accepted into a post-master’s certificate program typically undergo a process known as a “gap analysis” to determine the specific courses they must complete in order to earn their certificate. As a result, the curricular components of a nursing post-master’s certificate vary by individual as well as by program and by program type. RNs who have not completed graduate courses in the three P’s – advanced pathophysiology, advanced pharmacology, and advanced physical health assessment – typically must do so as part of their certificate program.

Some nursing certificate programs may incorporate one or two additional general practice courses in topics such as health systems management, healthcare technologies, and nurse leadership. However, the bulk of the coursework in a nursing certificate program is comprised of didactic instruction in a nursing specialization through several courses in a specialty area.

In addition, students must complete clinical practicums that provide training in the program’s area of specialization. Generally, students in post-master’s nursing certificate programs engage in 300 to 600 hours of clinical training under the supervision of a qualified preceptor. However, the number of required hours varies by specialization and may be based on prior practicum experiences. Practicing NPs who have already completed graduate-level practicums in clinical settings that are also required as part of a certificate program curriculum may not have to repeat those hours in order to earn the certificate.


More Nursing FAQs:

FAQ: Are There Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs that Waive or Do Not Require the GRE?
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FAQ: Are There Online Nurse Practitioner (NP) Programs That Do Not Require the GRE or That Offer GRE Waivers?
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FAQ: How Long Does it Take to Complete a Post-Master’s Nurse Practitioner (NP) Certificate Program Online?
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