Answer: Yes – There are many online graduate degree programs designed to help bachelor’s-trained registered nurses (RNs) become certified APRNs. In order to qualify for a national APRN certification exam, students must earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or higher in an advanced clinical specialty. Licensed RNs who possess a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can opt to pursue their master’s through an online BSN to MSN program, or jump straight into a BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, and earn their doctorate alongside APRN certification.
Both of the degree paths mentioned above require prospective students to possess an active unrestricted RN license in their state of practice, as well as a BSN from an institution accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Additionally, most post-BSN MSN and DNP programs have minimum GPA requirements (which are typically slightly higher for DNP applicants). Some programs may also require a minimum amount of work experience as an RN. This often varies by APRN specialty, both in the number of years students must possess, and clinical settings they need to have experience in. For example, students interested in an acute care nurse practitioner program may be required to have a minimum of one to two years of RN experience in acute care settings.
To learn more about the different post-BSN pathways RNs can take to become an APRN, including how long these programs typically take to complete and the degree specializations available to students, check out the sections below.
Online BSN to APRN Program Requirements
Depending on the particular school and specialty being pursued, an online BSN to MSN APRN program may entail anywhere from 40 to 70 course credits. Students in these programs complete a combination of MSN core coursework focused on general advanced nursing concepts, and graduate-level specialization courses intended to train them in their APRN specialty. While exact course titles will vary, topics typically covered in the MSN core curriculum include advanced health assessment, advanced pharmacology, advanced physiology, health promotion and disease prevention, leadership in advanced nursing, health systems innovation, and ethics in advanced practice nursing.
While online APRN students can expect to complete the majority of their coursework through online instruction, they are still required to perform a set number of clinical practice hours at a local health care facility before they can graduate. These practicum hours typically take place at a hospital or other medical facility near the student’s place of residence, under the supervision of a trained preceptor. In some cases, schools will help match RNs with approved placement sites and preceptors in their area; however, other schools may require students to find these on their own. Generally, MSN students must fulfill between 500 and 1000 clinical hours in order to earn their master’s in an APRN specialty. This number will vary by program, and some specializations may require more hours than others.
For RNs looking to pursue their DNP without first completing a separate master’s program, there are online BSN to DNP programs available with APRN specialties. These are usually comprised of around 65 to 95 course credits, and students must complete a minimum of 1000 clinical hours to earn their DNP (with many schools requiring more than that). In addition to the MSN-level coursework detailed above, post-baccalaureate DNP students will take a set of courses designed to prepare them in the eight core competencies outlined by The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice. These doctoral-level courses provide training in certain fundamentals essential to all advanced nursing practice roles, covering topics such as organizational and systems leadership, health care policy, interprofessional collaboration, scientific underpinnings for practice, and health care information systems.
Online BSN to APRN Degree Specializations: BSN to Nurse Practitioner (NP)
Students interested in earning a graduate degree in an advanced nursing specialization can find online programs for almost every APRN specialty. Completing an MSN or DNP in any of these specializations will qualify RNs to sit for a national certification exam in that patient focus, as well as apply for state licensure (once they have become nationally certified). Admission and program requirements, particularly the number of clinical hours required to graduate, may vary by specialty. As such, students should be sure to read through all program information before applying.
Online BSN to APRN degree programs are available in all of the following advanced clinical concentrations:
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP)
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
- Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
- Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
- 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)
Typically, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthesia (CRNA) programs are offered in a hybrid or campus-based format. For more information about the different APRN specializations available to post-baccalaureate students, including in-depth interviews with current APRNs, check out our Guide to Advanced Practice Nursing.
Length of an Online BSN to APRN/NP Program
The amount of time it takes to complete an online BSN to APRN program will depend on several factors. Each of the degree paths discussed on this page require a different time commitment from students, which may also vary by school and specialty. Additionally, RNs can choose to pursue their graduate degree on either a full- or part-time basis, with many schools offering both options. In most cases, a full-time BSN to MSN program will take students around one to two years (15 to 24 months) to complete. Part-time students can expect to earn their MSN in anywhere from two to four years (24 to 48 months), depending on the particular program and the number of courses they take each term.
Online BSN to DNP programs are generally longer than BSN to MSN programs and can be structured in several different ways. Some award students both an MSN and a DNP as they progress through their studies, while others simply culminate in the DNP degree. For programs that grant both an MSN and DNP, students typically take their national certification exam after completing the MSN portion of the program. In general, an online BSN to DNP program will take full-time students around three to four years to complete. Students who enroll in a part-time plan of study may be able to graduate in as little as four years, with many schools giving them up to seven years to finish their doctorate, if necessary.