What Kind of Master’s Degree is Best for a Nurse Practitioner?

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As you’ve looked into the path to become a nurse practitioner (NP), you’ve probably learned that you can become an NP with either a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) degree or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree. If you are fairly certain that you would like to follow the MSN track to your NP career, there are still some decisions you are going to need to make related to your NP specialization.

Like master’s programs in a variety of industries, when working towards your MSN, you have the opportunity to choose a specialization you are passionate about and focus your NP education and work towards that patient population. Have you considered your specialization yet? Do you feel passionate about a specific population? Does the MSN program you’d like to apply to have specializations you are interested in? Make sure you ask yourself some of these questions as you continue making decisions about what is next for you and your education.

DegreeQuery.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Master’s in Nursing Specializations

There are eight NP specializations available to most students today. They are women’s health practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, psychiatric nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner, emergency nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, adult gerontology nurse practitioner and *acute care nurse practitioner.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP): WHNPs focus on comprehensive care of women throughout their lifespan. Alongside OBGYNs, this will include work with obstetric, reproductive, and gynecological health. Relying on their nursing skills to assess physical, psychosocial, and environmental needs, WHNPs are involved in diagnostic care and treatment as well as preventative care.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP): PNPs specialize in the care of patients from birth to age 21. They often work in a variety of settings, including acute care facilities, health care clinics, and physician offices. A typical service a PNP may provide includes developmental screenings, immunizations, school physicals, treatment of common illnesses and well-child exams. Depending on the state of licensure, some PNPs may prescribe medications as well. Usually, PNPs work alongside licensed pediatricians.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP): PMHNPs are intimately involved in the care of patients suffering from behavioral conditions and mental health disorders. Depending on the patient and the scenario, PMHNPs may use both medicinal and therapeutic interventions to treat and care. They are also involved in psychiatric health maintenance and wellness. PMHNPs aren’t always required to work under physician maintenance; these rules differ state-to-state.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP): NNPs are responsible for the care and wellness of infants who require additional assistance at or after birth. The work of an NNP may include attending live births, continuous care for sick infants in the NICU, dealing with genetic complications, treating infants impacted by drug disorders, and managing preterm infants. NNPs work in both acute and non-acute settings, both independently and as part of a healthcare team. Many NICUs employ NNPs around-the-clock.

Emergency Nurse Practitioner: If you are interested in a fast-paced and unpredictable work environment, an emergency care NP maybe a good choice for you. The ability to multi-task and quickly and efficiently treat patients with varying levels of acuity is a must. Emergency care NPs diagnose and treat patients with emergent and acute symptoms, educate and teach patients, and may also perform procedures. Similar to PMHNPs, depending on the state emergency NPs may be free to work without the supervision of a physician.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP): A FNP functions similarly to a primary care physician. An FNP will act as a primary care provider, treating patients of all ages and all needs. FNP tasks include physical assessments, patient teaching and education, diagnosis and treatment, prescribing medication, and electronic health record work. FNPs will work under the supervision of a physician, however, they typically are granted extensive autonomy and carry a full patient load. Some FNPs can run their own private practices with physician oversight.

Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP): For the NP who desires to work in acute care but does not want to work with the pediatric population, the AGNP specialization is a good choice. NPs holding this credential are capable of treating patients from adolescence through geriatrics. There are two sub-types of the AGNP specialization.

Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP): These NPs work in acute care settings with patients who are actively and critically ill. This work may include a broad population of patients in a variety of units (cardiac, ICU, oncology, surgery, etc.). AG-ACNPs have the autonomy to evaluate, diagnose, prescribe, order and analyze tests, and treat.

Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-PCNP): These NPs may work in a variety of settings, including clinics, outpatient facilities, therapy facilities, and student health centers. They usually work with adolescents and adults, largely focused on education and care related to the patient’s lifestyle choices and disease management and prevention.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner: Acute care nurse practitioners are responsible for dealing with short-term health care conditions. Their work involves stabilizing and treating patients during medical emergencies, illnesses, or after accidents. These NPs evaluate, triage, treat, stabilize, advocate and develop long-term care and maintenance plans for their patients. Typically, an acute care practitioner is classified as pediatric or adult.

*As of 2016, the American Nurses Credentialing Center stopped offering this certification. While you will still find NPs working in the field with this title, new NPs who desire an acute care credential will need to choose the pediatric population or the adult gerontology population for specialization.

Trusting Your MSN Choice

While no one can guarantee that you will choose the right NP specialization, you can rest assured that the overall choice to be an NP is a very good one. In 2019, the Association of American Medical Colleges published data reporting a physician shortage of 120,000+ providers by the year 2032. This is a large deficit that advanced practice registered nurses are prime to fill. The work of an NP is already positively altering the healthcare landscape and will continue to do so as the large baby boomer population continues to age and the physician shortage continues to grow.

Laura Mansfield

Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) | Sacred Heart University

Associate’s Degree of Nursing (ADN) | North Seattle Community College

Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.), Marketing, Sales | University of Washington (Seattle)

November  2019

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