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Hit or Miss? Why you should vet an NP school before applying

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Hit or Miss? Why you should vet an NP school before applying


Nurses who are wanting to return to school to become a nurse practitioner are faced with an incredible challenge: Choosing a school to attend for their graduate studies. What school do I want to go to? What should I look for in a school? Do I want to be on campus or learn completely online? Is there a difference in education if I pay more in tuition? These are a few of the many questions people struggle with who are wanting to apply to NP school. I personally did intense research on various programs in the United States for over six months before applying, and I would encourage everyone who is interested in going back to school to do the same. It is important to choose a school that is a good fit for you, and will adequately prepare you to be the most educated and skilled clinician that you can be.

Here is a step by step guide filled with important points and questions when you are vetting NP schools.

Where do I start? First, you need to decide what you want to major in. Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental Health, Pediatrics, Geriatrics, Neonatal, and the list goes on. Do you want to get your Master’s or your Doctorate in Nursing? Once you decide your passion and what you would like to specialize in, you can start searching for schools. Some schools only offer BSN to MSN, and some now only offer BSN to DNP. Some have only the one or two tracks and do not offer the other specialties. It is crucial that when looking into schools, not to get your heart set on one that does not have the specialty or degree you are aiming for.

How many students are in each class? For me, a low student to faculty ratio was a non-negotiable in choosing an NP school. The fewer students there are in a cohort, the more faculty can focus on each individual student’s education.

What are the faculty accomplishments in nursing and academia? This is an underrated by vital piece to choosing a school. Each program’s faculty should be listed online, and diligently looking into the professors that will be teaching you is an invaluable asset. It shows how important it is to the school to choose well rounded, educated, and accomplished faculty that their students can learn from.

School ranking, where does the program stand? Most of the time, it does not matter where you go to nursing school. This can be the same for NP school as well. However, many physicians are the ones who are hiring NP’s for their practice, and some do care where you went to school. If one program does not have a great reputation and has a record of not preparing students well, versus a well known school with an excellent track record of preparing students, the person hiring between two candidates will probably hire the applicant from the better school. The demand for NP’s are high in many areas, but there are areas where it is oversaturated, therefore the competition for positions is higher.

Tuition, does it matter? If one school charges $600 per credit hour and one school charges $1,200 per credit, is the more expensive school a better education? There are a variety of factors that go into this question. Something to look at is where does the school rank for their nursing program? What are their board pass rates? What is the reputation of the school? Higher cost does not always equal better education and ranking, but sometimes it does. The higher the cost of tuition means the school needs more money for the resources it pours into its faculty, curriculum, and students.

What is the school’s overall reputation? Scour nursing graduate student threads. Find current and past students and ask them questions about their experience. Was it positive overall? Did they find a job easily after graduation? Did they pass boards the first try and feel adequately prepared to practice upon graduation? How were the professors? These are just a few questions you can ask students currently enrolled or that have graduated recently.

Does the school offer help with clinical placement? This is another underrated but key point in choosing a school. I personally know two NP students from two different programs that spent months attempting to find a preceptor for clinical. They were unsuccessful, and with little to no help from their programs, had to sit out for that semester because they had no one to precept them. After hearing this and knowing I wanted to go back to school, I made sure the schools I was interested in applying to not only talked about helping students find placement on their website, but I made sure to find students who could attest to the school’s assistance to ensure they found preceptors. The schools these students attended that had to sit out a semester did state on their website they helped finding clinical placement, but in reality this was not the case.

What does their curriculum look like? Most schools have courses that are similar, if not identical in order to meet accreditation requirements. However, some schools offer additional classes or certifications that could be beneficial to the learning environment and skills for the students enrolled. For example, all students in Duke University MSN and DNP PMHNP programs graduate both buprenorphine certified and tele-psychiatry certified. This sets Duke apart from other graduate programs that offer this specialty.

One of the biggest decision of your life is choosing what program to attend for NP school. While the school’s admissions committee decides if you are a good fit, you also decide if you are a good fit for their program. The reputation of the nurse practitioner profession lies partly in how well schools train their students. Some schools do a phenomenal job, but many others are lacking. The reputability of many NP programs is under scrutiny for not training their students well enough to be providers when they graduate, and these unprepared NP’s can cast a negative light on the entire profession. However, you can graduate and become an outstanding provider from any school. It truly is a hit or miss with some NP programs. But the schools that have a stellar reputation, faculty, and curriculum give you a much better chance than others.

All of these factors and more are key during your journey vetting your options. But the most important question to ask yourself when you find a school that interests you: Will this school provide me with unparalleled resources and an exceptional education that will give me the best chance of success as a provider? It’s up to you to decide.

Elizabeth Francis, BSN, RN

Emergency Department registered nurse and doctoral student at Duke University, specializing in Psychiatric Mental Health and Addictions.

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