One advantage of working in nursing is the multitude of career paths nurses can pursue as they complete advanced education. For example, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) lists more than 20 specialties and subspecialties that enable nurse practitioners to concentrate on the types of health care they want to provide and the patient populations they want to serve.
But nurse practitioners don’t always remain in the first specialty area they pursue after earning a Master of Science in Nursing. A host of factors can motivate them to move into different specialties as their careers progress. How can nurse practitioners acquire the knowledge necessary to move in new directions? This is exactly where post-master’s certificate programs come into the picture. By enrolling in these programs, nurse practitioners gain the knowledge they need to sit for the credentialing examinations to move into new nurse practitioner specialties and earn additional nurse practitioner certifications.
Even for graduates of an online MSN program who are already certified in a particular nurse practitioner specialty, completing post-master’s certificate programs can enable them to expand their expertise and move into new areas of health care.
What Is a Post-Master’s Certificate Program?
The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing defines a post-master’s certificate program as a subset of courses within an MSN program. Students take the subset of courses, which are specific to a particular specialty, after they have earned an MSN and gained credentials in another specialty.
A post-master’s certificate program in nursing generally encompasses about 18 credit hours. Students also need to complete clinical hours in the new specialty they’re pursuing.
As a 2021 report in Insider noted, certificate programs cost less and take less time than a full master’s degree program. Certificate programs, many of which are offered online, also are typically more flexible than traditional master’s degree programs.
An Important Distinction: Post-Master’s Certificate Programs vs. Certifications From Credentialing Organizations
Understanding the difference between post-master’s certificate programs and the professional certifications that nurses receive from credentialing organizations is important, as they use similar terminology.
The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing offers an explanation of the differences, specifically:
- Nurses obtain knowledge or proficiency in a specific topic through post-master’s certificate programs; in contrast, a credentialing agency offers certification through validating (usually through an exam) what nurses have learned.
- The outcome of a post-master’s certificate program is proof that a nurse completed credit hours in a specific topic; on the other hand, the outcome of certification from a credentialing agency is a professional credential showing that a nurse is board-certified in a specialty.
In other words, as the Institute for Credentialing Excellence explains, a post-master’s certificate program provides training and instruction, while a credentialing agency assesses the knowledge and skills an individual has previously acquired.
Why Earn Additional Nurse Practitioner Post-Master’s Certificates?
Nurse practitioners may have many reasons for pursuing post-master’s certificates and entering into a new specialty. Earning additional nurse practitioner certifications enables them to:
- Expand their expertise
- Pursue new career paths
- Explore a passion for a new area of health care
For example, perhaps a family nurse practitioner (FNP) has been working for a few years in family health care, has become concerned about the health care needs of our aging population, and has decided to pursue adult-gerontology acute care. This individual, who already has an MSN and FNP certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), could enroll in a post-master’s certificate program to gain the expertise to become an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP). After completing the post-master’s certificate program, the individual could take the ANCC’s AGACNP certification exam. After passing the exam, the individual would be both a board-certified FNP and a board-certified AGACNP.
As another example, suppose an FNP is concerned about the ongoing shortage of mental health care professionals and would like to move into that area of health care. Already equipped with an MSN and FNP certification from the ANCC, this individual could enroll in a post-master’s certificate program to gain the expertise to become a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). After completing the post-master’s certificate program, the individual could take the ANCC’s PMHNP certification exam. After passing the exam, the individual would be both a board-certified FNP and a board-certified PMHNP.
What Types of Nurse Practitioner Post-Master’s Certificates Are Available?
Several types of post-master’s certificate programs are available to put individuals on the path to additional nurse practitioner certifications. For example, the AANP notes that universities offer post-master’s certificates in the nurse practitioner specialties mentioned previously:
- FNP, a specialty that focuses on family-oriented health care for patients of any age
- AGACNP, a specialty in which nurse practitioners provide advanced acute care to individuals from adolescents to the elderly
- PMHNP, a specialty that concentrates on health care for patients with psychiatric disorders
The AANP also notes that universities offer post-master’s certificates in nurse practitioner specialties such as:
- Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP), a specialty in which nurse practitioners provide advanced primary care to individuals from adolescents to the elderly
- Neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP), a specialty that focuses on providing advanced care to ill and premature newborns
- Pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), a specialty that concentrates on providing care to patients ranging from newborns to young adults
- Women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP), a specialty in which nurse practitioners provide health care to women of any age
In addition to nurse practitioner post-master’s certificate programs, nurses who have already earned their MSN degrees can enroll in post-master’s certificate programs in other areas. For example, the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies notes higher education institutions offer post-master’s certificate programs in areas such as:
- Advanced practice registered nurse categories such as clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, and nurse midwife
- Nursing education
- Nursing informatics
Expanding Nursing Expertise Through Post-Master’s Certificate Programs
Through post-master’s certificate programs, nurse practitioners can pursue a wide range of additional nurse practitioner certifications that can qualify them for a host of fulfilling careers. Individuals who have an interest in advanced nursing roles can explore Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing to see how the program can help them achieve their professional goals. Offering both an MSN and post-master’s certificates in FNP, AGACNP, and PMHNP specialties, the program enables nurses to pursue the rewards of advanced nursing. Start your advanced nursing journey today.
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Glossary, ACEN 2017 Accreditation Manual
Certification vs. Certificate—What’s the Difference?, Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing
Certificate, Certification, or Both? What's Right for You?, Institute for Credentialing Excellence
Nation Continues to Age as It Becomes More Diverse, U.S. Census Bureau
Our Certifications, American Nurses Credentialing Center
NP Program Search, American Association of Nurse Practitioners
The Path to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP), American Association of Nurse Practitioners
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