How to Earn a Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Degree

This article has comprehensive information about how to select a primary care nurse practitioner (NP) degree. We also will provide useful nursing education information about how to select a high quality MSN degree online. Further, we describe why you may want to become a nurse practitioner, and important program accreditation information.

What Is a Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Degree?

A primary care nurse practitioner degree is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), with a focus on the primary nurse practitioner speciality. Most MSN programs for nurse practitioners are designed for professional registered nurses (RNs) who have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and have several years of nursing experience.

The MSN for primary care nurse practitioners is a highly rigorous, respected and in demand degree in the healthcare field. As a primary care nurse practitioner, you will serve as the frontline of healthcare for your patients in a doctor’s office, hospital or other type of health care center.

Primary care NPs are responsible for examining patients just as doctors do, order and interpret many diagnostic tests, and talk with patients about optimal health promotion strategies.

The typical primary care nurse practitioner degree program integrates, psychosocial, biomedical, social and nursing aspects of health care. The curriculum will include extensive classroom and clinical work on the following:

  • Advanced health assessment
  • Physiology and pathophysiology
  • Management of complex illnesses
  • Family, child and adolescent theory and development
  • Advanced practice nurse role playing and development.

In your clinical settings in your community (if you get an online MSN degree), you will have the opportunity to apply what you learned in the classroom at hospitals, speciality clinics, university health centers and possibly doctor’s’ offices.

To be admitted into most primary care NP programs, you need an RN license and a BSN. However, there are some ‘direct entry’ NP programs available at some universities.

These programs may permit some experienced professionals from another field to earn both an MSN and BSN at the same time. You will usually need to hold a bachelor’s degree in another field. At least two years of nursing experience is required after you obtain your BSN.

Whether you currently hold a BSN or not, after you have earned your MSN, you must be certified by your state board of nursing to practice, or you most obtain a national certification to practice from either the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Why Earn a Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Degree?

In short – high demand and excellent pay.

First, demand for nurse practitioners and other advanced nursing practice professionals continues to soar. We expect this demand will only increase in the next 10 years.

Our research of the Department of Labor website finds that nurse practitioner demand is slated to increase by 35% by 2024. The data states that there were nearly 127,000 nurse practitioners working full time in 2014; by 2024, it is believed there will be nearly 172,000.

This is a stunning increase and the bottom line for MSN holders is that you can largely have your pick of good-paying jobs in health care across the US. You also may be able to command a healthy signing bonus, too.

Demand for primary care NPs is growing because the US population’s average lifespan is nearly 80 today. This is an increase of nearly 20 years from 50 years ago. Today’s seniors want to live a very active life and they want access to recent health care innovations and drugs.

Further, health care costs just keep going up. This means that more primary care nurse practitioners will be used for positions that only doctors could hold a few decades ago.

In terms of pay, you will get plenty of it as a primary care NP. The median salary for all NPs in 2016 was a fantastic $100,910.

Another major perk of being an NP is that some states allow you to potentially work in a fully independent practice, without physician oversight. For example, as of 2014, one could work as a fully independent primary care NP in these states:

  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Nevada
  • Washington
  • Maine
  • Montana
  • Idaho
  • North Dakota
  • Minnesota
  • Iowa
  • Utah
  • Masschussetts

This list is continuing to grow as the years pass as more states are fighting aggressively to lower their state’s healthcare costs.

Online Degree Options

If you believe that your calling is to become a primary care nurse practitioner, we recommend the Master of Science in Nursing program from George Washington University, with a specialty in Adult-Gerontology Primary Care.

The online MSN program at GWU is among the elite, top 10% of MSN programs in the US, according to US News and World Report. This MSN degree program offers an outstanding combination of online classes, on campus training and cutting edge simulation centers and faculty that are the best in the country.

This NP program is accredited by the CCNE, and it will offer you both the theoretical and practical foundations that are needed for you to be a leader as an advanced practice nurse with those who are 13 and older. With our aging population, there is such a strong need for primary care NPs who can offer care to older patients, as well as young adults and teens.

Completing this two year, online program will qualify you to sit for both the ANCC and AANP examinations so that you can practice.

You are required to visit campus three times; your campus learning and skills intensive in Health Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning; your program test out to complete your final skills assessment; and for your objective, structured clinical examinations at the end of your first semester. Note that tuition costs do not cover travel expenses for these on-campus visits.

This program is designed for the experienced RN who already holds a BSN degree.

Your required courses include the following:

  • Nursing Leadership
  • Health Policy, Quality and Political Processes
  • Biostatistics for Health Care Researchers
  • Advanced Physiology and Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Health Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning
  • Concepts in Population Health
  • Advanced Pharmacology for Nursing
  • Genetics for Healthcare Providers
  • Practice Introduction; Adolescent; and Adult Older/Frail


To ensure that you are earning the highest quality nursing degree, you should verify that your program has been accredited by a respected accreditation body in nursing.

Why is accreditation so important? It tells you that you are obtaining a degree that is worthwhile and is teaching you nursing skills and concepts essential for a successful career.

It also tells your potential healthcare employer that you have the necessary nurse practitioner skills in primary care to be successful.

In the nursing profession, the most well known and acclaimed accreditation body is the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or CCNE. This body’s accreditation on a nursing school is a very important seal of approval that carries significant weight.


The level of demand for nurse practitioners in all specialties is extraordinary. An MSN-trained primary care nurse practitioner will be extremely well positioned for years to come as a highly paid and skilled healthcare professional.