Meeting The Demand For Graduate Degrees In Nursing Through Certification

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Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) are filling critical roles across the spectrum of healthcare, meeting the national demand for more graduate-educated nurses to take leading roles in primary healthcare services, nurse education, and other specialty areas, like abuse investigations.

Advanced Practiced Registered Nurse working in lab office

Now more than ever APRNs are being asked to further their education to provide medical assistance to the influx of patients in the healthcare system and to balance the impending retirement of scores of nurses and doctors.  To answer the call, APRNs are turning to online post-master’s certificate programs. The certificate programs provide pathways for APRNs to seek formal certification by professional organizations to become family nurse practitioners (FNPs), nurse educators, and forensic nurses.

Nursing advocacy groups and healthcare think tanks say RNs with graduate degrees and post-master’s certificates have the skills, education, and drive to change the future of healthcare.

“The demand for high-quality care will continue to grow. Medical innovations and technological advances will continue. The quality and effectiveness of health care will continue to improve, and nurses with graduate degrees will play an active role in this trend,” the American Association of Colleges of Nursing said.

The Future of Advanced Education and Nursing

Experts agree that advanced education plays a crucial role in today’s changing workforce. Sean Gallagher, founder and executive director of the Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, said better education makes a stronger workforce. Employers are demanding credentials beyond undergraduate degrees and Millennials are buying in.

Gallagher said lifelong learning and micro-credentials, such as certifications, will play a significant role in the future of education.

“The better educated are pulling ahead, while those without college education – and especially completed credentials – are falling behind,” he said in an interview with Higher Ed Management.

Indeed, healthcare professionals have long been advocating for nurses to work to the highest level of their education. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine released its landmark Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report, recognizing the importance advanced education plays in the future of healthcare. Since then, many healthcare advocacy groups have joined in the call.

Many see APRNs as one of the solutions to the challenges in healthcare staffing. Through post-master’s certificate programs, APRNs can broaden their clinical experience, competencies, and knowledge by focusing on a subject area different from their original master’s program. That means APRNs who have earned post-master’s certificates have secondary levels of expertise for the betterment of patient outcomes.

Removing Practice Barriers for APRNs

Some of the most significant hurdles that APRNs are continuing to overcome are the many roadblocks that impede their ability to practice. In the past, most states did not provide easy routes for APRNs to work independently. The current shift in attitude to the role of APRNs has made practice easier and more successful.

Across the United States, APRNs are gaining more autonomy. Dozens of states now permit FNPs full authority to practice, including working free of physician oversight. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) granted FNPs full practice authority. Organizations that include the Federal Trade Commission, the National Governors Association, and the AARP have endorsed removing APRN practice barriers.

Even with support from numerous governmental and advocacy groups, APRNs face criticism. Some organizations worry FNPs are attempting to fill roles as primary care physicians, thus putting patients at risk. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest healthcare philanthropic organization, disagrees.

“APRNs practice nursing, not medicine,” the organization said in its Charting Nursing’s Future document. “They are appropriately educated to provide the scope of services for which they are licensed and certified, and a growing body of research suggests that full practice authority for APRNs reduces costs and increases access to high-quality care.”

APRNs: Current and Future

Even with an estimated 234,000 FNPs licensed in the United States, the ongoing nursing shortage is not expected to end anytime soon.

Currently, the average age of all nurses in the United States is about 50 years old. In the coming years, nurses and primary care physicians are expected to retire in droves. At the same time, an influx of people will be moving into the healthcare system due to age-related diseases, illnesses, and injuries, adding to the strain on an already taxed system.

In the future, all APRNs are expected to play more prominent roles in healthcare as a way to tackle the shortages. Sheryl Slonim, chief nursing officer at Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey, said expanding the use of APRNs makes sense because they are educated to work across a variety of settings.

“You can’t function in a silo anymore. Care must be managed and coordinated across the continuum, and who better than the APRN to help coordinate that?” said Slonim, who also serves as an executive vice president at the 361-bed acute care hospital. “What I don’t think people realize are the many different roles and areas where APRNs can function.”

For APRNs, a successful push into the future will also include the ability to seamlessly advance their education while continuing their current employment.  Online post-graduate certificates prepare APRNs for additional areas of specialty practice. At Duquesne University, APRNs who are seeking to expand their scope of practice complete online post-graduate certificates, preparing them for specialty-specific national APRN certification exams.

About Duquesne University’s Online Post-Master’s Certificate Program

Duquesne University’s online Post-Master’s Certificate programs in Family (Individual Across the Lifespan) Nurse Practitioner, Forensic Nursing, and Nurse Education and Faculty Role allows master’s-educated nurses to earn additional credentials and formal certifications from professional organizations. Since the work is conducted online, APRNs can continue their personal and professional responsibilities while earning the certifications.

Duquesne University has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as a 2017 Best Online Graduate Nursing Program and the National League of Nurses as a Center for Excellence in Nursing Education. Learn more about the online nursing programs that Duquesne offers.