How Hard is Nurse Practitioner School? (10 Biggest Challenges & How to Overcome Them)

Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

Is nurse practitioner school hard? Well, that is truly a loaded question. In a nutshell, you are making major decisions about your patient's life, so nurse practitioner school will be rigorous and, at times, hard. Now I know you are sitting there thinking, well, how hard is nurse practitioner school? The answer to this question may be different for everyone. You may find yourself faced with challenges along the road to becoming an NP that will make you feel as if nurse practitioner school is just too difficult, but fortunately for you, I will help walk you through the 10 biggest challenges you may face in nurse practitioner school and how to overcome them. These tips will help you embark on this journey to obtaining your advanced practice nursing degree.


How Hard is Nurse Practitioner School? (What are the Challenges You Will Face & Learn How to Overcome Them)

Following are the 10 biggest challenges you will face as a nurse practitioner student and ways to overcome them.

1. Being accepted into an accredited NP program

One of the requirements that you will have to meet in order to become a Nurse Practioner is graduating from an accredited graduate program. NP programs will receive their accreditation from either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Nursing Education (ACEN). So, how hard is nurse practitioner school to get accepted into? Although the average acceptance rate for NP school in 2019 was 68.2%, the 10 most competitive schools' acceptance rate was around 19.3%. These statistics can be intimidating, but there are things you can do to increase your chances of being accepted into an accredited program. First thing to evaluate is your GPA. Most universities have different requirements for GPA but overall they want to see your performance in prior coursework. This can be a predictor of how well you will perform in graduate coursework. If you did not do well in some core courses during your undergraduate coursework, you should consider retaking the course for a higher grade. This will show you can successfully complete the coursework to the standards set by the institution and show that you have determination. Most nurse practitioner programs will require that you sit for an interview. These universities are looking for your ability to critically think and to see what your knowledge is of the healthcare environment. Your best bet is to familiarise yourself with healthcare challenges on the national and global level. They want to see that you really understand the material and can critically think and problem solve. Remember, in any interview process, you should always be professional and have good communication skills. Be mindful of your non-verbal communication. Don’t sit there with your arms crossed. Your reference letter will also hold a good amount of weight, so ensure that you submit letters from people who hold authority in the profession. It is best to ask for one academic reference letter such as a nursing professor and one from a clinical perspective such as the nursing director where you work.

2. Financial Cost of Nurse Practitioner School

Nurse practitioner school can come with a hefty price tag. You can expect to be paying for example, on the low end, $9,937 at Winston-Salem State University, and New York University can run you upwards of $85,000 with tuition and fees. Ok, so how are you going to pay for this? Don't panic; let's look at some ways. First, if you are already working, you should inquire with your employer if they have a tuition reimbursement program. This program will allow you to take a certain number of credits each semester and be reimbursed for the cost of the credits by your employer. In return, you will agree to remain employed there for a specified amount of time. Another option can be scholarships. Some available scholarships are the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Scholarships, Nurse Practitioner Healthcare Foundation (NPHF), and Daughters of the American Revolution Scholarships. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has an extensive list of different scholarships that are offered that are more specific focused. Another option to pay for NP school is to inquire with the university to see what their financial aid options are. This could range from loans to payment plans.

3. Clinical hour requirement

According to the 2016 Criteria for Evaluation of Nurse Practitioner Programs, 5th Edition, A Report of the National Task Force on Quality Nurse Practitioner Education Chapter III: Curriculum, Criterion III.E - Nurse Practitioner students must complete 500 supervised direct patient care clinical hours. Wow, that is a lot of hours! So, the first thing is; you have to start early in the semester getting these hours in. Hopefully, your preceptor's schedule will accommodate yours. If it does not, you may need to have an additional preceptor or a different one completely. In order to get all your hours in, you may find you have to work nights, weekends and holidays. If your hours for a specific course are not completed in the time allotted, you can not move on to the next course.

4. Clinical Placements

Clinical placements in Nurse Practitioner school are a hot commodity. Not all programs will assign you a clinical placement; you are required to find your own. Once again, start early making your connections. You can contact people you may know already in the field, or you can go to potential clinical sites and ask if they are willing to take on an NP student. You also want to familiarize yourself with your school’s requirements regarding what is an acceptable clinical site. Keep in mind once the clinical site and your University agrees to the arrangement, a contract must be drawn up between both parties before you can start. This will also take time. The earlier you start looking the better.

5. Certification Exam

In order to practice as an NP, you must be certified by a National Certification body such as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners National Certification Board and the American Nurses Credentialing Center. The certification exam in a competency exam that tests the minimal competency to practice safely. You will be tested on entry-level clinical skills and knowledge. The best way to overcome this challenge is to prepare. You may choose the path of self-study, but if that is not for you, there are various professional services out there that can help prepare you for this crucial exam. Some of these services include Advanced Practice Education Associates, Barkley & Associates, and Fitzgerald Health Education Associates

6. Demanding and complex schedule

You will find that once you enter a nurse practitioner school, you will have a lot on your plate to juggle. You will have to balance your job, family/social life, didactic coursework, and clinical course work. This is where time management will come in. The best way to get your life and head straight will be to invest in a calendar you can take everywhere. This will allow you to plug in everything from family dinners to making time to study. This strategy will ensure that you do not miss class time, clinical time, due dates, and exams.

7. Continuing to work full time

Although you may have the desire to continue to work full time, it just may not be feasible. This will mainly depend on the length and rigor of your program. If your program is one that is full-time study, the prospect of working full time looks grim. If your program is spread out, then yes, it is possible to continue to work. So let's take a look at some of the options to overcome this challenge. If you can swing it, part-time working will allow you to free up more time for your studies. Another option if you have the resources to support you would be a per diem position. A per diem would allow for you to attend classes and clinical while making your own work schedule. If you are still finding it difficult to balance any type of work and school, looking into online Nurse Practitioner programs may be the key. Some of these programs will take a lot for more flexibility in your schedule.

8. Coursework

The coursework that is associated with Nurse Practioner School can be challenging. Let's face it, it is an advanced practice degree, and you are making some pretty big decisions about people's lives. If you find that you are having trouble with the coursework, don’t fret, there are some things you can do. First, go and speak to your professor. You may find that he or she will have office hours that you can attend for extra help. You could form a study group with fellow classmates for assistance, or you could attend your University resource center. The resource center may enable you to be hooked up with a tutor or a writing coach who will help you excel in your work.

9. Specialization

You may find that you want to pursue a more specialized track in advancing your career as an NP. Maybe you want to pursue cardiology or oncology. This specialization will come with its own challenges. To specialize in a particular field, you will need additional education and, in some cases, an additional exam. To overcome these challenges, the first thing you can do is to draw upon your resources. If you already work in a healthcare institution, you can connect with a specialist in the field you are interested in and see if they will allow you to train with them. These specialists can also help with your understanding of the specialty's complex concepts; this will truly benefit you when it comes to taking your exam. Specialization also means more money for school; well, there are also specialty scholarships out there like those who want to pursue a specialization in maternal/child health or oncology.

10. Graduate Requirements

Sometimes students may feel like that all of their requirements were sprung on them at the last minute. They may see that they needed to complete ceratin paperwork, coursework projects, or feel that there were clinical hours that need to be completed that they did not know about. If you familiarize yourself with your program before starting it, you may find that you will have a better grasp of the requirements. You should also meet with your academic advisor at the beginning of each semester so you can make sure all your ducks are in a row and you are on course to graduation. It would also help meet with them at the end of the semester to prepare for the next. When it comes to your courses, it would be beneficial to meet with your professor to make sure you are right on track for the course, and nothing is being missed, and there are no surprises.

Summing It Up

So, how difficult is nurse practitioner school? Nurse practitioner school can be challenging but knowing and utilizing different tips to overcome these challenges will help you excel. By overcoming these challenges, you will be setting yourself up for success and will one day be able to call yourself a Nurse Practitioner. Hey, you deserve it for putting in all that hard work.

Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Our Expert

Why is Nurse Practitioner School Hard?

Nurse Practitioner school is hard because you are building on material that you already know, and you are preparing for the role of the provider. You will have many advanced courses that must be completed to diagnose and treat your patients properly. It is also a whole other level of responsibility. Remember, you are dealing with somebody’s life.

Is Nurse Practitioner School Harder Than Nursing School?

The answer to this question is not exactly straight forward. Some people may find that mastering the initial concepts in Nursing school is much harder than building upon those concepts in Nurse practitioner school. On the other hand, some students find that nurse practitioner school and its advanced concepts are harder to grasp and apply in practice.

On-Campus Nurse Practitioner Schooling vs. Online Nurse Practitioner Schooling: Which is Harder?

Both on-campus and online nurse practitioner programs hold up the same rigor. It is difficult to say which type of learning environment is more difficult than the other. There has been no significant statistical difference in performance when comparing those students who chose the online approach vs. those who chose the traditional.

Can I Survive Working While in Nurse Practitioner School?

Deciding on if you can survive working while in Nurse Practitioner School is something that can be influenced by multiple factors. The type of environment you work in can affect the prospect of working while completing a nurse practitioner program. Other factors that can influence it is the way your curriculum is mapped out for your program and how many days a week your program is. If you can find a full-time or part-time program that will let you balance your work life, school life, and any time you may have for socialization after that, then yes, it is absolutely doable.

Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.