Career Advice

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner Without a Nursing Degree

Summary: A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) with responsibilities similar to those of a physician. Becoming an NP opens the door to opportunity, good pay and the ability to make a real impact. Learn how to become a nurse practitioner without a nursing degree in 6 steps.

Aim High. - Nurse taking patient's blood pressure

In the past, if you wanted to become a nurse practitioner (NP), your only choice was to complete a traditional, four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. Today, you have other options. We’ll show you how to become a nurse practitioner without a nursing degree. But first, we’ll look at the advanced education requirements to enter this high-demand nursing profession.

Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements

Because nurse practitioners share similar responsibilities to those of a physician, their education requirements go far beyond those of a registered nurse. Before you can become an NP, you need a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, a Master of Science in Nursing degree and the appropriate nurse practitioner certification.

You can opt to serve as a general practitioner or focus on a specialty such as pediatrics or gerontology. Independently and in collaboration with other healthcare professionals, NPs provide a wide range of healthcare services, including:

  • Ordering, performing and interpreting diagnostic tests such as lab work and x-rays.
  • Diagnosing and treating acute and chronic conditions such as diabetes, infections and injuries.
  • Prescribing medications and other treatments.
  • Managing patients’ overall care.
  • Patient counseling.
  • Educating patients on disease prevention and positive health and lifestyle choices.

Did You Know?
A 2011 review of nurse practitioner effectiveness research found that nurse practitioners provide effective, high-quality care with outcomes similar or superior to physicians (www.npjournal.org).

How long does it take non-nurses to become a nurse practitioner?

If you have a non-nursing college education, the online Accelerated BSN program for non-nurses at Concordia University, St. Paul, makes it possible for you to earn a quality BSN in 16 months as opposed to four years. After graduating from our accelerated nursing program, the next leg of your journey to becoming a nurse practitioner will take approximately three to four years.

6 Steps to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner With a Non-Nursing Bachelor’s Degree

Let’s look at the educational steps required to become a nurse practitioner with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. To give you a fuller picture of what your journey will entail, you’ll notice the experiential steps and required certification/licensure included throughout.

1. Earn a BSN.

If you’ve looked into becoming a nurse, you probably know that it’s possible to become a practicing RN with an Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN). However, to pursue advanced study and become an NP, you’ll need a BSN as your foundation. In general, it’s advantageous to earn a BSN instead of an ADN because:

  • BSN-educated nurses yield better patient outcomes. More and more healthcare recruiters are seeking nurses with a BSN or higher. This is due in large part to data showing that better-educated nurses lead to better outcomes for patients — including lower patient mortality rates, 30-day readmission rates and failure-to-rescue rates. Due to these outcomes, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) called for 80% of registered nurses in the U.S. to hold a BSN degree by the year 2020. This goal has not yet been met, but states like New York are passing legislation requiring all RNs to earn a BSN within 10 years of initial licensure.
  • Nurses who hold a BSN have more diverse career options than those with an ADN, especially once they’ve gained a few years of experience. In addition to hospitals and clinics, BSN-educated nurses may take positions in schools or insurance companies, as legal or health-publication consultants, at government agencies and more.
  • Management opportunities are more plentiful with a BSN. In many cases, a BSN degree is required to become a charge nurse or nurse manager. Starting your career with a BSN degree leaves you poised to accept countless opportunities, including leadership roles.

2. Obtain your nursing license.

Once you’ve earned a BSN and before you can legally practice as a registered nurse, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN®). This difficult exam consists of multiple-choice questions that assess your ability to think critically and make clinical judgments. You should register for the NCLEX within one to two months of earning your BSN, while you can still remember much of what you’ve learned.

Note: To meet your state’s licensing requirements, you must sign up to take the NCLEX in the state in which you’ll practice as an RN.

3. Gain nursing experience.

Before applying to a graduate program, many RNs choose to gain nursing practice experience so that they can better identify a specific career direction. Keep in mind, advanced practice nurses like NPs work in a wide array of specialties, from family practice to mental health. It’s worth noting that some NP programs require you to have a year or two of experience in your chosen practice area before you can even apply.

Concordia nursing student in clinical reading prescription bottles

4. Earn an MSN or DNP degree.

After gaining valuable clinical experience, your next step toward becoming a nurse practitioner is to enroll in an MSN or DNP program. Some MSN and DNP programs have NP tracks that can be finished in two to three years. As a graduate student in nursing, you’ll build your comfort and knowledge in assessing and caring for patients using evidence-based practice. You’ll also develop as a leader while gaining proficiency in your chosen specialty.

5. Acquire NP certification.

Once you’ve earned a graduate degree focusing on the role of nurse practitioner, you must pass a national certification exam to show you possess professional knowledge in your area of specialty.

The following national certification agencies offer NP certification exams recognized by every state board of nursing in the U.S.:

  • American Association of Nurse Practitioners
  • American Nurses Credentialing Center
  • Pediatric Nursing Certification Board
  • National Certification Corporation

As a nurse practitioner, you can choose general practice or specialize in a specific patient population, to become (for example) a/an:

  • Acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) who provides care for adult patients with complex diseases in acute care or hospital settings.
  • Family nurse practitioner (FNP) who provides primary care to people of all ages, educates patients about disease prevention, maintains medical records and develops treatment plans.
  • Pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) who specializes in caring for newborns, infants, toddlers, adolescents and young adults. PNPs can further narrow their focus to primary or acute care.
  • Neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) who provides care for premature and sick newborns in neonatal intensive care units (NICU), delivery rooms and emergency rooms.
  • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) who provides care for patients with mental illness, behavioral problems and psychological disorders.
  • Women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) who provides primary care to women of all ages.

6. Obtain APRN licensure.

Just as you’re required to pass the NCLEX before working as a registered nurse, once you earn certification in a recognized population focus, you must pass a national certification exam to gain APRN licensure. Provided you hold an unencumbered RN license and you’ve passed the exam, you can apply for an APRN license.

You may hold licenses with multiple state boards, but keep in mind that each state has its own licensing requirements. For example, some states require extra steps to gain prescription-writing privileges. To learn more about states’ APRN licensure requirements, visit NursingLicensure.org.

How Our ABSN Program Works

The ABSN program at Concordia University, St. Paul (CSP) allows you to earn a BSN sooner. If you have at least 60 non-nursing credits, CSP can prepare you for the nursing profession in as few as 16 months by leveraging your prior education.

We offer two program locations in Portland, Oregon, and one in St. Paul, Minnesota. With three start dates per year — in January, May and September, the ABSN program at CSP lets you begin your studies as soon as you’re ready.

Prerequisite Requirements
Please note that before beginning our ABSN program, you must have earned a “C” or better in seven prerequisite courses. Your admissions counselor will help you determine which courses you have left to take once your previous education is accounted for.

General Education Requirements
Prospective CSP ABSN students must have completed 38 semester credit hours in general education prior to the start of the nursing program. General education courses are transferrable with a “D” grade or higher in Minnesota and a “C” grade or higher in Oregon.

Keep in mind that the 16-month ABSN program at CSP is a rigorous track, comprised of online coursework in nursing theory and fundamentals, hands-on skills and simulation labs and in-person clinical placements at leading healthcare facilities.

Online Coursework

Provided you meet deadlines, our online component gives you the freedom to complete coursework when and where it’s convenient for you.

Nursing student using laptop

It’s worth noting that our online coursework caters to a variety of learning preferences. Everyone learns differently. Some people prefer visual depictions; others need to read or hear something to make sense of it. Our online coursework provides an interactive learning experience where you can:

  • Read, watch, listen to and engage with the material.
  • Interact with your classmates and instructors through discussion forums and chats.
  • Participate in simulated case studies that underscore specific learning objectives.
  • Take self-assessments to prepare for tests and highlight areas you need help with.
  • Complete and upload writing assignments and required discussion posts.

Skills/Simulation Labs

Our skills labs allow you to practice and hone hands-on nursing skills in a simulated healthcare setting. You’ll start with basic tasks such as assessing vital signs, then move to more complex tasks such as inserting IVs and tracheotomy care. You’ll practice these skills in a controlled and supervised environment.

In nursing simulation labs, you’ll practice caring for mock patients — portrayed by fellow students or lifelike manikins. Our manikins exhibit realistic symptoms and reactions to care. While instructors manipulate their actions behind the scenes, you’ll treat them — using your growing clinical judgement to prioritize patient-care steps. Simulation labs provide you the opportunity to practice real-world skills in a risk-free environment.

Following each skills or simulation lab, you’ll meet with your instructor(s) and classmates to debrief. You’ll review what went well and what could have gone better. Thus, you’ll learn from your collective experiences.

In both skills and simulation labs, you’ll build the confidence necessary to complete clinical placements.

Clinical Placements

CSP has forged partnerships with top healthcare facilities in the St. Paul and Portland areas to provide you the best possible real-world patient-care experiences. To ensure you gain this practical experience within our accelerated timeframe, your clinical placements will begin in your very first semester of the ABSN program.

Clinicals, like skills and simulation labs, let you put the nursing theory and fundamentals learned in your online coursework into practice. Except with clinical rotations, the patients aren’t high-tech medical manikins; they’re real people.

In your first clinical placements, you’ll play more of an observational role, focusing on learning the documentation of care, skills needed to maintain and promote health, safe patient-handling practices and how to assist patients with activities of daily living. In later placements, you’ll accept additional responsibilities and a more direct role with patients.

Throughout my clinical experience, I have definitely gained confidence in my knowledge, because we learned so much in nursing school. And then we actually get to go into the clinical experience and apply what we’ve learned. I remember my first [clinical] in a hospital, following a nurse for the first time. I really got to ask questions and critically think about the patients that I was caring for.

Janice Estrada, current student, ABSN Program

Throughout clinicals, you’ll gain diverse nursing experiences, providing care in practice settings like:

  • Adult Health
  • Obstetrics
  • Pediatrics
  • Acute Care
  • Long-term Care

Why Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Two concordia students working together in simulation lab

If you’ve researched becoming a registered nurse (RN), you probably know that furthering your education to become a nurse practitioner is a game-changer. You should know that the road to becoming an NP is rigorous. Keeping in mind what initially drove you to pursue advanced study can serve as strong motivation throughout the process.

These days, nurse practitioners can act as independently licensed healthcare providers. They offer high-quality, affordable access to healthcare for countless Americans. Here are a few reasons why it’s worth the extra investment of time and energy to become an NP:

1. It makes financial sense.

For starters, although NPs and doctors share similar responsibilities, the cost of education to become a nurse practitioner is significantly less than medical school. An American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) study found that the total cost of tuition for an NP is equal to less than one year of medical school tuition (www.nursepractionerschools.com).

Over the past few years, Forbes has listed the nurse practitioner role as one of the highest-paying jobs for women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, advanced practice nurses earn an annual median salary of $115,800 (bls.gov).

2. You’ll be in-demand.

The pandemic has made it increasingly clear that nurses, in general, are in high demand. This is due, in part, to our country’s growing focus on preventive care and the greater need for healthcare providers to treat our aging population. When paired with the imminent shortage of primary care physicians in the U.S., the need for advanced practiced registered nurses (APRNs) to meet our communities’ healthcare needs is apparent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of nurse practitioners in our country will grow by 52 percent between 2019 and 2029 (bls.gov).

Did you know?
Seeing an NP for care has been tied to higher rates of patient satisfaction, more health counseling, added focus on prevention, improved communication, greater follow up, fewer emergency room visits and more time spent with patients. Even more telling, states that authorize Full Practice Authority for NPs have decreased hospitalizations and produced better patient outcomes for Medicare and Medicaid patients, an important distinction as our population ages.

Approximately 87% of NPs are certified in an area of primary care, and they are likely to go where the need is: rural and underserved areas, our most critically underserved communities. Right now, NPs account for one in four providers in rural areas.

3. Opportunity abounds.

Nurse practitioners treat patients in a wide array of settings — from psychiatric hospitals to emergency departments. They can opt to work for a healthcare company or start a private practice. Nurse practitioners are also needed as professors, researchers, informaticists, medical writers, business strategists and nurse executives, for example.

4. You’ll have a real impact.

Few career paths allow you to positively impact people’s lives. As an NP, you’ll care for people at their most vulnerable. You’ll be instrumental in improving and sometimes saving the lives of your patients. With your advanced clinical training and practice, you’ll be given the authority to diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries, provide evidence-based preventive education and even prescribe medications (depending on the state in which you practice).

Did you know?
Care by nurse practitioners is correlated with better patient outcomes. Choosing an NP for care leads to higher patient satisfaction, increased health counseling, more emphasis on prevention, better provider-patient communication, improved follow-up, fewer visits to the emergency department and increased time spent with patients. States that allow NPs full practice authority see fewer hospitalizations and better outcomes for Medicare and Medicaid patients, which is especially important for our aging population (aanp.org).

Start Your Path to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

ABSN students studying together at table

If you’re interested in becoming a nurse practitioner without a nursing degree, your first step should be to attain a BSN. And the ABSN program at CSP can get you there in as few as 16 months. Reach out to us today, and we’ll have a dedicated admissions counselor contact you right away. They’ll be able to determine your eligibility for our accelerated nursing program. And they’ll work with you to develop a personalized academic plan to meet any outstanding prerequisite requirements. Your counselor will also assist you throughout the admissions process, ensuring that you don’t miss any important steps.

We look forward to hearing from you!

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