Becoming a Nurse Practitioner with a Non-Nursing Bachelor’s Degree

For nurses wanting more out of their careers, becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) is often seen as the next step. In the case of many registered nurses, this means going back to school to get a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and then earning an NP certificate.

With many experienced nurses deciding later in their careers that they want to become NPs, it makes sense for future nursing students to be thinking about pursuing an MSN right from the start.

How does one go about becoming a nurse practitioner with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, and what other benefits does a master’s degree in nursing offer? First, we’ll discuss why it makes sense to become a nurse practitioner, as well as offer a bit of history on this growing profession.

Why Become a Nurse Practitioner?

There are many reasons to become a nurse practitioner (NP). NPs can provide a greater level of care than registered nurses — bridging the gap between RNs and primary care physicians (PCPs) — and often help serve populations underserved by PCPs. They also earn considerably more than registered nurses do. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017, registered nurses earn, on average, $70,000 a year compared to around $103,880 per year for NPs.

Like the nursing profession in general, the demand for nurse practitioners exceeds the supply. In fact, the profession is growing so rapidly that U.S. World News & Report recently named nurse practitioner #3 in its list of best healthcare jobs and #4 in its overall list of the best 100 jobs for 2018. High salaries and strong anticipated growth were two important factors in their rankings.

Nurse Practitioner Specialty Areas

  • Acute Care
  • Adult Health
  • Family Health
  • Gerontology Health
  • Neonatal Health
  • Oncology
  • Pediatric/Child Health
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health
  • Women’s Health

An Evolving Profession

As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, so too does the role of nurse practitioners. To understand this evolution, we need to take a look at its past.

Beginning in the late 1950s, the healthcare profession saw unprecedented specialization among doctors, consistent with advances in the field of medicine and technology. While this no doubt led to better care for a growing range of conditions, one unintended consequence has been a persistent shortage of primary care physicians that continues to this day, especially in increasingly underserved rural areas.

The solution? In the 1960s, PCPs began training and collaborating with registered nurses to help meet the primary care needs of adults and children. Within a decade, nurse practitioner programs were popping up at universities around the country. Still, it would be years before nurse practitioners would receive direct reimbursement from insurance providers for their services — a major milestone toward establishing legitimacy.

Even today, the scope of services NPs are allowed to provide varies from state to state. However, as the demand for healthcare services increases, the number of states that allow NPs a full scope of practice is increasing, as is the number of NPs nationwide — at present, about 248,000 according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

Direct Entry MSN Programs Offer a Quicker Path to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

Step 1: Earn a Master’s in Nursing

For non-nursing bachelor’s degree-holders, the first step toward becoming a nurse practitioner is to get a master’s degree in nursing. Of course, you could go the traditional route of getting your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and then an MSN degree, but why do that when there’s an easier way?

Enter Marquette University’s Direct Entry MSN program in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. Located at Marquette’s satellite learning site midway between Milwaukee and Chicago, our accredited program lets you leverage your previous, non-nursing bachelor’s degree to earn an MSN in as few as 18 months.

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Because you already have a bachelor’s degree, you likely have many of the non-nursing liberal arts credits required for a nursing degree. Sure, you may need to take a few additional courses to fulfill the prerequisite requirements — typically students with Bachelor of Arts degrees need to take a few science courses, such as anatomy — but, once in the program, you will focus exclusively on nursing theory coursework. This singular focus on nursing is what allows us to provide a comprehensive masters’-level nursing education in just 18–21 months.

During this time, you’ll:

  • Complete online coursework designed to accommodate multiple learning styles
  • Participate in online discussions and quizzes and in-person lectures and exams
  • Gain hands-on experience in our high-tech skills and simulation labs
  • Put what you’ve learned into practice via clinical rotations at some of the area’s top healthcare providers

Step 2: Get Your Nursing License

Upon graduation from our Direct Entry MSN program, the next step is to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN®). This step is crucial, as you must pass the NCLEX to receive nursing licensure. To help students prepare for the NCLEX, we administer practice exams each semester.

One of the great things about applying for a nursing license in the state of Wisconsin is that the state belongs to the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC). This means that nurses can apply for a mutli-state license, allowing them to practice in 27 states without the need to apply for a new license.

Step 3: Gain Experience in the Field

This step likely comes as no surprise, but it’s an important one. Prior to enrolling in a certificate program, you need at least one year’s worth of professional nursing experience. The reasoning is simple: Before pursuing an advanced nursing position, you need to understand what it’s like to work as a nurse in the field. Besides, while you may leave our program with an MSN degree, you’re going to learn a lot in that first year of working — both about nursing and about working with other medical professionals.

MSN student with patient

Step 4: Obtain a Nurse Practitioner Certificate

Once you have a year of experience, you can pursue certification as an advanced practice nurse (APRN). At Marquette University, we offer a number of certificate options, including:

  • Acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) certificate (adult or pediatric)
  • Primary care nurse practitioner (NP) certificate (adult or pediatric)
  • Adult-older adult clinical nurse specialist (CNS) certificate
  • Nurse-midwife certificate
  • Systems leadership and healthcare quality certificate

Typically, certificate programs require about 13 credits of graduate coursework (about five courses), though this and the time it takes to earn a certificate vary from school to school. In addition, you will need to complete a preceptorship in which you work under the direction of a nurse practitioner in a clinical setting. Typically, students are responsible for lining up their own preceptorships; however, some, like Marquette’s ACNP program in Indianapolis, take care of finding preceptors for you.

Step 5: Secure APRN Licensure

As of now, there is no national standard for the licensure of nurse practitioners; however, licensure is required in all 50 states. As a result, each state has its own licensing requirements. In some states, this may amount to an “upgraded” registered nurse license, in others an APRN license. However the licensure works, you will likely need to take a certification exam, which may include both written and practical components. Depending on the state, you may need to take extra steps to write prescriptions, too.

It’s also worth noting that while many states participate in licensure compacts, these do not apply to being a nurse practitioner. To learn more about your state’s APRN licensure requirements, visit NursingLicensure.org.

The Benefits of Earning an MSN Degree

Regardless of whether you intend to become a nurse practitioner, a Master of Science in Nursing degree is just a smart career choice. Not only can you pursue certification in a number of advanced practice nurse roles; as the U.S. healthcare industry moves toward the Institute of Medicine’s goal of 80% of RNs holding a BSN degree by 2020, you’ll stand out with an MSN degree. Additionally, many hospitals and other healthcare providers require an MSN degree in order to take on nurse leadership roles. Not to mention, an MSN degree also allows you to work as a nurse educator.

Leverage Your Non-Nursing Bachelor’s Degree to Earn an MSN in as Few as 18 Months

Ready to make the jump to a career in nursing? With two program starts each year, our accredited second-degree MSN program lets you start working toward becoming a registered nurse sooner. To find out if Marquette University’s Direct Entry MSN program is right for you, give us a call, or fill out the form to have an admissions advisor reach out to you.

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