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How to Become a Nurse Practitioner with a Non-Nursing Bachelor’s Degree

Summary: This article explains why becoming a nurse practitioner is a wise career move, including the fact that it’s a profession in especially high demand. From earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing to attaining your APRN license, we explain how to pursue this rewarding professional path.

From BSN to Nurse Practitioner in 6 Steps

If you’ve done any research into the nursing profession, you may have heard that becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) is a wise move if you want to advance your career beyond working as a registered nurse.

It’s definitely a professional path worth pursuing: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports these advanced practice nurses are among the highest paid in the profession, with an annual median pay of $115,800 (as of April 2020).

As a result, you may be wondering how to become a nurse practitioner. Lucky for you, it can happen sooner than you might think. Especially if you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and decide to pursue the first step in the process — earning an undergraduate nursing degree — through Marian University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program.

Designed with career changers and second-degree seekers in mind, the Marian ABSN program follows a rigorous 16-month curriculum comprised of online theory courses, in-person skills and simulation labs, and clinical experiences through Ascension St. Vincent in Indianapolis; Ascension Saint Thomas in Nashville, Tennessee; and top-rated healthcare facilities in Oklahoma City.

It’s true you can complete the first step in the process of becoming a nurse practitioner — earning a BSN — in 16 months. But you’ll still need at least one to two years of experience in your specific area of interest before you can apply to a nurse practitioner or advanced practice nursing program.

In this blog post, we’ll explore other benefits to becoming a nurse in general (and a nurse practitioner specifically), then cover the steps involved in becoming a nurse practitioner with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. We’ll also look into how the Marian ABSN program has helped two alumni pursue their own paths to advanced practice nursing.

Why Should I Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Before we get into the steps involved in becoming a nurse practitioner, we should mention that knowing the answer to the question, “why do you want to be a nurse,” is an important one to consider for your advanced practice nursing journey. There are no academic shortcuts on this challenging path — just accelerated education options. Your “why” for advancing in the profession can serve as a steadfast motivator all along the way.

Man in lab coat hugging woman at Marian University event

That said, there are so many great reasons to become a nurse practitioner, ranging from greater career autonomy to the ability to care for and connect with patients on a deeper level. Here, we take a look at three of them.

Your Advanced Skills Will Be in Demand

The fact that nurses are in demand is widespread knowledge in the healthcare field, but it became even more apparent as the public health crisis brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic began dominating headlines for much of 2020. But even before the pandemic, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated the profession would grow 12 percent between 2018 and 2028, much faster than the average for all other occupations.

While several factors contribute to this demand, one of the main reasons is the country’s increased emphasis on preventive care and demand for healthcare services from an aging population. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the nation’s population to grow by more than 10% by 2032, with the number of people ages 65 and older increasing by 48%.

Those facts combined with an impending primary care physician shortage also mean projected job security for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), who are well-suited to help meet the advanced healthcare needs of their communities. The BLS projects demand for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 26 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Answering the Call for Nurses in OKC

Our program sites in Nashville and Indianapolis aim to fulfill nursing demand by helping qualified students earn a BSN and enter the workforce in as few as 16 months. Our expansion into Oklahoma City in 2020 stems from a similar desire to help alleviate the Sooner State’s registered nurse shortage: The ratio of RNs per population in Oklahoma is 700 RNs per 100,000 people, which is well below the national average of 1,150 per 100,000.

You’ll Make Even More of a Difference

Few career paths give you the chance to have such a positive impact on the lives of others. No matter what nursing specialty you choose to pursue — or how far you choose to advance your career — caring for the injured, sick, and dying is part of your job description. Any shift you work could see you improving — or potentially saving — the lives of your patients.

As a nurse practitioner, you’ll have even more of a chance to make a difference in your patients’ lives. With their advanced clinical training and expertise, nurse practitioners have the authority to diagnose illnesses, treat conditions, provide evidence-based health education, and in some states, prescribe medications.

You’ll Have Plenty of Professional Development Opportunities

When it comes to entering the nursing profession, you have plenty of options. It’s true an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) is the minimum degree requirement for working as a registered nurse. But when compared to an ADN, a BSN can lead to increased job security and better chances for advancement, among several other professional benefits.

On the career advancement front, earning a BSN is a great first step if you want to pursue an advanced nursing role, such as nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist or nurse practitioner. (We’ll get into how to become a nurse practitioner and the different paths you can pursue as an APRN below.)

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner with a Non-Nursing Bachelor’s Degree

There aren’t any academic shortcuts to becoming a nurse practitioner or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). However, if you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, there are streamlined education options that can help you achieve some steps on an accelerated timeline, including Marian University’s 16-month ABSN program.

Below, we’ll break down how to become a nurse practitioner into six steps, as well as discuss how Marian’s ABSN program has helped two alumni pursuing NP careers excel at every stage of their journeys.

1: Earn a BSN

The first step toward becoming a nurse practitioner with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree is enrolling in a BSN program. Generally this takes four years to complete with a traditional BSN program. Or, if you’d like to enter the field sooner, you can enroll in a full-time accelerated nursing program such as the 16-month Marian ABSN program. As long as you have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, it doesn’t matter if you come from a science or liberal arts background. We let you leverage your existing education so you can start nursing courses your first day of the program.

How Do Online Nursing Programs Work?

How Online Education Works in Marian University’s ABSN Program

Often, when people talk about online nursing programs, what they mean to say is “online-based.” These programs blend online and hands-on experiences. However, once you hold your BSN, it may be possible to earn an MSN through an online only education. Just keep in mind that APRN certification also requires hands-on preceptorships.

Wondering if there are any online accelerated BSN programs that can help you advance this first step in your nurse practitioner journey? For a more in-depth look at how our online nursing program works, check out our blog post, “How Online Education Works in Marian University’s ABSN Program.”

How Marian ABSN helps: Especially if you enroll in an accelerated nursing program like Marian ABSN to earn your bachelor’s degree in nursing, you can expect the coursework to be challenging. The accelerated nature may make our program seem even more overwhelming, but the online coursework portion of our blended curriculum model grants you access to course material 24/7 and gives you more autonomy over when and where you study.

Not to mention, for adult learners like Elliott Haynes, ABSN Class of 2017, and many other students, the interactive components of our e-Learning platform make our online nursing degree for non-nurses that much more accessible.

Elliott, the father of three kids under the age of 5, chose the Marian ABSN program site in Nashville to begin his nursing education because he needed a flexible program option close to home. Keeping pace with online learning and developing effective study strategies in the Marian ABSN program helped him learn how to manage his time later with his Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) studies.

“I learned how to do things on the go, like recording all my lectures and listening to them in the car wherever I drove, and finding times to study after the kids went to bed,” says Elliott, whose professional goal is to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP).

2: Obtain Your Nursing License

Once you earn your BSN, you must then receive licensure to practice as a registered nurse. That means passing the National Council Licensure Examination, better known as the NCLEX. This exam helps ensure those entering the profession have the basic skills and knowledge to provide safe, effective nursing care at the entry level. Questions on this exam are also designed to assess your critical thinking ability.

As with all the exams you take in nursing school, it’s important to note the NCLEX is not an exam you can cram for the night before. While we created the Marian ABSN curriculum in part to help you prepare for the NCLEX, you’ll want to block off some time after graduation to dedicate to preparing for the licensure exam. We also advise signing up to take the NCLEX a month or two after graduating from nursing school, while everything is still fresh in your mind.

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

How Marian ABSN helps: To help prepare you for this exam, you will take timed, proctored NCLEX-style tests designed to familiarize you with the types of questions, format, and timing of the actual test throughout the program. Post-graduation, the Marian ABSN program also offers a four-day review course to build on everything you’ve learned in nursing school.

Elliott says he felt prepared to take the NCLEX-RN® — and later excel in his MSN program — thanks to the structure of the Marian ABSN curriculum.

The Marian ABSN program made me feel like I had a pretty good background of everything that we’re covering in my master’s program. I learned a lot due to the quality of the curriculum and I think that’s helped me a lot in the long run.

-Elliott Haynes, ABSN Class of 2017

3: Work in the Field

Once you earn a nursing degree and pass the NCLEX, you are eligible to work as a registered nurse.

Many RNs work in the field to get a better sense of where they want to go with their career prior to applying to a nursing graduate program. Not to mention, most NP and advanced specialty programs require you to have one to two years of experience in your specific area of interest before you can apply.

How Marian ABSN helps: Our ABSN program affords you unprecedented clinical experiences in Indianapolis, Nashville, and Oklahoma City that allow you to “try on” various nursing specialties. No matter which program site location you choose, during your Marian ABSN clinical rotations you can expect to work with patients under the supervision of a highly experienced clinical instructor or preceptor in specialty areas including:

  • Adult Health
  • Obstetrics and Pediatrics
  • Acute and Long-Term Care
  • Mental and Behavioral Health

Amy Herink, ABSN Class of May 2020, says the clinical experiences she had as a Marian Accelerated BSN student ultimately led her to continue her education in pursuit of becoming a certified nurse midwife with a focus on women’s health nursing.

“The Marian ABSN program offered well-rounded clinicals in a variety of specialties that helped me get to know what I like most about working in the field,” she says. “The one clinical I was really excited to experience was women’s health, and that’s ultimately the advanced nurse specialty I decided to pursue.”

The Spirit of Caring

Marian ABSN does more than just equip students with nursing knowledge and skills experience. As a faith-based institution, we also believe in treating patients holistically — that is treating their mind, body, and spirit. As you perform your clinical rotations, experienced instructors will guide you as you learn to espouse the true spirit of caring, which is something Elliott says has stuck with him as he pursues his MSN.

“Marian’s whole mission is caring for the whole person. That has always been a focus of mine: How can I better take care of people? That was why I went into nursing to begin with and why I’m continuing my nursing studies so I can advance in the field and be of even more service to patients,” he says.

4: Earn an Advanced Degree

After spending time in the field, your next step to becoming a nurse practitioner is going back to school for your MSN or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. Many MSN and DNP programs offer nurse practitioner tracks that can be completed in two or three years.

As an advanced nursing degree student, you can expect to take an even deeper dive into advanced health assessment, patient care, and evidence-based practice. Depending on which program option you choose, you’ll also develop expertise and leadership in your area of specialty.

How Marian ABSN helps: While it’s true you complete a majority of your ABSN coursework online, you still have access to face-to-face support from faculty and instructors in our program. Beyond helping you navigate tough nursing topics or coursework concepts, their No. 1 goal is to see you succeed, achieve your goals, and grow into a poised nursing professional.

In fact, Amy credits the support she received from her instructors just a few months into the program for giving her the confidence to pursue advanced practice nursing.

Amy Herink

I asked every single one of my clinical instructors who were APRNs if they felt I had what it took to succeed in advanced nursing practice, and they all were so supportive. It was their guidance and mentorship that made me feel like I could handle the mental challenge of a master’s in nursing program and advanced nursing career.

-Amy Herink, ABSN Class of May 2020

5: Obtain a Nurse Practitioner Certificate

After earning your MSN degree or DNP, the next step in becoming a nurse practitioner is pursuing certification as an advanced practice nurse.

Like registered nurses, nurse practitioners can choose a general path of practice or one that specializes in a specific patient population or area of care.

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioners (ACNP) provide care for adult patients with complex diseases in acute care or hospital settings.
  • Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP) provide primary care to patients of all ages, teaching them about disease prevention, maintaining medical records, and developing treatment plans.
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioners (NNP) provide care for premature and sick newborns in neonatal intensive care units (NICU), delivery rooms, and emergency rooms.
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP) provide care for patients diagnosed with mental illness, behavioral problems, and psychological disorders using a blend of therapy and medicine.
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners (WHNP) provide primary care to women of all ages.

How Marian ABSN helps: The accelerated nature of Marian’s program means you will be responsible for learning 36 months’ worth of material in 16 months. Suffice it to say, staying on top of online coursework, labs, and multiple clinical shifts each week involves a lot of motivation and drive to succeed.

When it comes to his journey to become a nurse practitioner, Elliott says his experience with Marian’s accelerated nursing curriculum is what prepared him so well for the rigorous road ahead.

Not only did the Marian ABSN program curriculum prepare him to think critically, he’s also been able to apply the same time management techniques and mindset that helped him excel in our program to his MSN studies.

“There was never a doubt of whether I could do the work in an MSN program. It was always about, ‘How can I manage it well? What do I have time for? Am I spreading myself too thin?’ I think developing those time management skills in the ABSN program has helped a lot,” he says.

6: Attain APRN Licensure

Just as you must pass the NCLEX before you can work as a registered nurse, after you earn your certification in a recognized population focus, you must pass a national certification exam to qualify for APRN licensure.

While the exam you ultimately take is up to you and may vary depending on your chosen specialty area, some of the most prominent national certification agencies that offer NP certification exams include:

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

Once you pass the national certification exam, assuming you hold an unencumbered RN license, you qualify to apply for an APRN license. Similar to RN licensure, you can hold licenses with multiple state boards, but keep in mind each state has its own licensing requirements. Some may also require extra steps for writing prescriptions. To learn more about your state’s APRN licensure requirements, visit NursingLicensure.org.

How Marian ABSN helps: Whether you decide to become an RN or advance your career to become a nurse practitioner, the Marian ABSN Leadership/Community in the Nursing Profession course is designed to offer a different perspective, one that goes beyond the bedside. In it, you’ll have the chance to job-shadow leaders within a top healthcare facility and get a taste for what it’s like to work in a nurse leadership role.

Compared to RNs, NPs operate with greater independence and take on far more responsibility in leadership roles as part of healthcare teams. As a nurse practitioner, you’ll have more of a hand in developing complex patient care plans and making tough calls for your patients — both of which Elliott says he’s looking forward to doing once he enters the field.

I just want to be able to further care for people. As a nurse practitioner, you’re set up to help people in all sorts of different ways. I want to be able to better care for people and help them live healthier lives.
-Elliott Haynes, ABSN Class of 2017

Start Your Journey to Become a Nurse Practitioner at Marian ABSN

If you choose to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from an ABSN program, becoming a nurse practitioner with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree is possible in as few as five years. By comparison, the traditional path may take seven to eight years to complete.

The first step involves earning an undergraduate nursing degree. With the Marian ABSN program, you can check off this educational milestone in 16 months. If you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, contact our admissions team to see how Marian’s Accelerated BSN program can streamline your entry into a nurse practitioner career.

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