Can You Become a Nurse Practitioner Without a Nursing Degree?
Health care careers are on the rise, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the job market needs qualified candidates to step up and fill these critical career roles as the industry continues to expand. Opportunities for nurses in particular are booming -- more than 710,000 new registered nursing jobs are expected to open up between 2010 and 2020, a growth rate of 26 percent (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012) -- and career seekers are naturally curious about the multiple levels of the nursing profession.
Questions about nursing degrees and training have been at the forefront of future nurses' minds, and one question in particular seems to keep popping up. We've done the research, and we're here to settle it once and for all.
Can you become a nurse practitioner without a nursing degree?
Short answer? No. It's impossible to become a nurse practitioner without a nursing degree. Here's some reasoning, to help give context to the facts.
Nurse practitioners occasionally take on sensitive or complex medical cases and can serve on many of the same cases that primary care physicians do, which requires more extensive medical knowledge than vocational nurse training or registered nurse certification can provide. Advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) careers, which also include nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife and clinical nurse specialist, all require at least a master's degree in nursing (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012).
Here's a list of some of the duties that a nurse practitioner might perform on the job:
- Provide basic primary or specialty care to individuals and families
- Diagnose patients through physical examination and diagnostic tests
- Analyze test results and determine appropriate steps for treatment
- Assess symptoms and prescribe medications
- Set up care plans for patients and explain what to do at home to help treatment succeed
- Treat acute as well as chronic illnesses, including bronchitis, colds, flu, diabetes and obesity
Even nurses with many years of experience on the job have to go back to school and earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree before they can take on the responsibilities required of a nurse practitioner or other APRN. The depth and breadth of the medical skills expected of a nurse practitioner can only be learned in an educational setting. While job experience is invaluable when it comes to performing standard nursing duties, acquiring all the new knowledge necessary for a nurse practitioner career demands a focused learning environment.
How to become a nurse practitioner
Becoming certified as a licensed practical/vocational nurse (LPN/LVN) or a registered nurse (RN) is the first step toward a nurse practitioner career. This can be done with a bachelor's or associate degree from a two- or four-year college. Some hospitals and other clinical settings operate approved, non-university nursing programs as well (BLS.gov, 2012).
After getting your foot in the door as an entry-level nurse, you can apply to an MSN program that offers your chosen advance practice specialty. These programs typically take 3-4 semesters (about two years) of full-time study, but students who continue their career while earning their master's degree in nursing may find part-time and online degree programs that allow them to work around their professional schedule.
The length and intensity of MSN programs often depend on a student's prior training. Candidates who earned a bachelor's degree in nursing will have fewer required courses than those who became nurses through an associate degree or nursing diploma program.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Registered Nurses," U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, March 29, 2012, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, March 29, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm#tab-4
American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), 2013, http://www.aanp.org/education
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