Becoming a Nurse

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner without a Nursing Degree

NDMU ABSN student in stethoscope with text "6 steps to becoming a nurse practitioner"

If you don’t have any prior healthcare experience — or an academic background in nursing — you may be curious about how you can become a nurse practitioner without a nursing degree, or if doing so is even a possibility for you.

We’re here to tell you that it is. It can also happen sooner than you might think 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 Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Second-Degree Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program.

The Notre Dame ABSN program, which is comprised of online nursing theory coursework, in-person skills and simulation labs and clinical experiences, can be completed in as few as 15 months. After graduating from our accelerated nursing program, the next part of your journey to becoming a nurse practitioner will take anywhere from three to four years.

From earning your BSN to attaining advanced practice nurse (APRN) licensure, we’ll outline each step in the process of how to become a nurse practitioner without a nursing degree below.

1: Earn Your BSN in As Few as 15 Months

As mentioned above, the first step to becoming a nurse practitioner without a nursing degree is to earn a BSN. If you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you have a couple of routes available to you to complete this step:

  • Enroll in a traditional BSN program, which generally takes four years to complete.
  • Enroll in a full-time accelerated nursing program, such as the 15-month Notre Dame ABSN program.

Your own personal career goals and timeline, as well learning preferences, may help you narrow down which path is the best option for your situation. For example, if you prefer the cadence of a traditional academic calendar, a traditional on-campus BSN program may be worth considering.

However, if you’d like to enter the field sooner, you can enroll in a full-time accelerated nursing program such as the 15-month Notre Dame ABSN program. So long as you meet our admissions requirements, you are eligible to enroll regardless of your existing educational background, no matter whether you majored in accounting or zoology.

To accommodate students with various learning preferences, Notre Dame ABSN offers two program options:

  • Our Hybrid Accelerated 2nd Degree BSN program gives students the opportunity to study and complete nursing theory coursework via an intuitive e-Learning platform. This is perfect for students who thrive in self-paced learning environments.
  • Our on-campus Accelerated 2nd Degree BSN program in Baltimore features regularly scheduled in-person lectures taught by our expert nursing faculty, making it a great option for those who thrive on structured routine.

2: Attain RN Licensure

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®). While notoriously difficult, passing this exam is a mandatory step on the road to becoming a nurse — let alone a nurse practitioner — because it ensures candidates entering the profession have the basic skills and knowledge to provide safe, effective primary care as an entry-level nurse.

For this reason, taking adequate time to prepare for the NCLEX is crucial. While we created the Notre Dame ABSN curriculum in part to help you prepare for the NCLEX, we recommend blocking off time after graduation dedicated to preparing for the licensure exam. It’s also a good idea to sign up to take the NCLEX a month or two after nursing school graduation while course material is still fresh in your mind.

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

3: Gain Experience Working in the Field

Once you earn a BSN and pass the NCLEX, congratulations! You are now qualified to work as a registered nurse. But if you aspire to become a nurse practitioner or pursue an APRN position, you will need to continue your nursing education to earn an advanced nursing degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

But before applying to a nursing graduate program, many RNs work in the field to get a better idea of what direction they want their nursing career to take. Not to mention, some advanced nursing degree programs require you to have one to two years of experience in your specific area of interest before you can become eligible to apply.

4: Earn an MSN or DNP

After spending time working as a registered nurse, your next step to becoming a nurse practitioner is earning an MSN degree or DNP degree. Several MSN and DNP programs offer tracks for nurse practitioners that you can complete in two or three years.

Because healthcare is growing even more complex, becoming an advanced practice nurse requires a deep understanding of advanced health assessment, patient care, and evidence-based practice, so you can expect a rigorous curriculum no matter which advanced nursing specialization path you choose to pursue. Depending on your program, you’ll also develop expertise and leadership in your area of specialty.

5: Earn National Nurse Practitioner Certification

After earning a graduate degree from a nurse practitioner program, you must pass a national certification exam to show you have professional knowledge in your specialization area.

Specialties include but aren’t limited to:

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)

6. Attain Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) Licensure

After you earn your certification in a recognized population concentration, the next step in becoming a nurse practitioner is passing a national certification exam to qualify for APRN licensure.

The exam you take may vary depending on your specialty area of choice, but some of the 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

While it’s possible to hold licenses with multiple state boards, it’s important to point out that each state has its own licensing requirements. Some states require extra steps to gain prescription-writing privileges, for example. To learn more about each state’s APRN licensure requirements, visit NursingLicensure.org

Start Your Road to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner at ABSN@NDMU

If you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, contact our admissions team to see how NDMU can streamline your entry into a nurse practitioner career.

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