How To Become A Nurse Practitioner Without A BSN/Nursing Degree

Is it possible to earn a MSN (Masters of Science in Nursing) degree without having a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing)?  Absolutely. You can also earn a MSN if you have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field of study.

Most people interested in earning a masters degree in nursing pursue careers in a variety of healthcare work environments and are referred to as APRNs, or advanced practice registered nurses.  In this area of patient care, a few career examples include nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists. Many people choose to complete an online MSN program because they are currently working registered nurses.  This type of higher education normally requires less time and money while still maintaining all of the necessary learning that is included in a traditional MSN degree program.

rn to msn tracks

What is an APRN (Nurse Practitioner (NP), Nurse Midwife (CNM), and Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA))?

An advanced practice registered nurse is a licensed healthcare clinician who may work independently or together with a medical doctor/physician.  All APRNs hold at least a master’s degree. A doctoral degree in nursing practice, also called a DNP, is becoming more preferred and may eventually be required for APRN professions.  There are multiple areas or degree types of advanced practice nursing. Of those areas, three of the main types we will discuss include nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, and nurse anesthetist.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)specialities in advanced nursing include:  acute care, adult health, family health, gerontology health, neonatal health, oncology, pediatric/child health, psychiatric/mental health, and women’s health.  Sub-specialty areas include: allergy and immunology, cardiovascular, dermatology, emergency, endocrinology, gastroenterology, hematology, oncology, neurology, occupational health, orthopedics, pulmonology/respiratory, sports medicine, and urology.

Typical patient care duties that advanced nurses perform depends on the type of APRN practice and the state where the healthcare is being given.  Below is a list of general duties for each type.

A Nurse Practitioner (NP) provides primary and specialty care, gathers information about the patient, performs exams, orders tests, diagnoses health problems, prescribes medicine, determines needed healthcare solutions and counsels the patient on managing and improving health.

A Nurse Midwife (CNM) provides medical care delivering babies, gives gynecological exams, may offer surgical assistance to doctors during c-sections, gives primary care for mothers and their newborn babies, supports wellness care and provides reproductive/sexual healthcare to patients.

A Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) provides anesthesia, pain management, and emergency care (if needed) to patients undergoing surgical procedures.  They are with the patient before, during, and after the procedure to ensure the patient handles the anesthesia well.


What is the Job Outlook for Advanced Practice Nursing as a Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Midwife, or Nurse Anesthetist?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections program, APRN employment is projected to grow 31% from 2016 to 2026.  This is faster than the average growth of all occupations. There is currently, and is projected to be an increase in demand for healthcare services.  Bloomberg Businessweek reported in 2013 that the U.S. has a shortage of 13,000 doctors and could grow to over 130,000 by the year 2025.  Advanced practice nurses, especially nurse practitioners, could fill that gap.


Quick Facts: Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
2018 Median Pay$113,930 per year

$54.78 per hour

Typical Entry-Level EducationMaster’s degree
Work Experience in a Related OccupationNone
On-the-job TrainingNone
Number of Jobs, 2016203,800
Job Outlook, 2016-2631% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-2664,200

*Quick facts chart is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website.


MSN Degree Program Considerations if you are Currently an RN (Registered Nurse) with an Associates Degree or Diploma

If you are currently an RN and have a diploma or an associates degree, there are “bridge” programs offered by online schools to allow you to earn a masters in nursing without having a bachelor’s degree in nursing.  Basically, the “bridge” program does just what the name suggests. It fills the gap, so to speak, with the necessary schooling you would have received when earning the bachelor of science in nursing degree. Most online programs refer to these programs as “RN to MSN” and/or “RN to BSN to MSN’.

Who would choose to pursue this type of program?  This is normally someone who is a registered nurse with years of experience and would like to become a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist, or clinical nurse specialist of some type.  Most people who are RNs are currently working and have families, so going back to traditional college to earn a BSN, and then an MSN may not be an option for him/her because of the time and money that would be required.  An online bridge program may be a better consideration.


MSN Degree Program Considerations if you are NOT a Registered Nurse and Hold a Bachelor’s Degree in a Related Health/Science Field

If you are currently not a registered nurse, but would like to pursue a career as an APRN (nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist), there are online programs available for you, also.  These are called BSN to MSN programs. Typically, these programs first focus on the BSN portion and are normally 18 months. After completing this part of the program, the student will take the NCLEX exam (also referred to as the “nursing board exam”).  Following taking and passing this exam, the remainder of the program focuses on the MSN degree, which also takes about another 18 months. The total time (among other factors) depends on how long it takes the student to pass the NCLEX exam between the two portions of the program.

Who would choose to do this?  This is normally someone who has a bachelor’s degree with experience in the work force, but decides after a number of years that they are drawn to a career in nursing.  Some people also find that the field in which they got their degree is very limited with a lack of employment opportunities. They would like to become a nurse (possibly also an APRN), but aren’t interested in starting all over with a traditional college education to earn a BSN, and then an MSN.  People such as these can complete an online BSN to MSN program and have better employment opportunities and earning capacity.


What Exactly is an Online “Bridge” Program?

As discussed briefly above, an online “bridge” program is a unique higher education degree program created to help students advance their current education to the next level by providing the necessary information needed to connect the student’s knowledge from where they are to where they need to be academically.  Many programs offered can be done in an accelerated amount of time and cost less than going back to a traditional college to earn the same degree.


How Long does it Take to Earn an Online MSN Degree?

There are many factors that affect how long program completion time will be for each individual.  A few of these factors include program type, student academic progress, and credit transferability.  See the “Tracks” image at the top of the page for an estimated program completion time. Programs range from 18 months up to 36 months.  Again, these amounts of time all depend on the individual student and may include the influencing factors listed above.


A Few More Things to Examine when Choosing the Best Online Masters in Nursing Program for you

Many online education experts mention the following things to keep in mind when choosing an online program.

Make sure the program is accredited.  One of the first things healthcare employers look for is if you graduated from an accredited program.  The following national accreditation organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (NLN CNEA)

Research state licensing requirements in the state you plan to practice.  It’s important to know if the state you plan to reside and practice in will accept the program/degree you work so hard to earn.  It’s also important to know ahead of time what the state licensing requirements (and updating your license after practicing for awhile) are for you.  The National Council of State Board of Nursing has extensive, useful information and a state search tool.  This organization also has information on their site about the APRN Consensus Model (what all the requirements are for becoming and APRN).

Determine how much it will cost.  Research your options.  Each school and program varies.  Do the math now. You will thank yourself later.

Look into financial aid.  Speak to a school representative about financial aid options.  Some schools offer government-funded financial aid. Some nursing organizations also offer grants, scholarships and other programs.  The American Association of Nurse Practitioners is an example of such organizations.

Inquire about in-person requirements.  It’s important to know that most accredited programs require students to attend the clinical and practicum parts of the program in person.  When looking into schools/programs, remember this and think about how far you are willing to travel to be present in person to complete these parts of the program.

Take inventory of your technology.  Do you have the hardware, software, and equipment needed for completing an online program?  If not, are you willing to purchase what is needed before beginning?


Summary of How to Become a Nurse Practitioner (NP) Without a BSN/Nursing Degree

Whether you are currently an RN or not, and you are seeking a career in the advanced practice nursing field, there are online programs available to get you started on the path to earning a masters degree in nursing.  If you pursue one of these programs, be prepared to study hard and apply yourself. Just because it takes less time and is generally less expensive, it doesn’t mean it won’t be challenging. It may be more challenging than a traditional college MSN degree program.  These online programs will test all of your skills, critical thinking, and time management. After completion, however, you will be equipped with the tools needed to succeed in helping provide quality care for patients while also gaining employment opportunities in a growing healthcare field.

Scroll to Top