Becoming a Nurse Practitioner with a Non-Nursing Degree

Become a nurse practitioner with a non-nursing bachelor's degree - Madonna nursing student

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the need for advanced practice nurses, which includes Nurse Practitioners (NP) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) nurses, is slated to increase by 31% by 2026.

While both career options are great paths that further your ability to help people as a nurse, you may be wondering which is right for you after you leverage your non-nursing background to complete your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

This blog will help you understand what steps you’ll need to take on your path to becoming a nurse practitioner with a non-nursing bachelor's degree. We will dive deeper into the differences between an NP and a DNP later in this blog, but here is a handy chart to cover the basic nuances.

When we break it down, DNP vs. NP can be hard to separate. While it’s true some nurse practitioners hold a doctor of nursing practice degree, the two paths are very different.

Simply put, a nurse practitioner is a clinical role while a DNP refers to the highest level of clinical nursing education. You may also see the DNP referred to as a “terminal” nursing degree, meaning there is nothing further to attain after it.

Earning a DNP can be a great move for your career, depending on your goals. Becoming a nurse practitioner also opens a lot of doors and empowers you to help people and earn a specialty certification. To see which path may be right for you after earning your BSN through the Madonna University ABSN program, let’s look at how a DNP differs from an NP and break down the steps involved to achieve either one.

Student in Madonna University's Accelerated BSN program

The doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is the level above the master of science in nursing (MSN). As we mentioned above, a DNP is a terminal degree; however, while the highest in its category, there are a few other terminal degrees in the field of nursing. One example is the Ph.D., which prepares nurses for a career in research and data.

The DNP prepares nurses to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), nursing leader, nurse educator, nurse executive or nurse director.

The DNP is also geared to preparing nurses to analyze evidence-based practices and ensure the most impactful practices are implemented to improve patient care. The DNP will take nurses through curriculum that allows them to sift through patient data and run it through computer analytics to understand various processes and identify which ones result in improved patient outcomes.

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse who holds an MSN. NPs can also act as primary care physicians, depending in which state they hold licensure. Currently, more than half of U.S. states allow full practice authority to NPs. In these states, NPs may treat patients, evaluate tests and prescribe medications without a supervising physician or physician assistant.

NPs also can:

  • Prescribe medications
  • Promote disease prevention and healthy lifestyle
  • Evaluate patients and symptoms
  • Conduct diagnostic tests

It’s also important to note that not all NPs choose to treat patients. In fact, their career path will largely depend on the specialization they are certified in and the state they practice in.

NPs can work in several different settings including:

  • Outpatient care centers
  • Urgent care clinics
  • Primary care offices
  • Hospitals (state, local or private)
  • Community clinics

As we mentioned above, NPs are in high demand. With great job security, a comfortable salary and a career that is rewarding, it’s no surprise students are eager to earn their degrees to become NPs.

But before you can become an NP, you must first complete certain academic milestones. Here are three steps to earn your certifications as an NP as a registered nurse:

  • Step 1: Graduate from an MSN or a DNP program
  • Step 2: Earn national certification in a patient population focus area
  • Step 3: Earn state Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) licensure

If you’re starting your journey to become a nurse practitioner with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you’ve come to the right place. While an NP may seem far in the future now, you may be surprised at how soon you can earn your BSN and be ready to start looking into advanced practice degrees.

With the Madonna ABSN program, changing direction doesn’t mean you have to start over. If you’ve ever wondered how to become a nurse practitioner without a nursing degree, or how to become a nurse without majoring in nursing, these are the first steps.

Our accelerated program empowers you to leverage your previous degree so you can earn a bachelor’s in nursing in as few as 16 months instead of the four years it takes with a traditional BSN program. Upon successful completion of our accelerated BSN curriculum, you’ll gain the solid foundation you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which you must pass before you can practice as a registered nurse and start on your journey toward becoming a nurse practitioner sooner.

ABSN student studying on laptop

Madonna University’s ABSN program makes that possible through a comprehensive blended learning model that combines:

In as few as 16 months, Madonna ABSN’s model will provide you with the knowledge and hands-on experience you need to graduate and can prepare you to sit for NCLEX exam.

Step 1: Meet Madonna ABSN Program Requirements

Now that you understand how an accelerated nursing program like Madonna University’s ABSN works, let’s talk about the requirements you’ll need to meet to be qualified to enroll. Having a non-nursing bachelor’s degree or existing college credits is just one part of the admissions requirements.

To be eligible to apply to the Madonna ABSN program you must:

  • Have a confirmed bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a minimum cumulative 2.8 GPA from all undergraduate coursework. Advanced standing students must have completed a minimum of 60 credits with a cumulative 3.0 GPA in all undergraduate course work.
  • Complete an application to the university and submit all official transcripts of coursework from all colleges or universities you have attended.
  • Submit a letter of intent to the College of Nursing and Health.
  • Successfully complete all prerequisites.
  • Complete the Madonna Writing Assessment.

Step 2: Earn Your BSN

To start on the path to become a nurse practitioner with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, it’s important to look at the time commitment required in an ABSN program like Madonna’s. While our program is accelerated, how soon you can start depends on how many prerequisites you will need to complete before diving in to your ABSN courses.

nurse checking child patient's heart beat

During Madonna University’s Accelerated BSN program, you will complete 53 credit hours. Those credit hours are broken down into four, full-time semesters that include a combination of online curriculum, hands-on lab experience, and in-hospital clinical rotations.

Step 3: Pass the NCLEX

Once you successfully complete the 53 credit hours and graduate earning your BSN degree, there is still one last step before you can work as a registered nurse.

You must pass the NCLEX exam, which can be taken any time after graduation. It is up to you to determine how soon you want to take it, but know you have only three tries to pass the NCLEX each year, so you want to be as prepared as possible.

Madonna’s ABSN program has practice exams throughout its 16 months so you can be as prepared as possible to sit for the exam.

Once you’ve leveraged your non-nursing degree into a BSN through Madonna University’s ABSN program, you can start working toward your NP. Let’s take a deeper look into what you’ll need to do.

Step 1: Earn a Master’s in Nursing

For BSN-holders, the first step toward becoming a nurse practitioner is to get a master’s degree in nursing.

Just as there are many pathways and options to consider when selecting an ABSN program, there are also a variety of Master of Science in Nursing programs to choose from.

As a BSN-graduated nurse, you can apply to MSN programs in several clinical and non-clinical areas of specialization.

Transitioning from a BSN to an MSN program is a common and practical move for your future as a nurse. An MSN can open the door to working in specialized clinical practice, administration, education and more. Just as earning your BSN requires significant commitment and dedication, so too will earning your MSN degree.

There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding on an MSN program. Let’s take a closer look at what a traditional MSN program involves, the types of educational options it offers, and how it can get you well on your way to becoming an NP.

Traditional MSN Degree Programs

A traditional master's degree In nursing encompasses everything you’ll need to know to take you nursing career to the next level and it gives you the opportunity to specialize in an area that you are interested in.

A traditional MSN pathway generally takes about two years — if you decide to take on a full course load.

Group of Madonna Accelerated BSN students studying together

Just like a BSN program, your MSN program will vary based on school and location. Here’s an outline of what you can generally expect from a traditional MSN program:

  • MSN Professional Nursing Core course
  • Nursing Science courses
  • Nursing Education courses

Other MSN Degree Program Options

While a traditional MSN program may be right for some BSN-holding nurses, there are other options that may fit your lifestyle better. Accelerated MSN programs can be a great option for people who want to compress their MSN and complete it sooner.

You can also earn your MSN following types of programs:

  • Direct Entry or Entry
  • RN-to-MSN Bridge
  • Fast Track BSN-to-MSN

It’s worth noting that when you choose an MSN program, you should check to make sure it will qualify you to take the APRN exam for your state. If the program is not approved by your state board of nursing, you may not be able to get the certification you need to be an advanced practice nurse. You can check online with your state board for a list of schools that meet their licensure requirements.

You should also ensure your program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Step 2: Gain Experience in the Field

You will need at least one year of professional nursing experience before enrolling in a certificate program. Prior to pursuing an advanced nursing position, it’s important for you to really get an idea of what’s it’s like to work as a nurse in the field. During this year you’ll work with a team of other healthcare professionals and get some real-world experience under your belt.

Madonna nursing instructor with student and equipment

Step 3: Obtain a Nurse Practitioner Certificate

Following your year of experience, you will become eligible for enrollment to obtain certification as an advanced practice nurse (APRN).

Generally speaking, you can expect to complete about 13 credits of graduate coursework (about five courses), to earn your certificate, although the amount of time it will take to earn varies from school to school.

Part of this step also requires you to complete a preceptorship. Here, you will work under the supervision of a nurse practitioner in a clinical setting.

Step 4: Secure APRN Licensure

Currently, there is not one universal national standard for the licensure of nurse practitioners, although licensure is required in all 50 states. Each state has its own licensing requirements.

Either way, you’ll almost certainly need to take a certification exam that is made up of written and practical components. You may need to take extra steps to write prescriptions, depending on the state.

Additionally, while 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

As we’ve discussed, a DNP program generally builds on an MSN program. A DNP prepares you to hold different leadership positions at the top of the nursing profession, but does a nurse practitioner need a doctorate?

Some programs set it up so that the pathway for NPs to earn their doctorate is smooth. Some will allow you to transfer some of your MSN credits toward your DNP, and other programs even offer a BSN-to-DNP option that offers a dual MSN and DNP upon graduation of the program.

nursing students studying together with whiteboard

Accredited DNP programs require a minimum of 1,000 post-baccalaureate practice hours, including those in post-master’s programs. Your institution determines how many graduate clinical hours are applied to the DNP and the number of additional clinical hours required for you to reach the 1,000-hour minimum. Any graduate credits and clinical hours applied toward the DNP must be completed at accredited institutions.

However, nurse practitioners do not currently need a doctorate degree to practice. While a DNP is a great way to advance your position, salary and status, it’s not required of nurse practitioners.

While it’s not currently required of nurse practitioners to hold a doctorate, this has been a topic of some debate.

As an RN weighing whether to go into advanced practice, you should be aware that there is currently a push in the industry advocating that all MSN nurse practitioner degree programs switch over to the DNP level by 2025.

Some of the reasoning behind this movement comes from the fact that other health professionals that hold a similar amount of responsibility as a nurse practitioner role, such as dentists, psychologists, physical therapists, audiologists, and pharmacists are all required to hold a doctorate for licensure, while the APRN licensure requires a master’s in nursing.

In 2018, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) announced that it would advocate to make the DNP the new educational standard for NPs. However, the announcement was met with some pushback.

While the intention to have higher educational standards is something that could benefit patients, the move would likely create a harder and more lengthy road to becoming an advanced practice nurse. For employers, this means it would be harder to fill and keep up with the growing demand for qualified NPs.

The Need For NPs

In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of nurse practitioner positions will increase by 46% between 2019 and 2029 to keep up with demand – that represents another 263,400 NPs entering the nursing workforce.

A DNP program can take two to four years to complete — sometimes double what it takes to complete obtain an MSN. If nurses were required to complete a DNP program, they’d face longer programs and a profession that is harder to get into, possibly resulting in a shortage of filling all those needed NP positions.

However, there does seem to be more access to DNP programs. According to NONPF, there has been a 24% upswing in the number of post-baccalaureate DNP programs in the U.S. since 2015. As of May 2018, that makes 187 new DNP programs.


Regardless of whether this move is successful, some specialties are already on board and enforcing the requirement. For example, the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs committed to advance the requirements for that field, also with a target date of 2025.

While a push is in motion to require a doctorate degree for NPs by 2025, there is no solid evidence that it will be a widespread requirement at that time. There are still many logistics to consider and discussions to have, but what’s at the heart of the move is improved patient outcomes. NPs are well-trained and prepared through their MSN programs, but only time will tell if that requirement will become a doctoral level.

Madonna Accelerated BSN student

No matter what pathway you choose, we can help you get started. The first step starts with earning your BSN and becoming a registered nurse. At Madonna University, our ABSN program will prepare you with the knowledge you need to take the NCLEX exam and continue on your way to becoming a capable advanced practice nurse.

Are you ready to take the first step toward your career helping others as an advanced practice nurse? Madonna University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program is here to help you leverage your existing credits and achieve your goals.

Get started today by connecting with one of our admission representatives. In addition to answering any outstanding questions you may have about the program, they will help determine your eligibility and identify any prerequisite courses you need to complete.