The US is facing a shortage of both nurses and primary care physicians that is predicted to get worse over the coming decade. To help alleviate this shortage, professional organizations and educational institutions have developed “fast-track” systems to shorten the educational preparation time. For those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, direct entry MSN programs offer a chance to enter the nursing profession without starting over in a BSN program. Direct entry nurse practitioner programs provide the knowledge to become a primary care or specialty care NP.
Why a Master’s Degree in Nursing?
A masters degree in nursing is the springboard to advanced practice nursing as a nurse practitioner. All states require a minimum of an MSN to become licensed as an advanced practice RN. MSN degrees are also typically required or preferred for NPs who want to take on administrative positions, become nursing faculty or enter specialties such as nursing informatics. Direct entry programs allow a professional in another field to build on his or her current bachelor’s degree and complete an accelerated NP program.
About Direct Entry Programs
Direct entry MSN programs are not for the faint of heart. Standards are high, the coursework is difficult and the programs must typically be completed within two or at most three years. Students must be highly motivated and willing to commit the time to complete the program. In addition, the programs are expensive, especially if the student chooses a private school. Although accelerated BSN programs are available in most states, direct entry NP programs are more limited, which may mean relocating to obtain a degree. Some institutions offer specialized NP programs in areas like pediatrics or gerontology.
Each program has its own requirements which may be driven by the institution or state. However, most programs require:
- A bachelor’s degree and official transcripts of all college work
- An undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher
- At least three recommendations forms as well as letters of reference
- A current resume
- A written statement of your professional nursing goals.
Make sure you check with the institution of your choice for specifics.
Will I have Enough Clinical Experience to Practice?
Once you have completed the NP program, you will be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN nursing exam, which is required for licensure as an NP. However, your clinical experience is limited to that you obtained in your NP program. Nurses who obtained a BSN and then entered an NP program will typically have more clinical experience than a direct entry NP graduate, especially if they worked for a while following graduation from a BSN program. As a new direct entry graduate, you might want to consider ways to obtain additional clinical experience and skills — volunteer, job shadow, find an internship program or even work as a staff nurse for a year or so.
How can I Finance my Education?
Student loans and scholarships are the most common way to finance a direct entry NP degree if you do not already have the financial resources to pay for your education. Some hospitals and health care systems partner with colleges and universities to help students through school in return for a work commitment. Contact several schools to see what they offer. Many schools offer online courses for didactic work, which is a way to cut down on expenses.
Will I Need to Repeat Courses?
Whether you need to repeat courses will depend on your current degree. For example, someone with a liberal arts degree may not need to repeat courses, as the subjects don’t change greatly over time. If you have a degree in biology that is 10 years old, however, research and scientific advancements may have resulted in considerable new knowledge since you graduated.
What Courses Will I Be Taking?
Although individual direct entry NP programs may differ, all programs are required to offer certain courses to maintain accreditation. Expect that your coursework will include topics such as nursing concepts and applications, healthcare policy, nursing informatics, advanced research methods, and nursing leadership. In addition, you will need to complete courses in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, nutrition, psychology, statistics, and chemistry. Some of these may be prerequisites that you must complete prior to the NP program. All NP programs also require hands-on clinical experience under the supervision of an instructor.
Becoming a registered nurse offers many options in terms of career specialties and work settings. Having an NP opens even more doors. A direct entry NP may be an excellent choice for you but research your options carefully to make sure you’ve found the best program.