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One of the obvious prerequisites to becoming a nurse practitioner is acquiring an RN degree and license.  You can’t after all become a nurse practitioner without first being a nurse.  The RN and NP role are however very different and many prospective nurse practitioner’s don’t want to work as nurses.  Do you have to work as a nurse before attending a nurse practitioner program or working as a nurse?

The short answer is “No”, you do not have to work as a nurse before attending a nurse practitioner program or working as a nurse practitioner.  Personally, I have never been employed as a RN, never worked on the hospital floor, inserted a foley catheter on the job or even manned an IV pump for pay.  I learned how to do all these things in school but have never been employed as an RN.  How do you become a nurse practitioner without working your way up the nursing ladder?

  1. Attend an Accelerated NP Program– Some schools offer accelerated or ‘bridge’ programs to prospective NP’s seeking a career change.  These programs typically require you to hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing.  The first year (or more) students complete the RN portion of their degree.  The second (and possibly third) year of the program students are prepared as nurse practitioners.  This means that upon graduating you have an RN degree but will be immediately eligible for employment as a nurse practitioner.  You can forgo working as a RN, if you like.
  2. Attend Consecutive BSN and Nurse Practitioner Programs- If you can’t find an accelerated NP program to meet your needs, you can create your own personalized path to the NP career allowing you to skip RN employment moving straight to the advanced practice portion of your career.  Attend a BSN program applying to a nurse practitioner program the last year of your schooling.  Make sure your NP programs of interest do not require any work experience as you will not qualify.  If you are accepted to a nurse practitioner program, you will move straight through your nurse practitioner education without a year’s pause to work as an RN.

As with any major life decision, there are positives and negatives to acquiring RN work experience before becoming a nurse practitioner.  Choosing not to punctuate your career path with RN experience will allow you to complete your NP degree more quickly and launch you into a higher income bracket earlier in your career.  However, you will not have as much experience with basic nursing duties which can leave you occasionally frustrated on the job.

NP’s- do you recommend working as a RN before becoming a nurse practitioner?  Share your experiences and advice by commenting below!

You Might Also Like: Nurse Practitioner Bridge Programs: Can You Enroll In a NP Program Without an RN Degree?

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29 thoughts on “Do You Need to Work as an RN Before Becoming a Nurse Practitioner?”

  • I think it’s so crazy that nurses sometimes look down on NP’s who haven’t worked as RN’s. Why do we as a profession try to make it so hard to accelerate into advanced practice nursing? PA’s don’t have to work for a few years before they get their degrees so why do we put that pressure on nurses? I mean most PA’s don’t even come from a medical background yet no one bats an eye when they go back to school for 3 years & then start practicing. While I do plan on working as a RN while in NP school, that’s only because I’m broke, I don’t think that you HAVE to do that in order to be a good nurse practitioner. I think like any job you are going to get the most experience while doing the job & if you can find employment with a great a preceptor than you should do just fine w/o the experience of working as a RN.

  • I am just about to finish up an NP program and while I was employed as an RN it was only for a short time. I worked as an RN in a clinic setting and not in a hospital – strictly primary care. I would not have done it any other way. There are some areas where I have to run twice as fast but all in all I am doing very well in my program.

  • pa programs are meant for people with healthcare experience. They were originally designed for returning army medics to parlay their experience into a civilian career. Similarly, advanced practice nursing was intended for rns with experience to advance their practice. That said, I am experienced rn pursuing my masters. I understand that many people meet success becoming an np without rn experience but I feel my rn experience will serve me well.

    For the record, I take offense at the authors comments regarding the skills of nursing. The idea that nursing is programming pumps and inserting foleys is stereotypic thinking for a novice nurse. Nursing is more than a few skills. In my years as an emergency room nurse, I have developed a sixth sense with patients that time brings. I know which asthma patients were ikely intubated in the past by looking at them. I know who is likely anemic by a six second glance. These are things I developed over time.

    I know that you too will develop those skills in advanced practice but I come to advanced practice with them. It’s an advantage. For now. And it’s worth something. As is the patient communication skills that bedside nursing has given me.

  • That’s really great that you have been able to secure an RN job. I’m a former corporate type (20 years in) who got chewed up in the Great Recession. With no options available and a few pre-med classes under my belt, I went back to school for my BSN, got it, passed my NCLEX, and knew that the DNP route was for me. I’ve got my advisors yapping in one ear telling me I HAVE to work as an RN if I’m ever going to be employable, and then I have others telling me it’s not necessary because the 2 worlds are completely different. Now I’ve been trying to find a part-time RN position in my area, being spoon fed how in DIRE need we are for nurses. In 12 months I got 1 interview, that’s 1 interview more than no interviews I got for 3 years after the Great Recession. So THANK YOU for posting that I don’t need RN experience before NP because I truly think there are no RN jobs for me that fit my schedule. No, I’m not taking time off from school, it’s refreshing to know I’m not wasting yet more time considering that I’m 45 years old and cannot afford to keep screwing around. I don’t want to work until I’m 90 years old.
    PZ

  • Thanks for this post. I am graduating in May with my BSN and I am planning on starting a NP program in the fall. I get nervous about this because my professors have varying opinions on whether or not I will be employable this way. But I want to be a nurse practitioner… not a nurse. So why wait around, right?

  • I don’t think you have to experience as an RN to work as an NP, however I think its a great idea to explore the idea. I think if you are looking at going into certain areas (specialty like ER) i think you should have experience as an ER nurse because people can come in with something so simple and it turn out very badly quickly. Just my thoughts.

  • A nurse practitioner IS a nurse. That is the entire reason that nurses become nurse practitioners instead of physicians or PAs. We are nurses who choose to practice at a higher level. How can you separate the two? They go hand in hand. How can you expect to be successful at the higher levels if you have no experience at the lower levels?

    The greatest thing that separates nurse practitioners from physicians or PAs is our nursing philosophy. We approach health and patients, in general, with entirely different eyes than our medical counterparts. That is not a bad thing. It is something of which I am incredibly proud about my chosen profession.

    Time and experiences are what nurses use to refine their individual nursing art. I have always received compliments from patients and colleagues about the quality of my nursing care, even as a new graduate. I got on the fast track early in my career and enjoyed every bit of experience I earned – including the bad experiences that often taught me more than the good ones did. Though I was considered a great nurse in the beginning of my career, I am a far better nurse today than I was then. My nursing experiences did that for me, not any of the extensive education or certifications I’ve earned since then.

    I can develop my “practitioner” or medical knowledge base by reading a book or taking a class. But true “nursing” knowledge is not found in books. You have to look up from the book to see it, learn it, and appreciate it.

    While you can certainly get by as a nurse practitioner without having had RN experience, you are doing yourself and your patients a serious disservice. Furthermore, if you enter a specialty field, or any field for matter, the staff RNs will know far more about nursing than you do. You may not think so, but it will be painfully obvious to any experienced nurse. If they cannot respect you as a nurse, they will never respect you as a practitioner.

    I urge you to take the time to develop your nursing art. Without it, you will still be able to hang your hastily completed ‘painting’ on the wall, but who will want to stop and look at it when there are more beautiful pieces to see?

  • Time and experiences are what nurses use to refine their individual nursing art. I have always received compliments from patients and colleagues about the quality of my nursing care, even as a new graduate. I got on the fast track early in my career and enjoyed every bit of experience I earned – including the bad experiences that often taught me more than the good ones did. Though I was considered a great nurse in the beginning of my career, I am a far better nurse today than I was then. My nursing experiences did that for me, not any of the extensive education or certifications I’ve earned since then.

    I can develop my “practitioner” or medical knowledge base by reading a book or taking a class. But true “nursing” knowledge is not found in books. You have to look up from the book to see it, learn it, and appreciate it.

    As a critical care ICU nurse for 8 years, I couldn’t have said it better than this, like someone here already has: “” you can certainly get by as a nurse practitioner without having had RN experience, you are doing yourself and your patients a serious disservice. Furthermore, if you enter a specialty field, or any field for matter, the staff RNs will know far more about nursing than you do. You may not think so, but it will be painfully obvious to any experienced nurse. If they cannot respect you as a nurse, they will never respect you as a practitioner.”” SPOT ON!!

  • It’s not quantity of experience but quality of experience. 6 months of active experience growing your skills is better that 6 years of pushing pills.

  • “It’s not quantity of experience but quality of experience. 6 months of active experience growing your skills is better that 6 years of pushing pills.”

    _____________________________________________________________

    If 6 years of nursing experience can be summed up as “pushing pills,” then maybe nursing isn’t for you. Maybe it’s the environment in which you worked, or perhaps your nursing outlook in general. Anyone who can look back on 6 years of nursing experience and say that they could have gotten all they needed in 6 months of “active” experience has clearly missed out. Furthermore, after 6 months of “active” experience, you’re definitely better than when you started. But you still have no idea what you don’t know! That’s a very dangerous place to leave “nursing” and jump to “advanced practice.” How can you “advance” when you haven’t had any “practice”?

    I’m not saying that nursing is all roses and pleasant experiences. A lot of the bedside work downright SUCKS, so much so that you couldn’t pay the average person enough to do it. What you’re missing is what’s happening in between all that. (e.g. what’s happening with the person that all of the those body fluids are coming out of, or the mouth you’re pushing those pills into – from the aspects of both pathophysiology AND human/nursing interaction.)

    There are a thousand other things happening, both for the benefit of your patients, and for your learning and nursing experience as well.

    If you don’t see the importance in any of that, why did you choose NURSING?

    • I would love to be a NP but I never wanted to be a RN. I’m a paramedic and I have my bachelor degree. So, I have always believe that being a physician assistant would be the best route for me. Before becoming a paramedic, I was a critical care technician and mental health technician. I have worked with great nurses. What’s good about nursing and the medical field in general, you can specialize. Flight nurse, critical care nurse, trauma nurse and the list goes on. I have had my share of trauma and medical cases and I feel that I could make a great NP without having to be a RN. People are use to a set of beliefs. If you wanted to become a nurse practitioner, you had to become a RN first. That was the way, it does not mean it’s the only way. What make today’s mid-level provider good? Experience and constantly learning. My background in EMS, I would like to be a NP or PA and specialize in emergency medicine or trauma critical care. They even have fellowship for NP/PA now.

  • karenmh33

    Read my posting again slowly and carefully. You are distorting the message. I said the QUALITY of experience is more important than QUANTITY of experience. A few years of nursing experience practicing in the full scope of the profession is better than many years practicing in a limited scope.

  • I graduated with ASDN. Worked 6 months as rn….moved to a diff state after an abusive marriage. It’s been a year and a half and I’ve had multiple interviews. They all state no bsn, no charge nurse experience, only 6 months experience. I loved nursing school..well the pts I worked with and being a tech while in nursing school. Then when I received my license, I loved and was and still excited to pursue nursing. But NP is the route I’m looking at too with only my 6 months of experience bc I can’t get a job. I would have to try to find a new grad position which all the hospitals say that i need to go through agsin but would be fine if a hospital would hire me but there are other nursing students coming out of a job who need that job too. So my love of what I want to do is based on either going for NP or any other options that I would love for someone to point out.

  • Hi nb,

    I would look for a job with a program for new graduate nurses. You will be competitive as an applicant given the fact that you do have some experience. Then, you have the option of going back to school to become an NP but can work simultaneously as an RN. 

  • Thanks Erin:) That’s exactly what most of my interviews were for, but Some said I needed my BSN and others said it’s been a year and a half and you are still a new nurse, but the new grad positions must be filled by new grads out of colege. Some places even state that on the site..new grad only who have just graduated. But I’m gonna keep trying. Thank you:)

  • Thank you for writing this post. I have been asking myself this question. All of my Professors feel that RN experience is a must first. It is so helpful to hear the different rationales on both sides. In response to a post above , Nurse Practitioners have the ability in some states at least work completely independently. This is why I chose to pursue NP versus Physician Assistant. I plan to practice Integrative and Functional Medicine working under someone else’ license was not the best option for me. There are many different reasons people choose NP over PA.

    God will open the doors meant to be opened. This is a career change for me so I am definitely leaning towards going straight through at this moment.

  • I believe part of what makes a good nurse practitioner is actually practicing as a nurse. I have practiced as a RN for over 15 years and am 4 months away from completing my ACNP with a doctorate. Physicians I have spoken with regarding the desire to have a PA or a NP on their team desire both, but for different reasons. A PA is an extension of the physician. Nurse practitioners have a different set of skills and a different set of theories from which we practice. As an NP we are concerned with a patients diagnosis and how it affects them as a whole person, (insert Florence Nightingale), and the teaching of the patient. Through our experiences of treating these patients in the hospital or clinic setting we possess a greater understanding of how patients can react to a particular treatment, what their experience may be like, and we have empathy. Understand that NPs only need 750 clinical hours before they are deemed adequate to practice, whereas physicians are required to have around 10,000 or 30,00 for specialty. In no way do I believe I am superior to a physician, but I do believe advanced practice nurses are a great adjunct to the medical community and do much to alleviate the physician shortage due to the experience we obtain as nurses through years of practice as an RN. Using experience as an RN either in the clinic (hopefully those nurses are going to become FNP) or in the hospital (I believe ICU hospital RNs are qualified to become ACNP). The hospital is a fast and brutal environment where NPs are often required to attend and give orders during a critical situation. If that is not your background it will take a long time to develop those skills, which are often a requirement for your practice. I realize floor nursing is not always glamorous, but it is what gives an NP skill in crucial decision-making and compassion for the human spirit.

  • I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and have worked in the medical field for 16 years now. I’ve been in all settings over the years: acute care, long-term care, emergency care, rehab, SNF, community centers, and private practice. I now run my own private practice (5 years) in integrative and functional nutrition. I’m interested in becoming an ARNP because I want to do a lot more with patients than I’m currently allowed.

    I’m seeing that there is a bit of a bias against those who haven’t been RNs before becoming NPs. However, RNs are not the only people who focus on health – as an RDN, my entire focus is on health and prevention. I do not intend to work in acute care or emergency settings as an NP, as I don’t have the desire. (My husband is an ICU nurse.) I would like to say that I believe I can bring things to the nursing profession because of my breadth of experience *outside* of nursing. I’d like to encourage other RNs to consider that non-RNs becoming NPs offer skills and insights that we wouldn’t have if we were RNs.

  • First of Of all its called nurse practitioner for a reason you need to be a little ended working in the field RN. If you want to be a PA go to PA school. And nurse practioner school takes about 2 and half years after BSN.

  • As a veteran RN (25+ years), I must say that the level of competence in NPs is sorely lacking, mostly due to the fact that they’ve never practiced as a nurse. Beyond that, often they have limited their experiences. You cannot exchange experience for book learning. It is not interchangeable. I think a MINIMUM of 10 years as a staff nurse should be required.

  • That’s actually not true that PAs can go to school without medical backgrounds. In order to get into PA school you need to have a ton of clinical hours prior meaning you have to work in some healthcare setting for at least a year. I work in a hospital that has their own PA program, and all of them HAVE to be PCAs before they start, and that’s not just for the program there. It’s a requirement to become a PA. I think as well with Nurse Practitioner, it’s most definitely better to have RN experience, it’s NURSING care. The skills you learn and critical situations you learn through bedside nursing are important and absolutely necessary. It doesn’t matter if you working in a hospital or outpatient, it’s useful all around. Every patient situation is so unique, there’s no way of learning it all in 6 months, let alone go straight to NP. The question is, do you want to be as good as you can at it and for the patients? Or do you just want to make money?

  • I am just now starting to work for my BSN but I have ZERO nursing background. My overall goal is to become a nurse practitioner but I really want to by pass working within a hospital as a RN if possible. Are the cons of not becoming a RN weighing out the pros? or will I need to become a RN while finishing out my BSN and starting my NP schooling.

  • Great answer! How is it then that most Nps forget they are nurses first, even look down in nurses! That is anurses job ,I don’t need to have mandatory policy review because I am a nurse practitioner. I will depend on the nurses in an emergency to handle it because I am a nurse practitioner.I am confused do you not have to maintain your RN license too??

  • Cherie R. BSN, RN, CCRN-CMC, CVRN says:

    As a veteran nurse of 22 years in ICU and Cardiac Cath Lab, I can instantly tell the NP’s that have had no experience as an RN. I am currently in school for my AG-ACNP as of now and the reason that NP programs can get by with being state licensed with only 500 clinical hours IS our experience as a nurse. The program I am in requires a minimum of 2 years of RN experience, but I agree with another poster that it should be 10 years. To be quite frank, I think it is irresponsible for those wanting to be an NP to not put in their time as an RN. PA’s have 2000 clinical hours and MD/DO have 8000-10000, not including their fellowship. To think that you will be an effective NP without any meaningful RN experience is erroneous. While being an RN is different than being a practitioner, the RN role will help you to develop your critical thinking and quick nursing judgement. I saw a comment where a person equated being a nurse as “pill pushers”. While passing meds is part of our duties in all areas, we do not just give the meds and that’s it. We need to know why we are giving them, how they work and the side effects we need to monitor our patients for. My work as both Cath Lab and ICU RN encompasses WAY more than giving a few pills. Its sad that so many people want the “easy” way out and don’t want to put in the time needed to be a truly effective NP with advanced critical thinking skills. If you want to become an NP, then seek out jobs in which you can refine the needed nursing judgement and critical thinking skills. Remember, the providers are in and out, the nurses are the eyes and ears of the providers. We must always be thinking ahead of what orders will be needed to help that patient. Those skills are precisely what will help prepare an RN for the role of an NP.

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