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

The typical path to becoming a nurse practitioner requires that students complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN) followed by a Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN).  For those of us who did not know we wanted to become NP’s and did not complete an undergraduate degree in nursing or who are making a career change to complete a MSN degree, technically we should have to return to school to first obtain our BSN.  But is there a faster way to become a nurse practitioner?

If you are like I was and are looking for a quick route to becoming an NP, a ‘bridge’ program or ‘accelerated’ program might be right for you.  So what exactly do these programs require?

Nurse Practitioner Bridge Programs (Bachelor’s Degree in Non-Nursing Field to MSN Pathway)

Some schools may title these programs differently, however the concept is the same.  Many colleges and universities offer NP programs for students who have a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing that want to become nurse practitioners.  These schools offer an education path that allows you to first complete an RN degree, usually in three semesters, followed by your MSN, usually an additional three semesters.  Ultimately, this allows students with a degree in a field other than nursing to complete a nurse practitioner program in just two years full-time.  If classes are not offered in the summer or if you choose to complete this program on a part-time basis, it may take longer than two years.

Things to consider with bridge programs?  Often, the educational options with these programs are restricted.  Schools offering these programs may not allow for part-time study or may not allow courses to be completed online.

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Be sure to research your prospective program thoroughly.  Also, the universities that offer bridge programs are often more expensive.  This may be offset by the fact that you will graduate and start earning an income more quickly but you should do some quick calculations to make sure the additional cost over other programs in your area will be worth it.  Finally, bridge programs have required prerequisite courses that must be completed before enrolling.  Make sure you have a plan for completing required prerequisite coursework.

Nurse Practitioner Accelerated Programs (RN to MSN Pathway)

Also referred to by a wide range of titles, accelerated nurse practitioner education pathways allow nurses with an RN degree or a diploma in nursing but not a BSN to enroll in a nurse practitioner program.  Prerequisite college credits and courses are usually required so make sure to do adequate research on your program of interest so you can determine if you are eligible or need to complete more coursework before applying.  Compared to programs for NP students without any prior nursing education mentioned above, RN to MSN programs tend to be more flexible.  They are offered by a larger number of schools and are often able to be completed online.

Looking for an accelerated program in your area?  Let me know and I will work to find the best option for you!

218 thoughts on “Nurse Practitioner Bridge Programs: Can You Really Enroll In a NP Program Without an RN Degree?”

  1. Hi, I just came across this blog and I am just starting the prereqs for an accelorated BSN. However, my ultimate goal is to be an NP. I live in a very small town with the closest school being 45min away. Right now I am taking my prereqs online with MGH. Do you have any suggestions for accelorated online programs?

  2. Hi Alex,

    There are a lot of options for how you can go about getting your NP degree.  If you want to complete a program similar to the one I completed where you receive a NP degree in 2-3 years without any prior nursing education, read this post.  It will give you a list of programs.  This type of accelerated program however is not typically offered online.

    If you want to first get your BSN then attend a NP program, you have a lot of online options which will likely take about 1 1/2 to 2 years to complete.  What specailty do you plan to choose?  This will make a difference in which online programs are an option for you.

  3. Hi, I am trying to get into nursing and will need to take all of the prerequisite courses. I live in CA, so I am fortunate enough to have a variety of community colleges and a university that offer nursing programs nearby. I have a BA in Political Science and a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree already. I am debating between getting an RN from a community college and going on for the NP afterward OR just jumping into the MSN for non-nurses program (5 semesters). The accelerated MSN deal would cost A LOT more, but it would get me in and out much faster. However, I have heard that coming into a care setting with no experience as a nurse is not favorable. I have lived abroad and hope to work internationally again, which makes Family Practice seem like a good option. I am also interested in Women’s Health, Infectious Disease, or Acute Care as well. WOW, lots of uncertainties here, but do you have any advice or see any glaring problems? Thanks!

  4. Hi Emilie,

    Personally, I did not have any experience working as an RN before becoming a NP.  The learning curve in my first job was certainly high, but manageable.  I think the transition from graduating to working as a nurse practitioner would also have been a bit stressful even if I had RN experience but likely less so.

    One thing you should certainly consider is that nursing organizations are pushing to require the DNP for nurse practitioners rather than the MSN by 2015.  If you become an RN and work for a year before going back to school, you may have to get a DNP which will take longer and be more expensive than the MSN degree.  

    It sounds like you have a wide variety of interests and could see your career going in a lot of different directions.  The Family specialty is perfect for this.  You can still practice in most of the same environments as a Women’s Health or Acute Care NP with an FNP degree.  The FNP will allow you to treat both children and adults which will be very helpful should you chose to practice internationally.  I wrote last week about international opportunities with the Department of State and they hire FNP’s.

    I hope this helps!

  5. Hi Erin,

    So glad to have stumbled upon your blog! I am also contemplating a career change to Nurse Practitioner and am currently researching the best way (cheapest/quality education/quickest) to go about this. I am currently employed full-time in Honolulu, HI in research. I’m glad that UH Manoa has a NP Bridge program as I am not sure I am up for moving anytime soon. What I am wondering is the most affordable way to go about becoming an NP in Hawaii. I see you posted the cost of UH Manoa’s Bridge program, but am wondering if it would be more cost effective to continue working full-time while taking online or evening classes to obtain my BSN/RN and then apply for entrance into an NP program? Knowing that the job market in Honolulu is extremely tight for RN’s and that during the first year of UH Manoa’s bridge program you cannot work, I am afraid of leaving a decent job that I like for the program and then not being able to find a job as an RN after the first year of the bridge program. So just wondering what the cost and length of obtaining a BSN (online or locally) would be approximately while working full time. I’m also trying to figure out how the 2015 doctoral requirement also comes into play. I am definitely up for obtaining my doctoral degree, just trying to figure out the best timeline for me. I am interested in going the FNP or possibly Psychiatric NP route. Any advice or info you have is very welcome! Apologies if this question is too specific!


    Hi Jill,

    Thanks for your question!  I am afraid I don’t have specific information regarding BSN programs online and locally in Hawaii.  There are just too many BSN programs to keep track of!  I can say however, that bridge programs such as the one offered at UH Manoa are typically quite a bit more expensive than obtaining a BSN then an MSN online or from a local school.  Here are a few things you should consider in deciding the most efficient but cost effective way to become a nurse practitioner:

    1. The DNP requirement is projected to go into effect in 2015.  Although this has not been finalized, it is safest to assume this will happen.  So, if you do not start your nurse practitioner by 2015 you will likely have to spend much longer in your NP program.  In the case of UH Manoa, it will take you 2 years longer to complete your degree and cost you an extra $21,000 (estimate).  It may be worth taking the faster, bridge program route to save $20,000 and start working as a nurse practitioner 2 years sooner.

    2. You must consider your current job and salary as well as your potential income.  If you complete your degree by first getting a BSN while still working then completing your nurse practitioner program part-time while you continue to work you can still pay your living expenses and won’t have to take out as may loans.  However, if you complete your nurse practitioner program at a faster pace, you can start working as a NP much sooner.  The average NP salary is about $90,000.  If, for example, you currently make $40,000 a year and you take the slower route to becoming a nurse practitioner which could take 2 or 3 years longer, you would have make $1000,000 to $150,000 in additional income during this time by starting your NP career sooner.  This offsets the cost of the bridge program.

    3. As far as not finding a job after the RN year of your bridge program, this is a legitimate concern. I have recently read that the job market is tight for new RN’s all over the country.  If you couldn’t find an RN position you could work in another non-nursing job.  Although this wouldn’t give you medical experience it would pay the bills!

    4. You have to decide how important it is for you personally not to have debt (student loans).  Some people would prefer to pay more for their education, have a large student loan but finish their nurse practitioner program sooner.  Others are more debt adverse and prefer the slower but financially conservative route.  Neither is the correct choice, it is simply personal preference.  You need to think about how much stress debt will cause you and decide which you prefer.

    I hope this helps, let me know if you have any further questions!

    Do any readers know anything about BSN programs in Hawaii to help Jill out?


  7. I am definitely interested in the diploma RN to MSN program. I am in Nashville, TN – where can I find the nearest program to me so that I can determine if I need any prerequisites before applying?

  8. I am a registered nurse thru ADN program and have worked for a few years as such. I am contemplating a bridge program from adn to fnp and need online program. I am in Colorado. I have quite a few credits and only a few away from a bachelors in liberal arts. Which way would be quickest to get to FNP certification…from liberal arts degree to FNP or ADN to FNP? I don’t want to be in school forever nor spend my life paying off loans. I will also be working. Thanks

  9. Hi Kathie,

    Your best best is probably an ADN to FNP program.  This way you can start applying to schools now rather than spending time and money completing your bachelor’s.  Make sure you apply soon as in 2015 it is likely you will need a doctorate rather than a master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner.  If you enter an NP program before 2015 you can avoid this requirement.  

    There actually some good options in Colorado.  I would recommend looking into these schools:

    1. Aspen University

    2. American Sentinel University

    Both are online and located in Colorado.

  10. I have an Assoc. of Arts, Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training, my LPN and an ADN. I’m from Michigan and would like to know what would be the best program for me in regards to pursuing my NP degree. I’ve been looking online and would like to do an RN to MSN option without having to pursue a 2nd bachelor’s degree, thanks

  11. Hi Teresa,

    There are some great options in your area of the country for RN-MSN programs.  In Michigan, your best bets are:

    1. Ferris State University

    2. Grand Valley State University

    3. Saginaw State University

    You could also complete an online program out of state.  Online programs in your area of the country include:

    1. Otterbein College (Ohio)

    2. Ball State University (Indiana)

    3. Chamberlin College of Nursing (Illinois)