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Ask a Nurse: Can I Enroll in an MSN Program With a Non-Nursing Bachelor’s Degree?

NurseJournal Staff
Updated February 24, 2023
    In this article, an assistant professor of nursing discusses the types of MSN programs that admit aspiring nurses with non-nursing bachelor's degrees.
    Mid-adult Asian-American woman sitting at her home desk typing on her laptop. She is wearing glasses and has a few textbooks open next to her.Credit: Geber86 / E+ / Getty Images

    In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

    Question: I have a bachelor’s in marketing. Can I enroll in a master’s in nursing program?

    Answer: I applaud your desire to enter the nursing profession! Nursing is both rewarding and challenging, and full of opportunities for personal and professional growth. You will be joining a group of successful nurses who initially held a non-nursing bachelor’s degree yet completed a master’s degree in nursing (MSN).

    Direct-Entry and Accelerated MSN Programs

    Many nursing programs have direct-entry or accelerated MSN programs for those who hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. These programs integrate bachelors level nursing courses into the MSN program to allow for a shorter path to completion. All programs require a full-time commitment. Working while completing your degree can be extremely difficult and is not recommended. This is often a major hurdle for those who desire to complete an MSN degree. Do some research into healthcare related loans and grants, many are available especially if you are willing to work as an advanced practice nurse in a rural community.

    Direct entry or accelerated programs take an average of three years to complete. Options such as online or hybrid formats are available, and all programs will require a significant time commitment to complete clinical and practicum experiences.

    I recommend researching several programs to determine the right fit. Some programs require prerequisites such as anatomy and statistics for entry, while others integrate these courses into their roadmap. If you are able, you may want to enroll in some of the typical prerequisite courses now.

    What to Expect With a Direct-Entry or Accelerated MSN Program

    You should expect the first year of the program to be focused on coursework and clinical experiences that will enable you to take the NCLEX exam and become a registered nurse (RN). A passing score on the NCLEX is generally required before moving forward with the remaining graduate level coursework and practicum experiences required to complete your MSN. To become an advanced practice nurse such as a family nurse practitioner, you will need to pass the state board exam. Depending on the focus of your MSN degree, you may be required to obtain additional clinical experience and certificates prior to being eligible to obtain licensure as a nurse practitioner.

    To practice in a specialty area such as surgical nursing, you will be required to gain significant experience and additional certification. Surgical nurses and surgical nurse practitioners have exciting careers! They provide preoperative evaluation and care, assist surgeons intraoperatively, and continue to care for patients postoperatively in settings such as medical surgical or intensive care units.

    There are some nursing programs that offer an MSN degree in surgical nursing which would guarantee a surgical focus during practicum experiences. Most surgical nurse practitioners achieve either a family nurse practitioner (FNP) certification or acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) certification and subsequently seek employment as a nurse practitioner in a surgical environment. After obtaining experience and training in the surgical area, a certificate such as the certified medical surgical RN (CMSRN) or the registered nurse first assistant (RNFA) is usually required by most employers. Regardless of the route you take, it is a good idea to communicate your career goals with your nursing school faculty to ensure that a surgical environment is selected for a large amount of your MSN practicum hours. This will not only provide you with the needed experience, it could be a possible foot in the door for job opportunities.

    I wish you the best of luck as you begin your journey!

    In Summary

    You can enter an accelerated or direct entry MSN program if you hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. Earning your MSN will provide many rewarding career opportunities!

    Research several direct entry MSN programs, and choose the option that is best for you. Expect to dedicate three years to becoming a full-time student and be sure you have the proper financial and moral support.

    If your goal is to work in a specialty area such as surgical nursing, consider choosing a program that has specialty degree options. Otherwise, communicate with the faculty at your nursing school so that you can be placed in the desired area for your practicum experiences.

    Written by:

    Portrait of Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

    Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

    As an assistant professor of nursing and entrepreneur with nearly twenty years of varied nursing experience, Brandy Gleason offers a unique perspective. She currently teaches within a prelicensure nursing program and coaches masters students through their culminating projects. Brandy brings additional expertise as a bedside nurse and a nurse leader, having held past roles at the supervisory, managerial, and senior leadership levels. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout. Brandy is also an avid change agent when it comes to creating environments and systems that contribute to the wellbeing of students and healthcare professionals.