From Nursing Student to Nurse Practitioner: Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize

Catherine Burger, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC
Published on Jul 1, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

Nursing students typically focus on getting through their chosen ADN or BSN program as quickly as possible to launch into their career as a registered nurse. Most of us just want to be done from the first wide-eyed day at clinical rotations to the nausea-producing NCLEX-RN board exam. On the rare side, there are nursing students who set their primary objective to become a Nurse Practitioner right out of the gate. Here's how they do it, and why.

For Denise, becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP) like her mother was a dream she’d held since childhood. She fondly recalls her mother telling stories around the dinner table about children that she had treated as a pediatric nurse practitioner. So, when Denise considered nursing programs across the country, she narrowed her search to schools that could offer an efficient RN-to-FNP program, like Gonzaga University. "Not only was it close to my hometown in Washington (state), but Gonzaga offered high-quality bachelor’s of nursing and master’s of nursing (MSN) programs with strong reputations. Some people recommended that I change schools for my MSN to get a different experience. Still, I believe that knowing the school and having all of my financial information already connected made earning the MSN a bit easier. I knew what to expect.”

Some students choose programs from various schools to fulfill their dream of becoming a nurse practitioner. For example, students can choose to complete an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and then move on to a bridge program like the one at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) where, in 20 months, nurses can skip the BSN and jump straight to becoming an MSN-FNP. Accounting for nursing prerequisite courses and a two-year associate degree, a student could realistically reach their FNP in 6–8 years of school. 

Osmosis illustration of a nursing student at a crossroads in their career.

While the thought of committing this much of your life to school may seem overwhelming, it’s not unheard of, considering the alternatives. The seven years of education required to earn an M.D. is the bare minimum; then, there is an additional 2–3 years of residency. Becoming a physician assistant is also a long haul; 3 years of schooling after completing a bachelor's degree. No matter which pathway you choose, the educational commitment is significant in becoming a medical professional. However, the nurse practitioner route is the ideal choice for those who embrace the nursing process and a holistic approach to healthcare.  

Getting through the seemingly endless years of education can be daunting. Here are some tips on how to keep your eye on the NP prize...

1. Allow flexibility in your plan 

Set your goals but allow yourself some grace if you encounter hiccups in your plan. If the school you’re planning to attend for their PNP program suddenly drops the degree, don't be derailed. Look for similar programs and then be willing to change degrees, as needed, and learn the pediatric specialty experience on the job. 

2. Stay healthy

Eight years of school is a long time to be sitting and studying (I’m speaking figuratively, of course). Sophia Pothen has some great tips on creating best practices around a healthy and balanced lifestyle while in school. Eating well, making sleep a priority, and scheduling "me" time are all essential tips to achieve your professional goal while still staying true to yourself. 

3. Find a mentor

A "been there, done that" mentor who can help you stay focused and genuinely understands when you want to cut your dream short of becoming an N.P. because the night shift pay as an ICU nurse is too tempting. Seek out a mentor who will help you get over yourself and challenge you to keep going.

Osmosis illustration of a nursing student at the summit of a mountain.

4. Ignore the noise

I'll say it; some people are threatened by your goals and will encourage – even ridicule you – for wanting to pursue higher education. These people are not your tribe and don’t get to dictate your life. Channel your inner Brene Brown and stay in the fighting arena. 

5. Set milestone rewards

Numerous studies in human behavior tout the benefits of self-reward when accomplishing goals. Finish your ADN and take that three-day cruise to Mexico. Get that BSN under your belt, and a designer bag is yours. Complete your FNP, and you can schedule that luxury spa retreat. It doesn't matter what the reward is, necessarily. When your subconscious knows there is a prize to be held, you are more likely to reach that goal.

Choosing to go from zero to a nurse practitioner can be an overwhelming feat to consider, but it's doable. In fact, hundreds of nurse practitioners have already accomplished your goal, so you know it can be done. Make a plan, commit, get a mentor, ignore the ignorant, reward yourself, and keep going.

Osmosis illustration of a nursing student enjoying some well-deserved R&R.

About Catherine Burger
Catherine Burger, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC is a board-certified nurse executive. She has worked as an RN for almost 30 years in numerous patient care and leadership specialties.

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