Do You Need to Work as an RN Before Becoming a Nurse Practitioner?

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?


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.

Jeanne N

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 grad only who have just graduated. But I'm gonna keep trying. Thank you:)


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. 

Erin Tolbert

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.



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.


"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?