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Becoming a Nurse with a Bachelor’s in Another Discipline: Your Second Degree Nursing Options

You have a degree, but it didn’t lead to a career that you want to spend your life in, and now you’re thinking about nursing. The good news is you won’t need to spend another four years doing a second baccalaureate degree. Typically the second degree nursing student is, of course older, but also much more motivated than their younger, entry-level nursing student counterparts according to Robert Rosseter of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Interestingly, three themes were identified in a recent journal article looking at those who decided to pursue the second degree in nursing: "What I bring to nursing; Seeking satisfying work; and The missing piece." Sound familiar? ~ Raines, D., (November 24, 2010) "What Attracts Second Degree Students to a Career In Nursing?" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 16 No. 1.

"What I bring to nursing; Seeking satisfying work; and The missing piece." Sound familiar? ~ Raines, D

Your options will vary depending on where you live, but you could have as many as four: a nursing diploma program, an associate degree (ADN), an accelerated second bachelor’s (BSN), a more traditional second bachelor’s in nursing, or a direct entry master’s programs (MSN).

The BSN: Not Just Another Bachelor’s

Your second bachelor’s will be quicker than the first one, and it’s not just because of the learning curve. Chances are that most of your first two years were spent in general studies (with a few program-specific prerequisites thrown in). Expect to get credit for this work.

A lot of nursing schools have tracks specifically for second degree nursing students – your whole cohort may be professionals seeking a second career! It’s likely that the total program length will be about 60 semester hours. You can go at a traditional pace and finish a program within two years. There are also intensive or accelerated options that subtract out most breaks and get you through in about 15 or 16 months. There are even some programs that can be completed in a calendar year.

Your whole second degree nursing cohort may be professionals seeking a second career!

Prerequisites may add to program length. They vary by program, but anatomy and physiology, chemistry, statistics, nutrition, and microbiology are common requirements. The school may get you through these at an accelerated rate as well. Be aware that programs may carry a per-credit tuition rate well into the hundreds.

A GPA of 3.0 or higher may be required; however, students are sometimes admitted with less. Professional references and personal statement will be a part of the package. There will likely also be an interview.

The ADN: Another Option

The average cost of tuition and fees for an ADN offered at a public two year college was just $6,120. ~ The Community College Times

An associate degree may be your best local option, especially if you live in an area where there’s a lower population and less educational access. You may also opt for the associate’s if the second bachelor’s program is more intensive than what you’re looking for. And your local college may well offer a better deal. A 2011 article in The Community College Times reported that the average cost of tuition and fees for an ADN offered at a public two year college was just $6,120.

On the downside, some community colleges do have a significant wait list for their programs. Others have a more selective process, and offer spots sooner.

A Nursing Diploma Program

A diploma program is also an option for career changers with a bachelor's in another field. Evening and weekend classes can be appealing to those who are maintaining a full-time work schedule.

Which is the Faster Route to Nursing Practice?

Is the ADN a quicker route to employment as a nurse? There are some accelerated options out there, but in some instances, the associate’s is actually longer. At Penn State, a second bachelor’s is an intensive experience that can be completed in 16 months if the prerequisites have been done. And the associate’s? The Penn State Nursing FAQ notes that even with a prior degree, it will still run two years.

When it’s time to enter the job market, will you be at any advantage because you have a bachelor’s, even though it’s not in nursing in addition to your nursing degree? Some. Still, it depends on the local job market. Some competitive positions are going to favor those with a BSN and more advanced nursing coursework. Degree level could also be an issue if you decide to go on to graduate school and advanced practice. Schools like San Diego State University and Ball State University do consider RNs who have a bachelor’s in another field for admission to MSN programs. However, additional coursework is required prior to entry.

One thing you may want to consider is articulation between programs. Will it be relatively easy to continue taking classes if you decide you want to as you progress up the nursing ladder?

The Direct Entry Master’s in Nursing

Some universities have MSN programs that are open to candidates with degrees in other fields. Sometimes they ago by the name direct entry master’s. These programs are academically competitive. There is sometimes an option to do pre-licensure coursework and then continue to advanced practice.

No matter the route you take into Nursing, it will be challenging mentally, physically and financially. The rewards can be more gratifying than anything you imagine.

Second Degree Nursing Programs

Take a look at the AACN's list of accelerated BSN Programs and the Direct Entry Master's Nursing Programs.

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