Recently, a MidlevelU reader posted a question on the message board inquiring about my experience in a nurse practitioner bridge program. She noted that, while I have several articles on the topic of programs for students without a background in healthcare, I hadn’t shared much about my personal experience. Guilty as charged. So, today I’ve decided to pull together my thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of accelerated programs for NPs, based on my own experiences.
In case you missed the more detailed background about how I ended up in an accelerated NP program, you can read more about it here. As an accelerated, or ‘bridge’ nurse practitioner, student, my experience in school was much different than that of my colleagues who attended traditional nurse practitioner programs. I did not have a background in healthcare, and was not a nurse when I entered the program. This unique experience has its own set of ups and downs, highs and lows. Here are the pros and cons of accelerated nurse practitioner programs based on my experience:
1. Expedited Education
I attended Vanderbilt University’s accelerated NP program. And, as a result, I became a nurse practitioner quickly. Very quickly. In just two short (but sometimes seemingly endless…) years, I added RN and MSN degrees to my bachelor’s degree. Without the school’s expedited format for bridge students, my journey to becoming a nurse practitioner would have been significantly longer.
Accelerated NP programs are almost exclusively on campus. Some schools offer a partially online curriculum, but overall, as an accelerated student, you can plan to be face to face with your classmates. While online courses offer flexibility, campus based courses lead to camaraderie. I made lifelong friends during my nurse practitioner program. Nothing brings people together like taking the NCLEX, and the NP boards within a single calendar year of each other. From study sessions to letting loose on Saturday nights, I have a wealth of memories to look back on from my time as an accelerated nurse practitioner student.
It’s certainly not necessary to attend a highly regarded institution for your nurse practitioner education. But, it never hurts. Most schools offering fast-track programs for second degree students are more well known, and often prestigious, universities. Having a name like Yale, Columbia, Vanderbilt, or the University of San Diego on your resume can boost your future career cred.
1. RN Year Exasperation
I entered my NP program with the intent, of, well, working as a nurse practitioner. On the fast track to an NP degree, I was set on diagnosing and treating patients. I wanted to be the one writing the orders, not the one carrying them out. Setting my sights on the end result of my education made the RN year of my program difficult. Yes, it was necessary to get a nursing foundation upon which to build my NP skill set. Enduring the RN year of the program, particularly clinicals, however, was frustrating. I knew I would not be working in the hospital, and found myself constantly itching to focus on curriculum that related more directly to my career goal.
Accelerated NP programs are pricey. Aspiring nurse practitioners have a number of other, more affordable paths to the NP career. As you look at financing your education, however, don’t forget to take into account that with an accelerated program you will be able to begin your career more quickly, your salary offsetting some of this increased cost.
3. Post-Grad Learning Curve
Many nurse practitioners have an extensive nursing background and knowledge to fall back on. As an accelerated NP program grad, however, I began working as an NP without any nursing experience outside of my program. This made to post-graduate learning curve steep. While all nurse practitioner new grads have a lot of learning to do on the job, this challenge is particularly formidable for those NPs who graduate at an expedited pace. Be prepared to ask a lot of questions, and face a few hurdles in your first job if you graduate from an accelerated program. Finding a job in a supportive learning environment helps.
4. Job Search Setbacks
Finding a job as a nurse practitioner without nursing experience can be difficult. Employers in locations without such programs may not be familiar with them, and lack confidence in the ability of graduates. Finding a supportive work environment is essential for graduates of accelerated NP programs given the steep learning curve which can make landing that first job even more difficult. Obtaining your first NP position as an new grad nurse practitioner can be an initial challenge, but it is a surmountable obstacle.
Overall, I wouldn’t change a thing about the path I took to becoming a nurse practitioner. The speed of my education allowed me to enter practice quickly. The challenge of continued learning as a new graduate was overwhelming at times, but also motivating. The relationships I made in my NP program have stuck with me and become an irreplaceable asset to both my personal and professional lives. If you are interested in becoming a nurse practitioner, but don’t have a background in healthcare, accelerated programs are certainly worth considering.
What have you found to be the pros and cons of attending an accelerated nurse practitioner program?
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