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Which academic path should I take since I have a graduate degree in another field but am interested in being a psychiatric nurse practitioner?

Friday September 20, 2013
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Question:

Dear Donna,

I am a 30-year-old mother with a three-year-old and a baby on the way. I have been considering returning to school for psychiatric nursing training. This would be a career change for me, as I’ve spent the last seven years in higher education/non-profit development and communications. I have bachelor’s and master's degrees in English.

Whenever I take a hard look at what I want to do in my career, I keep coming back to the field of psychiatry, which I have held deep interest in for many years.

I completed the State Tested Nurse Aide course and am studying for the exam. I've been working for the past month as a home health aide and hope to procure a part-time position in the mental healthcare environment after passing the state exam.

My question pertains to which path I should take when returning to school. Since I have a graduate degree, albeit in another field, should I look to options for an MSN or would it be wise to complete an AN or a BSN first, work for a few years and then look again to graduate school? I have seen that there are accelerated BSN programs for those with a bachelor's in another field, but my ultimate goal is to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

Additionally, I keep hearing how competitive all the programs are that I am looking to enter, so I am trying to gain as much relevant experience as I can before applying.

Taking Steps Toward School

Dear Donna replies:

Dear Taking Steps Toward School

You seem to have a clear focus and plan and that is great. You can cross the associate’s degree option off the list altogether. A minimum of a BSN is becoming standard for hire and practice so that is the least you should pursue. That being said, an accelerated BSN or "second-degree RN" program would be a good bet for you.

Although you could go directly into an MSN program, starting with the BSN might be best. This way you'd get into practice sooner and could work as an RN while pursuing your MSN. And while many people enter nursing with the goal of becoming an NP, some decide, once in the profession, they prefer the RN role rather than pursuing advanced practice. It's also possible to change one's mind about a specialty once in nursing school. For you, either route, a BSN or MSN, will work.

Once you do enroll in nursing school, you can join the American Psychiatric Nursing Association: www.apna.org as a student member to increase your learning curve and start making contacts in that specialty. You also should join the National Student Nurses Association: www.nsna.org.

Best wishes,

Donna


Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is Nurse.com’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at www.Nurse.com/CE/7010 and www.Nurse.com/CE/7250, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to www.Nurse.com/Asktheexperts/Deardonna. Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit http://www. Nurse.com/Events.