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Taking the First Step Toward a Second Career in Nursing

One approach to nursing education that is gaining momentum is the second degree program for non-nursing graduates. Offered at the baccalaureate and master's degree levels, these programs build upon prior learning experiences and provide a way for people with an undergraduate degree in another discipline to make the switch to nursing. Read on to learn more.


Second degree, or accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs, increase the availability of education so that people who are interested in advancing their nursing education, or those interested in becoming nurses, can do so in a resourceful, reachable manner. These programs are one way to prepare an increased number of nurses to enter the workforce, and help alleviate the nursing shortage at the baccalaureate level.


Fast track nursing programs, including direct-entry master’s programs, accelerated BSN programs and others, exist to tap into the large population of individuals who would like to become nurses, but didn’t realize it until later in life. These men and women come from all walks of life and span all ages. After making the conscious decision to become a nurse, they usually want a program narrowly focused on nursing that finishes in the least amount of time possible so that they can start working in their dream job.


For those with a prior degree, accelerated baccalaureate programs offer the quickest route to becoming a registered nurse with programs generally running 12 to 18 months long. In 2013, there were 293 accelerated baccalaureate programs and 62 accelerated master’s programs available at nursing schools nationwide. In addition, 13 new accelerated baccalaureate programs are in the planning stages, and seven new accelerated master's programs are also taking shape, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.


“Second career nursing programs offer recent college graduates, mid-career professionals, and even senior professionals an opportunity to pursue nursing and achieve personal and professional fulfillment,” says Dr. Michael Relf, Ph.D., RN, ACNS-BC, AACRN, CNE, FAAN, assistant dean for Undergraduate Education and director of the Accelerated BSN Program in the School of Nursing at Duke University. “As Americans continue to age and the Affordable Care Act comes to full completion, the U.S. healthcare industry must continue to develop and adjust. Through these two major drivers, the need for nurses, at all levels, is going to continue to grow.”


Dylan Green, a second career nurse, says that “any program that gives people a path into nursing without obtaining a four year bachelor’s degree will definitely help alleviate the nursing shortage. There are thousands of Americans who do not feel fulfilled by their present careers and are searching for a change. For many of these people, nursing represents the right opportunity.”


When Green graduated with a degree in psychology, he found that his job opportunities were slim. While working as an emergency medical technician, Green discovered his passion for nursing.


“In transporting patients to the emergency room (ER), I began meeting nurses and seeing what it was they actually did. I saw how closely they worked with patients and what a unique position they were in to help the sick and injured. It was exactly what I wanted to be doing.”


After graduation, Green first worked as an emergency room nurse at the University of California Los Angeles Health System. After finishing his nursing school, he says he planned to become a nurse practitioner.


“Sometimes the first step is the hardest because you are committing yourself to a drastic change in your life. But once it’s made, the rest just follows,” Green said.


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