RN to MSN bridge programs provide a direct educational track to a masters degree for RNs who have an associates degree or a nursing diploma but do not have a bachelors degree. Top RN to MSN programs allow you to first fulfill your bachelors requirements while you are on your way toward a masters. After you finish the program, you will have both a BSN and an MSN in nursing.
Once you earn your MSN, you will be qualified for advanced nursing practice (APN) jobs such as nurse practitioner, clinical specialist, nurse-midwife or nurse anesthetist. Although APN certification is the most common career choice for students who pursue a masters in nursing, there are also MSN tracks that prepare you for administrative and managerial roles.
Finally, after you graduate from your RN to MSN program, you will also be eligible to apply to most doctorate-level programs, including a PhD in Nursing and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
The amount of time that you will need to complete an RN to MSN program can vary widely, and you may need anywhere from 2 to 5 years depending on your educational background and how quickly you complete your program’s requirements.
RN to MSN programs first introduce you to bachelors-level courses and clinical practice. This helps you to build the foundation of theoretical and clinical knowledge that you will need later in your advanced training.
Once you finish the bachelor phase of your program’s curriculum, the second phase of your classes and clinical practice will depend on the area of specialization that you choose. For instance, RN to MSN nurse practitioner students will spend the second half of their program learning to use critical thinking skills and clinical data to create comprehensive plans of care for pediatric, cancer or even psychiatric patients.
Who should enroll in an RN to MSN program?
RN to MSN programs require you to learn about the academic side of nursing and how it influences clinical practice. Therefore, students who want to enroll in a traditional or online RN to MSN program should have some interest in research and theory and should be passionate about applying concepts in their clinical practice.
Additionally, these programs will prepare you for jobs within advanced practice registered nurse fields, so you should be ready to accept an even greater responsibility over the health of your patients than traditional RNs have.
If you already have a BSN and would like to pursue a traditional or an online masters, an RN to MSN program may not be the best educational path. Some general RN to MSN programs accept any student with an RN license regardless of their educational background. However, many RN to MSN programs are specifically made for students who do not yet have a bachelors in nursing.
RN to MSN programs are for motivated RNs who want more diverse, specialized and better paying job options. And since RN to MSN students can continue their education at the doctoral level, these programs also attract many students who want to earn their DNP or PhD.
Finally, some RNs choose this degree because they want to take on a leadership or educational role. With a traditional or accredited RN to MSN online degree, you will be eligible to teach classes at colleges or hospitals as well as work as a clinical nurse manager.
RN to MSN program courses
The best RN to MSN online programs and on-campus programs offer courses that will teach you about the ethical, legal and technical responsibilities of advanced practice nursing. Examples of the kinds of classes you will take include:
Conceptual basis of professional nursing practice
This course examines various theories and concepts that will help you make important judgments about patient treatment and personnel management. In this course you will develop your critical thinking skills and learn how to apply them to real work situations.
Improving nursing practice
In this class, you will examine the common challenges that affect both nursing teams and patient populations. You will refine your communication skills and use hypothetical training scenarios to learn how to avoid common clinical mistakes.
Community health nursing
This course prepares RN to MSN students to provide effective care for patients at the community health level. You will learn about how illnesses develop and spread in a population and you will examine strategies for disease prevention and health promotion.
Gaining admission to an RN to MSN program
The admissions requirements for traditional and online RN to MSN program can be very different from 1 school to the next. For example, some RN to MSN programs will allow you to apply if you are waiting for your RN license, while others will not. Many programs will require you to have a license in the same state where the school is located, so be sure to find out about these requirements if you are interested in an out-of-state school.
The best RN to MSN bridge online or brick-and-mortar programs will ask you to submit an official copy of your previous degree and official grade transcripts. Additionally, many programs will request letters of recommendation from your employers or previous instructors as well as a statement of purpose explaining why you would like to enroll in their program. Some of the most prestigious schools will even require you to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT).
Other requirements for admission to an RN to MSN program can include a professional resume, documentation of your work experience, an interview with a faculty member, a copy of your immunization records and an academic writing sample. These requirements are different for every program, so be sure to check each school’s website for admissions requirements.
Holding a job during your RN to MSN program
It is very common for students to hold a job while they are earning their degrees because traditional and online RN to MSN programs are designed for registered nurses who already work in the medical field. However, some programs will make it easier than others for you to hold a job while you complete your coursework.
Some traditional RN to MSN programs will place you at an assigned location to complete your clinical work, while others allow you to fulfill these requirements on the job. You may find it especially difficult to balance work and study if your school assigns you to a separate location for your clinical work. This may require you to frequently travel between home, campus, work and your clinical practice location, which can be stressful and time consuming.
You may find it easier to hold a job and study if you are enrolled in an accredited RN to MSN online program, since most of your coursework will not require you to travel to campus. Additionally, it is far more common for online RN to MSN programs to allow you to choose where you satisfy your clinical requirements, which means that you may be able to complete your clinical hours at your workplace.
Studying online in an RN to MSN program
There are numerous standard and accelerated RN to MSN programs online for you to choose from. Many of these are accredited by organizations like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). Some of these MSN programs also offer advanced tracks in health systems management, patient care services administration and education in addition to advanced practice registered nurse paths.
Online MSN programs that focus on administration and education instead of advanced clinical practice often have fewer on-site clinical requirements. However, fully online RN to MSN degree programs are rare. Most online RN to MSN programs have hybrid curricula that allow you to complete your coursework online but require you to travel to a healthcare site for your hands-on clinical training.
It is important to remember that masters-level coursework usually focuses on advanced practice and requires in-person clinical experience with patients that cannot be simulated online. Therefore, working at a healthcare facility with a mentor or preceptor is almost always a part of these programs.