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RN to MSN Programs

Pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree can be well worth it for nurses who are interested in advancing their career in a more specialized area of nursing. For those people who are already registered nurses (RNs), an accelerated program like an RN to MSN bridge program can be the best choice, giving them the flexibility to continue working while pursuing an advanced degree. These programs often offer evening or weekend classes, along with online options to best accommodate working students. An RN to MSN program can take anywhere between 18 months to three years to complete, and most graduates are awarded both a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Why Enroll in an RN to MSN Nursing Program?

There are many reasons for pursuing a master’s in nursing via an RN to MSN program. One is that master’s degrees offer a higher level of specialization in nursing. While undergraduate nurses are prepared to practice entry-level, general nursing, nurses with their master’s degrees have a more focused education in a specific area, thus a better chance at leadership positions in the workplace. RN to MSN programs are ideal for RNs who want to increase their level of knowledge, pay, and responsibilities at work, especially in a particular field of nursing. Students will typically choose a target practice area or “track” going into the master’s program, such as nurse practitioner, nurse education, nurse anesthesia, or nurse midwifery. Graduates of RN to MSN programs will be considered advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). APRNs typically earn a higher pay than RNs because they have a greater level of responsibility, and depending on their specialization and license, are often able to prescribe medications, administer anesthesia, and be considered primary care providers. Another reason to pursue an MSN is that it may put graduates in higher demand for being hired or for promotions. Since there is a recent shortage of physicians, APRNs are beginning to fill in those gaps. They also tend to make more money than RNs, making it worth the investment for many nurses. For those nurses looking to become an APRN as quickly as possible without compromising their work schedules, RN to MSN nursing programs can be an ideal choice.

RN to MSN Nursing Program Requirements and Prerequisites

Entrance into masters programs in nursing is competitive. While the requirements to enter an RN to MSN program vary by school, a bachelor’s degree and a current RN license is typically the minimum requirement. Many schools also have minimum nursing experience requirements. A variety of prerequisite courses are usually required, in general education as well as nursing, and may include English, math, anatomy, and physiology. Each school will also have minimum requirements based on transferred GPA and the overall strength of the application (including the statement of purpose and letters of recommendation) compared to other applicants. Applicants for RN to MSN bridge programs must be registered nurses (RNs) with a current and clean license. Some programs may require letters of reference from a recent employer, a personal interview, or a background check.

Before enrolling in an RN to MSN program, prospective students should be confident about their career as a nurse, since they will be devoting time and money to pursue a specialization in this career. They should have a genuine desire to help others, good communication skills, and physical and emotional stability. They should also be strong students, especially in the fields of biology and other sciences. Having been RNs for some time, potential RN to MSN students will already know that a career in nursing can be physically and emotionally draining, often with long hours and unstable schedules, but it can also be extremely rewarding. People with compassion, organizational skills, stamina, and excellent people skills will be the most successful in the field.

RN to MSN Nursing Program Coursework

The coursework in RN to MSN nursing programs will vary by program and usually takes between 18 months to three years to complete, depending on the courses taken for their previous degree. Typically, students are required take courses like anatomy & physiology, biology, English composition, and chemistry prior to admission into the RN to MSN program, but some of those courses may have been completed in the prior degree program. An RN to MSN program will be comprised of undergraduate and graduate level courses, which might include:

General RN to MSN:

  • Role of the Advanced Practice Nurse: Transformational Leadership in Advanced Practice
  • Advanced Theoretical Perspectives
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Mental Health Nursing

Nurse Practitioner:

  • Interpreting Research Reports
  • Pharmacotherapeutics
  • Healthcare Policy
  • Child Health Primary Care
  • Capstone Clinical Practicum

Nurse Education:

  • Pathophysiology, Pharmacology and Assessment
  • Advanced Clinical Practicum: Acute Care
  • Curriculum Development
  • Teaching and Learning Strategies
  • Nurse Educator Practicum

Nurse Anesthesia:

  • Theoretical Foundations of Anesthesia Nursing
  • Pharmacology of Anesthesia
  • Chemistry and Physics in Anesthesia Nursing
  • Anesthesia Nursing Practicum
  • Advanced Anesthesia Nursing Practicum

Nurse Midwifery:

  • Role of the Nurse Midwife
  • Midwifery Care during Labor and Birth
  • Advanced Midwifery Care of the Childbearing Woman
  • Principles of Independent Practice
  • Skills for Nurse-Midwifery Care

In addition to the coursework listed above, students in RN to MSN programs will likely be required to complete some clinical work, where they will practice hands-on skills. Depending on the program and the student’s work history, the clinical work may be able to be completed at the hospital or clinic where the student works. Students in these programs are also expected to maintain a minimum grade point average in order to graduate with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in nursing.

Online RN to MSN Programs Versus On-Campus Programs

Since most students in RN to MSN schools are working professionals, online programs can be a good option. Accredited online RN to MSN programs provide more flexibility than traditional programs and are usually designed for nontraditional students, even allowing students to take one class at a time if needed. Some online programs offer year-round admissions and class schedules, making it easier for working students to enroll and attend class. RN to MSN online programs might be cheaper overall than on-campus programs, especially when taking into account the time and money students will save by not having to travel to and from class each day.

Online programs are not for everyone, however. Attending school online requires students to be highly self-motivated and driven since their schedules can be somewhat self-managed. Traditional on-campus programs offer students the social aspect of meeting and collaborating with their fellow students and asking questions of professors after class, which can be beneficial. While RN to MSN bridge programs online do provide a way for students to interact, electronic interaction is not the same as physically being in the same room with others, and some students can find this isolating. Some nurses will prefer an online option for the convenience and flexibility, and others will prefer the traditional classroom as a means to becoming an APRN. With advantages and disadvantages to each, nurses must decide which type of program is best for them.

Career Opportunities for Graduates of an RN to MSN Program in Nursing

After completing an RN to MSN program, graduates will have an advanced degree in nursing, equipping them to be much more competitive in the field. The nursing profession is one of the most popular job fields in the US, and those with advanced nursing degrees are in especially high demand. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, APRNs – including nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives – earned a median annual wage of $107,460 in 2016.1 Nurse anesthetists earned the highest salary of these, bringing home a median annual wage of $160,270 as of 2016.1 Nurse practitioners and midwives earned a median annual wage of approximately $100,000 in the same year.1

The job outlook for advanced practice nurses is also promising, with advanced practice registered nurse jobs expected to increase by 31% through 2024, which is over 15% faster growth than is projected for RN jobs during the same time period.1,2 53,400 new nurse anesthetist, midwife, and practitioner jobs are expected to be added to the national job market by the year 2024, with most of these openings expected for nurse practitioners.1 The increased demand is due to healthcare legislation, an increased emphasis on preventative healthcare, and the aging (and subsequent need for care) of the baby boomer generation. APRNs who are willing to work in medically underserved areas (like inner-city and rural areas) will have an advantage in the job market. Longer-term care facilities are expected to have a greater need for nurses than hospitals, and home healthcare is also expected to see an increase in demand; nurses who apply for these jobs may have broader opportunities.

Additional Resources

Nursing World – The American Nurses Association is an organization open to registered nurses, which provides opportunities in education and networking.

American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) – The AANP is an organization for nurse practitioners, helping them learn about opportunities for education and training.

Professional Nurse Educators Group – PNEG offers a network for people in the nurse education profession, with an annual conference and a spirit of collaboration.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I transfer courses from other colleges or universities to an RN to MSN program?
Most colleges and universities will accept transfer credits from other schools, but will likely require a minimum passing grade for those classes. Check with your school of choice for more information on transferring college credits from other schools.

After I finish with the BSN component of the RN to MSN program, am I automatically enrolled in the master’s program?
No. Once you have completed the BSN component of the program, you will likely enter the entire pool of applicants for the master’s program. At that point, admittance will be selected based on GPA and overall strength of the application compared to other applicants.

Are in-person clinicals required for RN to MSN programs?
It depends on the program, but most schools do require in-person clinicals. Some schools will take into account the student’s work history, allowing the clinical work to be completed at the hospital or clinic where the student already works. Other programs may allow students with enough prior experience to skip clinical work altogether. Check with your RN to MSN school of choice for more information about their clinical requirements.

References:
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm