RN to MSN Programs

Master’s degrees are becoming more and more widespread, but also mandatory for practicing in the healthcare industry. Albeit a useful and an excellent decision for your nursing education, an MSN program is not easy to carry out. And for some, it might be downright impossible to complete in its traditional form. This is where an RN to MSN track comes in handy. Requiring far less time, but covering the same comprehensive and highly-specialized curriculum, this certification ensures that you don’t miss out on any of the Master’s level job opportunities while it allows you to advance both in your career and an academic environment without sacrificing personal time or work responsibilities.

Who is this program for?

If you want better job prospects, increased income, more professional opportunities, as well as the chance to teach future nurses or change the healthcare system from the inside out, you will need a Master’s of Science in Nursing degree. You will have more autonomy and flexibility in your job, meet any rigid upcoming legislation laws without a hassle, and be able to pursue your passion for advanced nursing practice (the certification allows you to study and work in a wide array of specializations from mental health to oncology).

All these are excellent reasons enroll in a Master’s level education program, but why choose the accelerated RN to MSN track? Simply put, you can receive the same high-quality training faster and continue practicing as a nurse and building your professional contacts. You don’t have to commit to several years of instruction or hours of coursework that you can’t afford. Instead, you can enroll in a program specifically designed for busy pupils or enthusiastic healthcare workers who don’t want their education to take a back seat. Of course, your schedule will invariably be more hectic and crowded than that of a traditional program, but this can have benefits and teach you invaluable lessons about discipline, organized study and responsible, and dedicated practice.

What can an RN to MSN track do for you?

An accelerated program offers you a flexible schedule, intensive training on the fundamentals and nitty-gritty of nursing practice, as well as the possibility to easily find suitable employment, improve your academic history and work in a secure, high-paying job. One of the most sought-after advantages of this type of certification is that it saves time, but there are other equally important perks that come along with it (for instance, the ability to function and make crucial decisions under stress). Conversely, there are less positive aspects like increased competition and less time available to cover the learning material. But you can find ways around these issues. For example, an online program can accommodate you by allowing you to complete your clinical hours at a local hospital, while your lab work can be replaced with interactive simulations, depending on the capacity of the school’s equipment.

Although the pros of an RN to MSN track outweigh the cons, there is no doubt that you need to be self-motivated, efficient and extremely disciplined to succeed in this type of program. So if you feel that the extensive workload of the curriculum is too overwhelming, you might want to reconsider the conventional path to earning a Master’s degree. Otherwise, this program will help you learn critical thinking and decision-making skills, as well as allow you to work alongside other trained professionals to provide the best, safest medical care for patients within hospitals or other designated facilities.

What are the requirements for the program?

An RN to MSN track, also known as a “bridge” program, has several admission requirements. The first is an RN (registered nurse) license that proves you are qualified to practice. You also need to have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 and at least one year of clinical experience as an RN. If your grade point average is above 2.75 but under 3.0, you can still join the program if you have a satisfactory Miller Analogies Test (MAT) score. Most universities require you to have an Associate’s Degree in Nursing or a nursing diploma from an accredited school and ask you to go through a telephone or an in-person interview before you are admitted. Another requirement is a personal statement which underlines your academic and professional goals, as well as three letters of recommendation.

You will need to bring official transcripts in addition to your application. You must have a B grade or higher for each of your prerequisite courses. These refer to social science classes, math, humanities as well as a variety of general education hours. The latter include human anatomy and physiology, statistics, English composition, general psychology and physical assessment. You can contact the school directly and ask the staff to review your prerequisites to know for sure if you are eligible for the program.

What about clinical specialty?

Since this is a Master’s level program, going into the RN to MSN track requires you to choose a certain specialization. Bear in mind that a particular clinical specialty might not be available in every university so you might need to filter through your selection of schools until you find one that offers a program in your desired area of study. Furthermore, you might need to own a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree before enrolling in your RN to MSN track for certain specialties such as pediatric, neonatal, health informatics or acute care. If you are a graduate of a regular diploma program or own an ADN, here are your main clinical specialty options:

  • Family
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health
  • Women’s Health
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care

What will you learn?

With an RN to MSN track, you can succeed in nursing in half the time it would take to gain the same results with a traditional program. But it is important to acknowledge that the curriculum will indeed be more challenging for the former option. The courses will teach you the foundational principles, tools and concepts of nursing, patient communication strategies, diagnostic evaluation, holistic management of diseases and reliable health assessment. In addition, you will learn problem-solving and leadership skills, as well as how to efficiently integrate these notions into your daily clinical practice to meet community needs.

You will learn about healthcare policies, communication devices, data integrity, and ethical and legal issues concerning information systems. Your main focus will be maximizing the quality of patient care, and also management, team building and developing collaboration within an interdisciplinary group. The program examines the most competent and productive methods of measuring and processing health outcomes. Furthermore, students will analyze various populations across the continuum of care, expand their cultural competence and address diverse prevention policies. Some of these courses may include up to 50 credit hours of practical application and approximately 90 hours of practicum experience.

You will look into the most common health problems for individuals across their lifespan, plan and implement a multitude of treatments and learn how to successfully meet individualized needs of patients belonging to different walks of life and ethnicities. You will be taught how to conduct evidence-based health assessment based on genetic, socio-economic and environmental factors. After finishing their studies, graduates will be able to create effective strategies for preventing disease and promoting health, implement and evaluate quality initiatives within a clinical setting, as well as use patient care technologies to ensure safe nursing practice. Here are the main courses you will be attending as part of an RN to MSN track:

  • Patient Assessment and Health Literacy
  • Scholarly Inquiry
  • Community and Population Health
  • Advanced Pathophysiology Across The Lifespan
  • Ethical and Legal Considerations of Healthcare
  • Information Management and Patient Care Technologies
  • System Leadership for Continuous Quality
  • Healthcare Management and Finance
  • Transformational Capstone

How long does the program take?

The duration of most RN to MSN programs ranges from 2 to 3 years, depending on the school, clinical specialty and availability. If you only study part-time, the program length might extend up to 4 years. You need to complete anywhere between 60 and 120 credit hours. Online alternatives usually allow you to customize your time spent according to your work and academic needs. This means that your overall cost will vary according to the program length of the most suitable for your schedule.

Does the program require clinical hours?

Standard Master’s degree majors require a minimum of 600 clinical hours. However, bridge programs are much more lenient when it comes to hands-on practice than any other nursing education options out there. For instance, an RN to BSN track requires little to no clinical hours. The same is true for most RN to BSN programs. You do not need to have clinical hours. However, depending on the state of residence and the school of your choice, there might be a minimum of completed hours required to be eligible for the licensure exam. Either way, online alternatives offer you a wide range of MSN specialties to choose from with zero clinical hours needed and 100% of the studies, learning, and examinations carried out via a web platform.

Can you study in an RN to MSN track online?

Definitely. The majority of options are offered online. These programs give nurses a broader scope of knowledge, train them to become highly specialized and resourceful in their chosen area of study and allow them to eventually perform as clinical systems leaders. An online program will teach you how to operate within an interdisciplinary team, as well as how to evaluate, shape and implement comprehensive medical plans and patient-centered healthcare.

These “fast” tracks typically involve specialized instructions and e-learning classes held by practicing or widely-known professionals, as well as a capstone project course. However, the latter does not imply any on-site requirements or clinical rotations. Certain online programs might require you to visit campus two or three times for an in-person session. Still, most of the communication and training will be done through video lectures, interactive teaching, chats, forums, email, and telephone.

Here are a few quick tips on how to have a successful learning experience with an online track: always make sure to stay ahead of your work (procrastination is very tempting without a classroom and a clearly defined or fixed study schedule), interact with your professors, try not to take days off, find a small group to study with and always have a designated room or place for learning.

Most renowned universities offer both traditional and distance learning options. Here are some of the best schools with available and reliable online programs:

  • University of North Carolina
  • University of Arizona
  • Western Governors University
  • South University
  • Concordia University
  • Thomas Edison State College
  • Robert Morris University
  • University of Delaware
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Drexel University
  • Grantham University
  • Capella University
  • Sacred Heart University
  • Chamberlain College of Nursing
  • University of Cincinnati
  • Fort Hays University
  • Western Carolina University
  • Ball State University
  • Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences

How much does the program cost?

Tuition rates for online bridge programs are among the lowest in the country. Prices for an RN to MSN track typically range between $10,000 and $18,000 per semester, depending on the clinical specialty. If you are only attending the courses part-time, the costs are usually under $10,000 for each semester. Additional fees include a clinical lab fee, a transcript fee, a technology fee, a graduate student activity fee, a health fee, a recreation fee and a graduate student services fee. You can apply for help and see if you are eligible for scholarships, private loans, grants, student loans or any other type of financial aid.

Is the RN to MSN track accredited?

Yes. There are a variety of RN to MSN programs (both conventional and 100% online) that have received accreditation from authorized organizations such as The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN). You should make sure that the program and school you have chosen are approved by the State Board of Nursing. You will also need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) in order to practice as a registered nurse.

Where can you work with a Master’s of Science in Nursing from an RN to MSN track?

There are several career paths for someone who has earned an MSN from a bridge program. You will be able to work in medical facilities, intensive care units, emergency rooms, physicians’ offices, schools, and universities. Provided your specialization allows it, you will work either as part of the nursing staff or as part of management, organizing and leading other staff members. You will either be directly involved in creating positive patient outcomes or monitor and assess health outcomes, as well as implement changes accordingly.

Here are the most common job positions you can apply for after completing a bridge MSN program:

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (NP)
  • Adult Nurse Practitioner (NP)
  • Clinical Care Coordinator
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Clinical Systems Manager
  • Patient Navigator
  • Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP)
  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ARNP)
  • Infection Control Manager
  • Quality and Safety Coordinator
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (Acute Care / Primary Care)
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (Acute Care / Primary Care)
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Manager
  • Nurse Administrator
  • Nurse Educator

How much can I earn with a Master’s of Science in Nursing from an RN to MSN track?

MSN degree salaries are solid proof that your education does matter and pays off in the long run. With a Master’s of Science in Nursing certification (whether obtained online or traditionally), your median salary can range anywhere between $65,000 and $120,000. Where exactly you will fall between these two figures depends on the workplace, experience and job position (whether you are involved in patient care or have taken up an executive or management role). For example, a Family Nurse Practitioner (NP) makes a minimum of $74,000 every year and up to $110,000, whereas an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP) has a salary of up to $116,000. Similarly, a Nurse Manager can earn anywhere between $69,057 and $118,367. It all depends on what kind of job you are looking for and how long you plan on staying in it before advancing to a higher position.