Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Programs

By Maura Deering



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While nurses have always been in high demand, the current pandemic has shown our need for more of these crucial professionals. The common path to a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree includes earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) first. Direct-entry MSN programs bypass the BSN, streamline the educational process for students, and fill the need for nursing professionals with advanced skills.

Read on to learn about direct-entry MSNs, including educational and licensing requirements, potential careers, and top schools, including those offering direct-entry MSN programs for non-nursing majors online.

Advantages of Direct-Entry MSN Programs

Direct-entry MSN programs offer many advantages. Some schools accept students with associate degrees in nursing (ADNs) and registered nurse (RN) licenses, while others admit applicants with non-nursing bachelor's degrees and RN licenses. Full-time distance learners can complete their programs in two years, while part-time students need an additional 1-2 years.

Course delivery takes place primarily online, with potential in-person attendance required for intensives and hybrid program classes. Clinical hours require in-person attendance. Program costs vary by school, with some as low as $400 per credit and others exceeding $1,000 per credit.

What to Expect From a Direct-Entry MSN Program

In addition to an ADN or bachelor's degree, direct-entry MSN programs may require a minimum GPA, a year of nursing experience, and a background check. Other common requirements include transcripts, personal statements, letters of recommendation, and interviews.

Students take general courses, along with classes in their concentration area, primarily online. Some schools offer direct-entry nurse practitioner (NP) programs with specializations in particular patient populations, while others focus on administrative and leadership training. Course content covers health assessments, health policy and leadership, pathophysiology, pharmacotherapeutics, and research and analysis. Enrollees complete 36-70 credits to graduate.

Clinical internship and practicum hours consist of in-person, supervised work experiences. Depending on their specialization, program, and state licensure requirements, a student logs 500-3,000 hours of clinical work.

Distance learning formats include synchronous classes, which mirror the on-campus experience by requiring specific attendance times, and asynchronous courses, which offer added scheduling flexibility.

Direct-entry MSN Programs for Non-Nursing Bachelor's Degree-Holders

Admission to MSN programs for a learner without a BSN requires an RN license, along with an ADN or bachelor's degree in a non-nursing major. Several direct-entry MSN programs welcome non-BSN degree-holders. BSN-to-MSN programs typically require GRE scores and prerequisite coursework, such as anatomy, chemistry, and statistics. BSN degree-holders can often earn their MSNs in one year if they have completed their clinical hours. Non-BSNs should expect a minimum of two years in school.

Direct-Entry MSN Curriculum

RN-to-MSN students must pass required general courses in human anatomy, psychology, and microbiology before moving on to MSN content.

While specific coursework varies among programs, students encounter some common classes along the way. Health assessment covers data collection and analysis, along with diagnostic reasoning to guide diagnosis. Healthcare policy and ethics observes global health, financing, quality and safety, and ethical practice. A course in healthcare research teaches skill development in critical analysis, literature review, and statistical methods.

Advanced nursing courses include specialty tracks in clinical nurse leadership, nurse management and executive leadership, and nursing education, or in an NP-focused patient population area.

Steps to Become a Nurse Practitioner With an MSN

Once students complete their clinical hours and graduate with their MSNs, they apply to their state nursing boards for licensure as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Before beginning their studies, students should check their state licensing requirements.

While state requirements may vary, most include a list of specific graduate courses, a valid RN license, and a passing score on a national certification exam. MSN degree-holders take the exam in their specialty area. Various professional associations administer the examinations, including the American Academy of Nurse Practitioner, American Nurses Credentialing Center, and others. Different certification areas impose specific clinical experience requirements, which can affect timelines for education and licensure.

Careers for Nurses with a Direct-Entry MSN

Job opportunities for APRNs encompass many specialty areas. Potential employers include hospitals, healthcare provider offices, outpatient clinics, and higher education. Licensure renewal requirements differ by jurisdiction, but licenses typically expire every two years and require a current RN license, continuing education hours, and maintenance of national certification.

Nurse Practitioner

NPs provide direct primary care to specific patient populations, such as adult, geriatric, and pediatric, or patients with cardiovascular issues or cancers. They perform similar duties as RNs, but often with more autonomy.

Median Salary: $109,820

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

CRNAs assist patients undergoing surgeries or procedures with pain management, vital sign monitoring, and anesthesia-related adjustments. Before procedures, they determine the proper dose of anesthesia given patient allergies, illnesses, and medications.

Median Salary: $174,790

Certified Nurse Midwife

CNMs care for women during all stages of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. They provide many of the same services as physicians, such as pregnancy monitoring, delivery, and wellness visits, and assist with cesarean births.

Median Salary: $105,030

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

These professionals work independently or under collaboration agreements with psychiatrists to assist patients with mental health issues. They perform assessments, diagnoses, and evaluations; offer treatment options; and prescribe medication.

Median Salary: $106,454

Nurse Educator

Working with administrators in hospital settings or postsecondary education, these professionals educate licensed practical nurses, RNs, and NPs. They also may develop nurse training curriculum content and continuing education programs.

Median Salary: $75,276