Healthcare systems continue to rely heavily on registered nurses (RNs), whose roles in recent years have expanded in responsibilities and opportunities for advancement. Practicing RNs with experience who earn an MSN gain access to higher-level roles in the nursing field, such as nurse practitioners (NPs). Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data indicates that practitioners with an MSN can earn over $40,000 more annually than RNs. In addition, the BLS predicts a 16% higher job growth rate for NPs than RN professionals between 2016-2026.
Candidates seeking advanced nursing positions typically earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree before completing a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) degree. However, bridge programs allow RNs to earn an MSN without the additional time and expense of earning a BSN first. Some programs allow students to earn their degree in just 24 months.
Gonzaga’s RN-to-MSN online program allows nurses who hold an associate degree to leverage their education and practical experience and move directly into a master’s program. Focused on nursing leadership, the program prepares the next generation of nurse managers, administrators, directors, and care management coordinators.
The 45-credit program includes 180 clinical hours, with most students graduating in nine semesters. All learning takes place online except for a two-day, on-campus immersion experience students attend at the school’s Spokane campus. Required courses in this online RN-to-MSN program cover topics like evidence-based care delivery, data management, and legal and ethical issues in nursing practice.
To apply, prospective students must submit two letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a current resume. Eligible applicants must hold an associate degree in nursing from an accredited institution and an unencumbered RN license. The program prefers applicants with a GPA above 3.0 across all previous college-level coursework.
University of Delaware
The University of Delaware features a brand-new RN-to-MSN program that first started accepting students in spring 2019. The program, offered through a partnership between the School of Nursing and the Lerner School of Business, trains students on the clinical and management sides of nursing leadership. This gives them the practical knowledge to drive meaningful, positive change in the healthcare industry.
Within this 39-credit RN-to-MSN online program, students take courses on policy, finance, healthcare informatics, data analytics, and management. They also take part in two 224-hour health systems nursing leadership practicums, through which they work directly with established professionals in the field. Students may choose to take classes full time or part time.
Eligible applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing from a regionally accredited institution, along with an active RN license in the United States. They also must possess a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and submit transcripts from all colleges or universities previously attended.
Marquette’s accelerated, direct-entry RN-to-MSN online program allows nursing professionals to receive an advanced degree in 19-21 months. The program features a combination of online courses, in-person labs, and more than 1,000 hours of clinical work. Graduates will possess the knowledge and clinical experience needed to take the NCLEX-RN licensing exam.
The program features a simulation experience that allows students to learn interactively. This may involve students treating digital patients with a variety of conditions using the skills gained throughout their coursework.
The online RN-to-MSN program welcomes applicants with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees and a minimum 3.0 GPA in all undergraduate coursework. Prerequisites include courses in human anatomy, nutrition, chemistry, behavioral science, and statistics. Any applicant with a GPA below 3.2 must also submit GRE scores.
Marquette’s RN-to-MSN online program prepares individuals for careers as nursing managers, administrators, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse practitioners.
University of North Carolina
UNC offers an RN-to-MSN program open to current registered nurses who hold an associate degree or diploma. Within the healthcare systems track, students can focus their studies on administration, clinical nursing leadership, education, informatics, or outcome management. Students in the nurse practitioner track may choose from concentrations in family nursing, pediatrics, mental health, and gerontology.
Eligible applicants must enter the program with 51 college-level credits, including prerequisites in statistics, human growth and development, biological sciences, English, and the humanities. They must meet UNC’s minimum graduate admission standards, which include a minimum 2.75 GPA. Applicants also must hold an unencumbered RN license in the United States.
MSN coursework focuses on community health nursing, professional nursing practice, and the use of research to improve nursing practice. Students also participate in 17 credits of clinical experience tailored to their chosen track and concentration. Full-time students typically complete the program in two years, although they may opt to attend part time.
Capella University’s 66-credit RN-to-MSN online program offers specializations in nursing leadership and administration and nursing education. Core courses feature topics like communication and case analysis, population health, quality improvement, and economics and decision-making in healthcare. The program includes a six-credit practicum and capstone, through which students develop and execute a personalized experience at a field site.
The school also features FlexPath, which allows students to demonstrate competence in a variety of nursing subjects through assessments, reports, presentations, and proposals commonly found in the professional world. Students can thus earn credit for their real-world experience through an alternative form of coursework.
Eligible applicants must hold a C or better in at least 135 undergraduate credits, along with a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA. They also must hold a current RN license in the United States. The program does not require GRE or GMAT scores as part of the application process.
Monmouth’s RN-to-MSN online bridge program enables registered nurses with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree to secure a master’s degree — without the need to first seek a BSN. Students may choose from nursing administration, nursing education, school nursing, forensic nursing, and nurse practitioner specializations.
The program requires eligible applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, along with a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. They also must possess at least one year of nursing experience and an unencumbered New Jersey RN license. Prospective students must submit a resume, two letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.
Once enrolled, students take 15 core nursing credits, nine specialization-focused credits, and 12 credits of electives. They must also complete a practicum or clinical experience before graduation. Students on the nursing administration track may take three courses through the Leon Hess Business School.
Sacred Heart University
Through Sacred Heart’s online RN-to-BSN-to-MSN program, practicing nurses can take graduate courses while they remain undergraduates, potentially reducing their number of MSN classes. Graduates leave the program with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing.
The program offers specializations in clinical nurse leadership, nursing management, and nursing education. Depending on the track, students may need to complete 120-348 clinical hours. The program also features an asynchronous course schedule, allowing students to log in and complete class requirements largely on their own time.
Eligible applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing subject, with a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. They also must hold an unencumbered RN license in the United States and submit a resume, two letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.
Incoming students may begin the RN-BSN-MSN program at six dates throughout the year. Most finish their degrees within two years.
Robert Morris University
Located in Morris Township, Pennsylvania, RMU delivers an RN-to-MSN online program formatted to prepare future nursing educators and leaders. Once they graduate, students have both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing, along with well-rounded knowledge of nursing administration, health policy, pharmacology, health promotion, and various other important subjects they can leverage in their careers.
Students may fulfill their clinical requirements at hospitals, clinics, and community settings across the United States. Students who live near RMU’s campus may use the university’s Regional Research and Innovation in Simulation Education Center, which features cutting-edge technology to provide realistic lab experiences.
To apply, prospective students must hold an associate degree or diploma from an accredited college or university along with an unencumbered RN license. They also must submit two letters of recommendation and their college transcripts.
Thomas Edison State University
TESU’s W. Cary Edwards School of Nursing offers an online RN-to-MSN program with concentrations in nursing administration, nursing education, and nursing informatics. The 36-credit program meets the needs of working adults, with most students taking one or two classes at a time. Students typically graduate in two years.
All MSN students develop an e-portfolio featuring the work they accomplished through their courses and practicum experiences. They present this portfolio in their last nursing course.
The program requires incoming students to hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited postsecondary institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants also must submit a personal statement and essay, two recommendation letters, and a resume. The program prefers students with at least two years of experience, and all applicants must hold an unencumbered RN license in the United States.
Nova Southeastern University
Available through the Ron and Kathy Assaf College of Nursing, NSU offers an RN-to-MSN online degree that allows students to focus their studies in executive nursing leadership, nursing education, or nursing informatics.
The program encompasses a variety of courses, covering topics like pharmacology, pathophysiology, data analysis, and healthcare policy. Students complete 15 credits of core classes and another 21 credits of concentration-focused courses. Regardless of the specialization chosen, all students must complete at least 130 hours of practicum experience. Most students graduate in two years when attending full time.
To qualify for admission to this online RN-to-MSN program, prospective students must hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing with at least a 3.0 GPA. Students without a nursing degree may remain eligible upon taking a transition course. Applicants also must provide evidence of an unencumbered RN license.
NSU is located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
What to Expect From an RN-to-MSN Program
Students can anticipate certain foundational content from all degrees while in an RN-to-MSN program. However, bridge programs across the U.S. differ due to requirements in individual states. Colleges and universities develop and maintain the right to create their own curriculum, which results in alternative course titles or additional distinctive courses.
Admission Requirements for an RN-to-MSN Program
While many master’s programs require students to hold a bachelor’s degree to apply, RN-to-MSN online bridge programs often accept applicants with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) from schools accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (CCNE) and an unencumbered RN license. Schools also look for students with at least one year of full-time clinical experience and may ask applicants to submit their resume. Likewise, since students must work with patients for clinical experience, schools often require applicants to provide an initial BCI/FBI background check that students must renew periodically.
Students should anticipate needing two to three letters of recommendation from former professors or managers who can provide details about students’ work ethic and personal anecdotes. Some online RN-to-MSN programs also require phone or in-person interviews. On average, programs look for candidates with a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Concentrations Offered for MSN Students
Nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) administer anesthesia to patients prior to certain procedures and then monitor patients the entire time they remain unconscious. Students who complete a nurse anesthetist specialization gain access to some of the most lucrative opportunities for NPs. Most professionals work in physicians’ offices, hospitals, or for state facilities.
Students with an affinity for older populations can become geriatric nurse practitioners. Striving to improve life expectancy and quality of life, practitioners work to manage dementia, arthritis, and other chronic illnesses. Other duties include conducting physicals and collaborating with other specialists to create care plans.
Orthopedic nurse practitioners specialize in musculoskeletal conditions. Practitioners analyze x-rays, prescribe medicine for broken bones, conduct exams on patients, and maintain detailed patient history records. Most practitioners collaborate with physical therapists and physicians. Professionals often work in emergency rooms, orthopedic hospital units, nursing homes, or rehabilitation centers.
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
Students earning an online RN-to-MSN may consider working with infants within the first month of their life as neonatal nurse practitioners. This concentration examines how to care for premature or sick newborns. Professionals complete physicals, administer therapy, and prescribe medication. Most practitioners work in intensive care centers in hospitals, delivery rooms, or specialty clinics.
A concentration in midwifery prepares students to interact with women regarding preconception, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and other women-related care. Duties often include gynecological exams, family planning, or developing birth plans. Professionals also deliver babies and manage high-risk births. Most certified nurse midwives work for private practices, though practitioners may also work in hospitals or birthing centers.
Sample Courses for an RN-to-MSN Program
- The Diagnostic Physical Exam Across the Lifespan: This course examines health assessments and the application of diagnostic history in physical examinations to diagnosis in patients of all ages. Students explore pertinent theories, principles, and strategies from both behavioral and physical science to generate complete health synopses. Coursework includes case studies that observe performing methodical examinations at different stages of life.
- Advanced Pharmacotherapeutics: Advanced pharmacotherapeutics prepares students to administer and monitor drug therapy. Students examine hidden disease processes, therapeutics in pharmacotherapeutic agents, and treatment options. Course objectives include exploring governmental influence on drug development and regulation. Students also review current case studies to explore pharmacotherapy interventions and the pharmacology of prescribed drugs.
- Leadership and Health Policy: Leadership and policy explores the relationship between policy development and research. Students examine information released by the Department of Health Policy and Management to determine implications from a public health perspective. Through cases studies, students explore how to improve policies on federal, state, and local levels. This course also covers principles of organizational change.
- Research and Analytic Approaches to Advanced Evidence-Based Practice: In this course, students practice the research process, demonstrating how systematic frameworks correlate with evidence-based practices. With an emphasis on analyzing published research and developing quantitative or qualitative theories, students evaluate literature to uncover applicable clinical practice methods. This course also applies statistical methods and rationales to analyze research.
- Pathophysiology: Advanced pathophysiology introduces students to underlying diseases that manifest throughout the lifespan, which include therapeutic interventions for injury disease risk factors. Students identify the relationship between system alterations as a result of disease and normal physiology. Coursework also requires students to identify environmental factors, psychosocial, physical, and cognitive characteristics of conditions and diseases.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an RN-to-MSN Bridge Program?
As online learning continues to grow in demand, so do program options. Part-time and full-time options mean nontraditional learners can retain their jobs while in an online RN-to-MSN program. While students who hold a BSN from an accredited school can earn a degree in one year, students considering RN-to-MSN online bridge programs should anticipate graduating in 24 months with full-time attendance. Part-time attendance increases program length.
Other factors that impact online RN-to-MSN program graduation timelines include joint programs or specialization options. Some programs offer double majors, combining students’ MSN speciality field with a master’s in public health, business administration, or health administration. Depending on individual career goals, some schools allow dual programs, which include two specialty areas such as women’s health and adult gerontology primary care. Credit requirements range from 36-70 hours.
Clinical Component for RN-to-MSN Students
Online RN-to-MSN programs often offer all coursework online with few in-person requirements. However, in many cases students must complete clinical hours at an approved facility under the supervision of a licensed advanced practitioner. While state regulations and specialty field requirements vary, students should anticipate completing 500 clinical hours at minimum. Most schools request more than 600 hours for pediatric nurse practitioners. In order to become a nurse anesthetist, students need to complete over 2,000 general clinical hours and at least 600 hours in anesthetics.
Can I Complete an RN-to-MSN Bridge Program Online?
Schools attending traditional campuses may create distance learning programs that coincide with on-campus semesters for cohesion, since some students prefer to take specific courses in person. However, many traditional schools have separate global campuses that operate independently, which provides additional flexibility and program options. Similarly, 100% online programs often offer both flexible and accelerated programs. Distance learning formats include synchronous and asynchronous learning. Synchronous courses provide live interaction between students and professors that mimic in-person courses without traveling to campus. Most programs favor asynchronous formats where students learn course content on their own time.