RN to MSN Bridge Guide
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What is an RN to MSN Program?

If you have your RN through an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) and know you would like to continue your education to practice at the Advanced Nursing level you can bypass a Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN) program and get your masters through an RN to MSN program. These programs take into account your experience as a nurse and your nursing education so that you can optimize your time while advancing your career. Since you are already a nurse you do not have to learn the same things that a new BSN student would. Depending on your experience, you could probably teach some of the classes taught in traditional BSN programs! So why would you spend time doing a full BSN program when you know you want more and have the option to achieve it? These programs are ideal if you want to work as a Nurse Practitioner (NP),  Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), or move into something like nursing education, administration, or leadership. Every RN to MSN program will be little different when it comes to their entrance requirements. This is why it will be important for you to look at what your potential schools require for applications. Some may require a certain amount of RN experience while others may not. Additionally, some programs are specifically designed for just RNs getting their MSN while others will prepare you to earn your BSN in the process and then transition you into their MSN program. Assess your needs and desires for your education before choosing your program. Some may be more in depth, but may also take longer than others. Regardless of your background and specific career goals, there are a lot of benefits to earning your MSN degree.

Why Should I Earn a Master’s in Nursing?

Earning your MSN will prepare you to practice nursing at the advanced level by enhancing your assessments, diagnostic, and treating skills. You will have training in using evidence based methods to provide care which will directly impact patient outcomes. With your MSN you will naturally become a leader in the nursing field. You will be equipped to make positive changes in the healthcare system that will benefit the nursing profession and the patients that you serve. RN to MSN programs take your nurse training to the next level. You will delve further into effective treatment methods, making bigger system changes, and impacting patients, families, and populations as a whole. You will play a vital role in improving patient care, enhancing safety, and positively impacting healthcare on a global level. You will have the flexibility and knowledge to shift the way you practice nursing if you desire. You can transition to a more research focused role, business role, or education role if you desire. This will enable you to stay engaged and be a life-long learner as you progress through your nursing career. If that isn’t enough of  reason to get your MSN, master’s prepared nursing also earn higher salaries.

Entrance Requirements for RN to MSN Programs

  • RN License: All of these programs require that you have your RN license. This means you have to have already taken the NCLEX and registered in the state where you practice.
  • GRE: In the US most master’s programs require that you have taken the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), so it’s best to get ahead of the game and prepare for this now.
  • Complete pre-requisites: Check with your potential schools to make sure that you have completed the require pre-requisite courses during your RN education.
  • Letters of recommendation: It’s time to reach out to your professional connections! Most programs will require at least one letter of recommendation.
  • GPA: Schools may also have GPA requirements. So make sure your GPA from your RN program lines up with what is expected by your prospective schools.
  • Submit applications: Submitting your applications will likely involve writing essays, answering questions about yourself, and collecting and submitting your transcripts from your RN program. Chances are you will also have to pay a fee.
  • Interview: Interviews are not required at every school but it’s best to be prepared in case they do!

How Long Does it Take to Complete an RN to MSN Program?

Depending on the university, you can expect your RN to MSN program to take 2 to 3 years. The program length will also depend on if you enroll full or part-time. Part-time enrollment may be beneficial in that you can work more during the program as an RN which will cut costs and enhance your skills and experience.

Online RN to MSN Programs

The options for advancing your education in a manner that fits your lifestyle are endless. With the internet and advanced technology there are many options for completing your masters partially or fully online. When earning your MSN you will need to complete a certain number of clinical hours, but online programs typically have student convenience on the forefront of their mind. This means that the school is more likely to help you organize your clinical experiences in a location that is convenient for you. Be sure to check with your school though as some programs require the student to navigate this process solo. Online programs are great because you will have the flexibility of completing assignments, class discussions, and even some quizzes from the convenience of your home or chosen work location. Classes can also be held online allowing you to login and listen to your teacher and view his/her presentation remotely. This will give you more opportunity to juggle your other life commitments such as family, work, friends, and more. It is important to make sure that your university is either  ACEN or CCNE accredited. If you have  questions about how the online programs work you can always contact the admissions departments at the schools you are applying to.

What MSN Specializations Are Available

Now that you are taking your nursing career to the next level you need to decide what to specialize in. Don’t worry though, you have plenty of options to choose from and our guides can help you make an informed decision. You can decide to work in either direct or indirect patient care roles depending on where you see your career taking you. Our Comprehensive Guide to Advanced Practice Nursing can help you understand the different options. The following roles are your options for specialization:

Nurse Practitioner (NP) Programs

The title “Nurse Practitioner” is becoming more and more attractive, and for good reason. NPs provide advanced nursing care and make competitive salaries. If you know this is the direction you are going to be heading in with your RN to MSN program, you will need to choose the population you want to focus in before applying to your program. NPs are certified in population foci, so your coursework and clinical experiences will be tailored towards the population you are going to be caring for. As an NP you will be providing direct care to patients. You will assess, diagnose, and treat them, while working as a part of a larger healthcare team. You will become skilled in evaluating lab and imaging results, prescribing medications, providing patient education, and following up on treatment progress. Each population foci and/or school will require that you complete a certain number of clinical hours. Typically the number or hours is around 500 to 600. These hours are times where you get to put to practice your skills and education in a clinical setting where you are supervised by another experienced healthcare provider. This will enable you to hone in on your skills and learn to practice safely before let loose to practice on your own as an NP.  These are the different NP populations that you can focus in:

  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
  • Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PCPNP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-PCNP)
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
  • Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (AC PNP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP)

Other Direct Care MSN Specialties

The direct care nursing specialties do not stop with NP level, and understanding how Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) roles work can be challenging. That is why we have our guide to help you.  According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) NPs along with the following 3 roles are APRN roles:

  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) – As a CNM you will care for women throughout their entire lifespan. Unlike Women’s Health NPs, this also includes during labor and birth. You will not need a supervising physician in any state to practice within your scope and you will be trained in delivering babies, performing minor surgical procedures, prescribing medications, and more.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) – As a CRNA you will be trained and licensed to provide anesthesia and pain care to patients throughout the country.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): As a CNS you will be a trained expert in your nursing field. States regulations for the CNS role vary, so be sure to check to see what your scope of practice will be. you may or may not be able to prescribe medications or diagnose.

Indirect Care MSN Specialties

Often nurses who are looking for a career shift but are burnt out with direct patient care don’t realize what other options they have. You can still stay within the nursing field and make a difference in the lives of patients and healthcare without providing direct care. There is a great need for caring, passionate individuals in these areas. By working in the following roles you will be able to advance your career and develop new skills while having a larger impact on the healthcare system and continuing to enhance quality of care. Often these roles are referred to as APRN roles however while they are advanced practice nursing roles, they are not technically APRN roles…these two terms are slightly different.

  • Nurse Educator –  As a nurse educator you will play a vital role in educating nurse in their clinical work places as well as in academic institutions, thus advancing healthcare and improving clinical outcomes.
  • Nurse Administrator: As a nurse administrator you will have the flexibility to work at the executive or manager level. With time and experience you will have potential for career growth. You will be a key player in optimizing nursing work environments which will enable the entire healthcare team to deliver better care.
  • Clinical Nurse Leader – Your role will be to lead healthcare teams to provide the best possible patient outcomes and improve the overall delivery of healthcare.

What Will I Study in My RN to MSN Program

There will be slight variations in each program depending on the university and whether or not you will be earning a BSN in the process. Your required coursework will involve some nursing theory and then clinical courses to teach you assessment and diagnostic skills. Boston College has a good example of what RN to MSN programs are likely to offer:

  • Advanced Pharmacology Across the Life Span
  • Conceptual Basis for Advanced Practice Nursing
  • Ethical Issues in Advanced Practice Nursing
  • Advanced Health Assessment Across the Life Span
  • Research Methods for Advanced Practice Nursing
  • Advanced Pathophysiology Across the Life Span
  • Advanced Specialty Theory I Course
  • Advanced Specialty Clinical I Course
  • Graduate Elective
  • Advanced Specialty Theory II Course
  • Advanced Specialty Clinical II Course
  • Role of Advanced Practice Nurses

Clinical Requirements

Clinical requirements for each type of APRN are set by your University and certifying body. Be sure that the program you are enrolling in meets the standard of your certifying body so that you do not find yourself short on hours when credentialing time rolls around. You are paying for your education, so your school should be active in helping you organize your clinical experiences. You may have more than one clinical placement. This is actually ideal so that you can be exposed to and practice caring for a variety of patients. You will also then be able to learn from more than one clinical instructor, and everyone has their own expertise to bring to the table. Indirect care roles may still require clinical hours so make sure you know the requirements ahead of time. Again, typically for MSN programs you will need to complete between 500 and 600 hours of hands on supervised patient care at the advanced nursing level.

How Much Are RN to MSN Programs

It’s not cheap but it is not impossible! Luckily in healthcare there are so many options available and ways to get your education paid for. Additionally, you have made a smart choice by choosing an RN to MSN program rather than getting your BSN then entering a traditional MSN program separately. By doing an RN to MSN program in one shot you are shortening the amount of time in school and thus lowering your education cost as well. If you choose to take your practice into medically underserved areas, there are federal programs that will help you pay off your student debt. Cost per credit will likely be the same as other master’s programs, but remember, you are completing fewer credits since you are already an RN. Private and public universities also differ in costs. Here are two examples.

Check out the programs, scholarships, and tips below to see how you can cut these costs. Since there is an increased need for health professionals in medically undeserved areas, there are government programs that will help you pay for your education if you commit to working for a certain period of time in these areas.

Our state guides can help you navigate more ways to pay for your RN to MSN program where you live.

How Much Do Nurses with an MSN Earn

Get ready to earn a competitive salary! While your salary will vary depending on what nursing role you go into, chances are you are going to make more than you did as an RN without an advanced degree. If you choose the CRNA route you are probably going to make the most amount of money. Depending on location and experience CRNAs can make around $150,000 to $250,000 annually. In the other APRN roles you can make between $75,000 and $120,000 per year, Again, your salary will depend on location and experience. Nurse educators can make $60,00 to $120,000. If you decide to channel your inner businessman or woman, you can make about $145,000 working as a nurse executive.

MSN Resources

References:

Denisco, S. M., Barker, A. M., (2016). Advanced practice nursing: Essential knowledge for the profession. Burlington, MA: Jones and Barlett Learning.

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