A Registered Nurse (RN) is a highly trained and skilled professional who works within a variety of healthcare settings. Many RN license holders wish to take the next step in their professional nursing practice, whether for going into nursing leadership or nursing administration or moving up into advanced nursing roles. Yet these career moves usually require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. To meet the high demand for this nursing degree option, many schools have RN to MSN online programs. It is important to note that these programs are also known as RN to MSN bridge programs, and they are designed to accommodate students who are RNs, but who have an associate degree and want to get into an MSN degree directly without a BSN degree in the middle.
The RN to MSN program teaches students a variety of topics ranging from community health principles and population health to healthcare quality improvement, patient care coordination, advanced health assessment, evaluation strategies, and more. Graduates can also use their acquired leadership skills to become nurse leaders.
This guide dives deep into the types of RN to MSN online programs and what students can expect from them.
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Every student would like to attend the top online RN to MSN program possible. So how does a collegiate nursing education student choose the one that is “top”? There are some obvious or tangible factors, such as a program’s reputation and school recognition. An accredited program adds heft and value to a degree and makes it easier to obtain financial aid. Other aspects to look at include certification exam passage rates, graduation rates, and types of online learning programs available. Some online programs have an evidence-based asynchronous online delivery system that allows nursing students to attend class anywhere but at a set time. This limits the level of flexibility nursing students have in the program. OMC has taken into account all these factors and created the below list of top RN to MSN online programs:
Prospective MSN students generally look for the most affordable RN to MSN online programs, when looking for good collegiate nursing education. For some students, this will be the single most important factor when choosing RN to MSN nursing programs. But before jumping at the cheapest option out there, it is important to consider one big factor that affects a school’s tuition rate. That is, it is important to confirm what a master’s in nursing student is giving up by choosing a school with lower tuition. While in some cases they are giving up nothing, in others, higher tuition may equate to more student services, thus making it easier to obtain academic assistance from the professor, or technical assistance from the school. Another crucial factor nursing students must always consider is whether or not the online nursing degree is an accredited program. OMC has considered all such factors that go into selecting the most affordable RN to MSN online programs, and drawn up a list of them:
A typical MSN student will, in all likelihood, already have an RN license and either be a nurse practitioner or a family nurse practitioner, with some clinical nursing experience, who wants to open up professional prospects. These prospects might be obtaining greater pay by taking on roles such as nursing leadership, nursing administration, or becoming a nurse educator or clinical nurse specialist. Students who have only a basic nursing education, on the other hand, can opt for the family nursing practitioner track, focus more on health promotion or nursing research, or look at niche areas of population health, evidence-based practice, etc. Whatever be a student’s professional goals, there are many ways to reach them through online nursing programs such as the MSN program.
In other words, choosing the right RN to MSN program is highly subjective and varies by student. In general, however, an accredited nursing program offers a wide range of nursing courses and prepares students to become a nurse educator, a nurse leader, a nurse practitioner, a family nurse practitioner, a clinical nurse specialist, and more. Overall, there are three primary characteristics one should bear in mind when choosing a nursing program – the cost to complete, time to graduate (including mandatory clinical hours, if any), and the overall quality of the program.
Specializations in Online RN to MSN Programs
For most nurses, the whole point of getting an MSN degree is to increase their skills and knowledge. Therefore, most online MSN programs offer an array of concentrations or specializations for nursing education students to choose from. Most of them train students for either advanced practice nursing roles within a clinical setting, or nursing administration, or nursing leadership positions, with the required clinical hours put in. For instance, the family nurse practitioner track will prepare a student to become a qualified and trained family nurse practitioner. Other specializations can prepare a student to become a pediatric nurse practitioner, clinical nurse leader, clinical nurse specialist, etc. Here are some of the most popular specializations and concentrations in collegiate nursing education:
Family Nurse Practitioner
This specialization prepares students to serve as nurse midwives, which is a type of advanced practice registered nurse that works exclusively with female patients. Specifically, they provide female reproductive and prenatal care, including delivering babies and providing wellness education. Upon completion, graduates will be ready to sit for the American Midwifery Certification Board national exam.
The demand for primary care is steady. Many patients have begun seeing nurse practitioners and similar medical professionals for their first-level primary care needs. Family nurse practitioners focus on treating patients, sometimes specializing in certain populations (such as children or adults). They receive the training necessary to prepare them on technical, emotional, and social levels.
Nurses who have an interest in teaching will want to consider the nursing education concentration. As practicing nurses with an RN license, enrolled grad students already know the bulk of information that future nurses will need to succeed. However, the nurse education concentration teaches these nurses the skills to convey that knowledge to future nurses in an effective manner. Graduates will be prepared to teach students at all levels, as nurse educators.
Under this specialization, master’s students will hone the management skills necessary to serve in nursing leadership roles within a healthcare organization. The curriculum of the nursing leadership concentration includes topics such as finance, policy, and informatics, which gives nurses the foundational knowledge to make informed decisions while working in nursing administration or nursing leadership roles.
Curriculum of Online Collegiate Nursing Education & Skills Gained
The scope and reach of collegiate nursing education are wide. A good nursing program will generally offer all the basic nursing courses, along with those associated with clinical practice, nursing research, professional nursing practice, and more. Here are a few topics and courses usually found in a nursing program:
Health Promotion & Quality Improvement
Evidence-Based Practice & Clinical Practice
Global Health & Population Health
Advanced Health Assessment & Patient Care
Collegiate nursing education prepares working healthcare professionals and RN license holders for a variety of roles and settings in the domain of nursing and health care. For example, aspiring family nurse practitioners will know how to handle the various health problems within a family, across age groups and genders, nurse educators will have the skills to impart nursing education to others, and nursing administration students will be able to take on diverse roles in nursing administration, leadership, and management, as skilled and trained advanced healthcare professionals. Those who have graduated to take up a role as a clinical nurse or nurse practitioner will – have the ability to take up an evidence-based practice, put in fewer clinical hours, have sharper health assessment skills, and bring about better patient outcomes.
Accreditation for Collegiate Nursing Education
As with a bachelor’s degree, RN nursing education or a nursing program at the graduate level need to be recognized and endorsed by a competent authority, for quality. Accreditation is a seal of quality that declares a nursing education program to meet and maintain high standards. Nursing students, and in particular family nurse practitioner students, will do well to look for an MSN program that is accredited, thereby ensuring a high-quality nursing education and easier access to financial aid.
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is the primary accrediting authority for online nursing programs. Alternatively, the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) may accredit some programs. Prospective nursing educators should check for programs that are accredited by one of these organizations or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The Accreditation Guide has further information on accreditation.
Online RN to MSN Programs: No Clinicals?
For most online MSN degree programs, clinicals will be required. One caveat has to do with an RN to MSN program, in that it grants a bachelor’s degree – BSN, in addition to an MSN. In these types of programs, the clinicals are only required as a part of the MSN portion of the curriculum. When clinical hours are required, many programs will allow master’s in nursing students to complete them at medical facilities close to home or work. This can be done by making arrangements with program administrators ahead of time. In some cases, the student can meet clinical requirements at the same medical facility where they work.
Shortest Online RN to MSN Programs
There is no doubt that there is a huge demand for Nurses in the U.S. This demand also invites competition. A student learning an MSN typically wants to advance his/her career into administration, leadership, and technology roles. This upward mobility can certainly be accelerated by an MSN accredited program. However, for nurses who may have only an RN license but not an associate or bachelor’s degree (BSN), there are plenty of RN to MSN online programs they can enroll in. But time is also of the essence for nurse practitioners as taking the route of RN to BSN to MSN, and putting in some clinical hours, might take a long time. Fortunately, there are fast track and accelerated RN to MSN online programs that will let nursing professionals finish an MSN degree in a short amount of time. Here is a list of the shortest RN to MSN online programs:
George Washington University
George Washington University is one of the more prestigious and recognized schools in the nation. Through its school of nursing, students can earn a master of science in nursing degree with the online RN-MSN program. To enroll, applicants must have an associate degree in nursing and a valid RN license. Upon completion of the MSN program, they will possess both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in nursing. Additional admissions requirements include completion of the following prerequisites:
Human Anatomy and Physiology (six to eight credit hours)
Microbiology (three to four credit hours)
Statistics (three credit hours)
Nutrition (three credit hours)
Ethics (three credit hours)
Math (three credit hours)
English (six credit hours)
Humanities (12 credit hours)
For maximum flexibility, master’s students may complete the nursing education program on a part-time basis. This allows them to earn the BSN in about 15 months and their MSN in an additional 24 months. Because students are already registered nurses, there is no clinical requirement to earn the BSN degree. However, clinical hours must be completed for the MSN. The exact number of hours will vary but start at 625 clinical hours for those in the adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner specialization track. Clinical requirements can be met at a facility close to the student, as long as it has been approved by program administrators. Additional areas of specialization include Family Nurse Practitioner and Nurse-Midwifery. Timeline to Finish: 39 months.
Chamberlain University prides itself on providing a high-quality yet affordable education. In addition to offering scholarships, grants, financial aid, and special rates for service members and their families, Chamberlain University’s RN-BSN to MSN program offers special tuition rates and financial aid for master’s students who are associated with one of Chamberlain University’s healthcare partners.
To enroll, students must have a nursing diploma or associate degree in nursing as well as a current and unrestricted RN license. As they progress through the program, students will earn their BSN and MSN together. This allows for significant time savings; students can not only apply for admission into the MSN program while they are still working on their BSN, but once enrolled in the MSN program, they can continue working on their BSN degree as well.
To maximize flexibility, all coursework is available 100 percent online and can be completed at a full-time or part-time pace. The only time a grad student ever has to visit the campus is to complete an immersion weekend for the family nurse practitioner specialty track. Other specialty tracks include:
Timeline to Finish: 3-4 sesmters
Drexel University has been offering distance education options since 1996, so they know a thing or two about online learning. Today, they offer more than 140 degree and certificate programs online, including an RN to MSN bridge program online. This program is specifically designed for nurses who already have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field or hold the equivalent to a BSN.
Drexel’s RN to MSN bridge program is unique because it does not lead to a BSN. It begins with all students taking the bridge course – Genetics and Genomics: Application to Nursing Practice. This course is offered entirely online but in a synchronous learning format. Depending on the master’s student’s background, this bridge course requirement may be waived. Once students complete this course and other MSN admissions requirements, they will begin the MSN portion of their curriculum.
Another way the RN to MSN bridge program stands out is that it offers more than a few MSN concentrations. While many schools offer two, three, or maybe four concentrations, students at Drexel can choose from the following six:
Clinical Nurse Leader
Clinical Trials Research
Innovation and Intra/Entrepreneurship in Advanced Nursing Practice
Leadership in Health Systems Management
Quality, Safety, and Risk Management in Health Care
There is plenty of other short RN to MSN online programs. Here are a few more:
(Note: In certain cases, the duration of nursing education can come down if a student has transfer credits, and the school accepts them.)
Online RN to MSN FNP
Many registered nurses want to grow in careers by getting an MSN degree, bypassing the BSN route. The programs that facilitate these direct admissions are called the RN to MSN bridge programs. However, RNs might already have a specialization in or may want to pursue an MSN degree with Family Nursing Practice (FNP). These programs are called RN to MSN FNP. Given the significance of family nursing practice and the demand for this field, this is a good move for nurses. Here are some universities that offer online RN to MSN FNP:
Certifications & Licensing for RN to MSN Graduates
Collegiate nursing education, or for that matter any nursing program, is only a stepping stone to a lucrative career. Certifications and licensure are required in most settings, and most states, for advanced practice, registered nurses. While the RN license is necessary for a nurse practitioner, graduates will be required to take the certified nurse educator exam, to work as a nurse educator. Similarly, a family nurse practitioner will also require a license to practice, depending on state regulations. Nurse practitioners and advanced practice nurses must normally keep a certification, RN license, or other licensing active, by taking a specified number of continuing education courses each year.
Career & Salary Outlook for RN to MSN Program Online Graduates
When a nurse practitioner decides to enroll in an online MSN program, they probably want to develop more advanced skills to take on health challenges of diverse populations, or to move into a leadership role, or to become nurse educators. Therefore, most graduates of an MSN program will move on to academia, administration, advanced nursing practice, or technical roles (such as nursing informatics). Compared to the typically registered nurse practitioner, many of these positions pay higher wages and provide the flexibility of more reasonable working hours. Of course, the more nursing experience, the higher the pay.
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national average median wage for a registered nurse practitioner is $70,000. However, here is a comparison of this with a typical MSN prepared professional:
Nurse Practitioner: $103,880
Postsecondary Nursing Instructors and Teachers (Nurse Educator): $71,260
Medical and Health Service Managers: $98,350
The lowest median salary goes to postsecondary nursing instructors and teachers, but it is important to remember the other benefits that come with the higher degree. One should keep in mind that in a university setting, a nurse educator does not have to work year-round, given how most schools are out of session during the winter and summer breaks. Additionally, the schedule is far more flexible and accommodating, because a nurse educator, for the most part, does not have to be on call, work holidays, or take over additional shifts for coworkers.
But it is not just higher pay or a less stressful workday that drives nurses to earn an MSN degree. In many states, an advanced practice registered nurse can work without the supervision of a physician and may have a greater ability to treat patients in healthcare organizations. For example, they will have the authority to diagnose patients and prescribe medications; registered nurses usually do not have these responsibilities.
Resources for RN to MSN Online Students
Getting an RN to MSN Online degree is the right step for Nurses. However, there are other things that Nurses have to do to keep in touch with the changes that are happening in the Nursing world. This includes networking with other professionals, following various journals & organizations, attending conferences, etc. All of this will get the Nurses ready for upward mobility in their careers. Here are a few organizations that will help Nursing careers.
When looking through the wide variety of options available, finding the right program might feel somewhat like looking for a needle in a haystack. That’s one of the reasons that doing intensive research into the options is so important. Check out the following pages for additional details on master’s in nursing online programs:
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