The Fast-Track Graduate Education for Nurses
If you are an RN with an associate’s degree or diploma and want to go to graduate school, an RN to Master of Scence in nursing (MSN) may be a good fit.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), these programs are increasing rapidly because of demand. There are currently over 130 programs in the United States with at least another 30 in development.
Admission is highly competitive. You need a current RN license and a good GPA from your previous training program. You may need to take prerequisite classes in such subjects as English, history, or math before applying. Some programs want a prescreening interview, an essay or personal statement, and letters of recommendation. Having a few years of nursing experience under your belt is a plus.
Find RN to MSN Programs in Your State:
Depending upon which classes you’ve already taken before admission, a program may take three years or more to complete. At the beginning of your program you will complete the necessary bachelor’s degree content before moving on to the graduate core classes in subjects such as informatics, research, leadership, and nursing theory. You earn your remaining credits by taking electives that pertain to your specialty. Many programs offer part-time, evening, or weekend schedules and an online or hybrid format.
Along with your MSN at graduation, many programs also confer a BSN. You will be prepared to move on to your chosen specialty whether in management, consulting, research, education, or an advanced practice role such as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse anesthetist. With your MSN you can also advance to one of the highest degrees in nursing—a Ph.D. or DNP.
More information about the RN to MSN can be found at AACN’s website.
RN to MSN: The Right Program for You
Written by Kelli Dunham, RN, BSN
Kelli is an RN with 15 years of clinical nursing experience and the author of 4 health/health professions related books, including the American Journal of Nursing Nursing Book of the Year, How to Survive and Maybe Even Love Nursing School (FA Davis, 2008, 3rd edition).
If you’re thinking about getting your MSN and you don’t yet have a BSN, an RN to MSN (often called “bridge”) program might be a great choice. Before you select a program you’ll need to think about the change it will create in your nursing role, count the cost, and consider how you’ll work your clinical rotations into your schedule.
Obtaining an MSN can lead to many different career tracks in addition to strengthening your overall practice as a nurse. You can enroll in RN to BSN programs that lead to specific clinical tracks like nurse practitioner, nurse midwife or nurse anesthetist. You can also enroll in RN to MSN programs that train nurses for roles in administration, nursing education or community health.
It’s important to understand not only the advantages of seeking an RN to MSN on any given path but also the way the different MSN roles function and whether you will enjoy working in that role.
One recent RN to MSN graduate, Ann Snyderman, describes her process this way “I started a nurse anesthetist program at least partly because the promise of a much increased rate of compensation. But when I started clinical rotations, I realized I just wasn’t satisfied spending most of my time with patients while they’re asleep. I changed to a community health RN to MSN track even though I pretty much had to start over. I love my new job in the health department so it was very much worth it.”
Whatever advanced track you are most interested in, whether it’s management, education, or the clinical specialties such as nurse practitioner or nurse midwife, try to spend some time shadowing a nurse working in that position. You’ll get a better idea of what advanced practice role is best for you.
Count the Cost
One of the main disadvantages of a pure bridge program (ie that doesn’t confer a BSN halfway through) is that a pure bridge is usually not considered an undergraduate degrees granting programs and so you won’t be available for federal and state financial aid for the degree. Check with the programs you’re interested in to see if their paperwork designates a BSN granting program in the interim.
If you’re working currently working as a nurse, you may be able be eligible for tuition reimbursement from your institution, but make sure you check out the fine print. Some programs come with a stipulation that you stay with the institution for a certain time after graduation or pay back the money they gave you to go to school.
In an uncertain economy, a specific time commitment may seem more like a promise than a requirement, but this can also cause unintended consequences as well. For example, if you’re working a staff nurse on a med/surg floor for two years after your graduate with your family nurse practitioner, your skills might get rusty. Because of this, you might want to check if your institution ever hires advanced practice new grads, so you can work within your new role while still completing your required years of employment.
One of the biggest challenges nurses in RN to MSN programs report is the difficulty of working clinical rotations into an already tight schedule. For example, a staff nurse who works 7 am-7 pm might struggle to find a clinical rotation in a nurse practitioner program that doesn’t take place during the daytime hours when primary care clinics are usually open.
Before you select a program, it’s important to ask about the availability of clinical rotations outside the 9-5 weekday hours if you don’t have any of these hours available. If none of the programs in your area have any flexibility, or if it simply isn’t practical (for example, in a nursing administration program) you might need to consider a change to more weekend or even (alas) night shifts.
Leah Strock, a New York based family nurse practitioner working in an NIH HIV prevention study, explained how she juggled her clinical time during her RN to MSN process: “I decided I needed to be prepared to have no life, if you are committed to school you’ll spend a lot of time studying and working and there is no leisure time at all.” She then adds “Of course, it was the best thing I ever did, I got people breaking down my doors for a job, every week I get a phone call, ‘Hi we’re looking for an FNP’ ”