A Comprehensive Overview of Nursing Bridge Programs

To begin working as a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN), you must undergo specific training and pass the NCLEX examination managed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. To enhance your career as a nurse, you may want to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN). Accelerated BSN to MSN programs can provide necessary training to earn a degree within a shorter amount of time. But, why would you want to earn an advanced nursing degree?

Blow Away the Competition

RNs constitute the largest healthcare occupation, with 2.6 million jobs, according to The BLS (The Bureau of Labor Statistics). The median annual salary for RNs was $66,220 in May 2013. Employment in nursing care facilities is expected to grow because of increases in the number of older persons, many of whom require long-term or continuing care. This boom in employment for nurses is good for everyone involved, but it will increase competition for jobs at the top of the hierarchy. When there is a large pool of bachelor’s degree level nurses, those with master’s degrees will have even higher value, especially if their expertise lies in management or other high-demand skill areas.

Credentials and Course Timelines

There are three educational paths to a career as a registered nurse (RN) — a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN), and a diploma. BSN programs offered by colleges and universities take about four years to complete. ADN programs, offered by community and junior colleges, take about two to three years to complete. Diploma programs, administered in hospitals, last about three years. Generally, licensed graduates of any of the three types of educational programs qualify for entry-level positions as a staff nurse. There are hundreds of registered nursing programs that result in an ADN or BSN; however, there are relatively few diploma programs.

Many RNs with an ADN or diploma later enter bachelor’s degree programs so they can take on more advanced nursing duties. Often, they can find an entry-level position and then take advantage of tuition reimbursement benefits to work toward a BSN by completing an RN to BSN program. Accelerated MSN programs are also available. They typically take three to four years to complete full time and result in the award of both the BSN and MSN.

A BSN allows individuals to treat and educate patients and the public on various medical conditions. Individuals who obtain a BSN perform a variety of duties, including operating medical machinery, helping perform diagnostic tests and analyzing results, recording patients’ medical histories and symptoms, administering treatment and medications, and helping with patient follow-up and rehabilitation.

Employment of RNs with a BSN is expected to grow through 2014, and an online degree in nursing can be a strong credential for anyone trying to break into the field.

Why Earn an MSN?

MSN programs are available to RNs with a BSN, and also are available for individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in another field; master’s degree programs usually last two years. Accelerated or “bridge” MSN programs also are available. They typically take three to four years to complete full time and result in the award of both the BSN and MSN.

The degree program provides advanced training for nurses who wish to open up their own nursing practice, find work as a clinical nurse specialist, or become an educator in the field. Students who complete an MSN degree program acquire essential critical thinking skills and knowledge to apply in a nursing facility environment. The typical MSN degree program is a combination of classes and hands-on experience.

If you plan to enter an MSN program, make sure your career goals are in sync with that particular program. There are a dozen or so common specialties for advanced practice nurses, and choosing one that you are interested in can make the difference between thriving and surviving while you’re in school. RNs can enter into master’s degree programs that prepare them for careers in advanced clinical practice, nursing education, research, informatics, and healthcare business management. You can, for instance, earn the following degrees and titles with an MSN:

Available BSN to MSN Programs at a Glance

The following list of schools offer online bridge programs for BSN graduates looking to earn their masters degree, well suited for working professionals and full-time students alike.

Salary Differences

While the salary reflects a degree of higher education, it also provides individuals with the freedom to focus on a specialty. If you are an RN with a BSN and if you have a focus that is listed above, you might consider spending two years in an accredited BSN to MSN program to hone your skills in that specialty and make more money as you grow in your career. The graph below shows the range of salaries for RNs in different percentiles. Even the lowest 10 percent of RNs earn more than the national median income, and the highest 10 percent earn twice as much.

Credit Hours, Costs, and Requirements for Online MSN to BSN Programs

Online master’s degree programs tend to consist of about 40 credit hours, which are divided between core classes and specialized electives. The costs of these credit hours varies between schools, but anywhere between $500-$1,000 is a pretty normal price-per-unit for graduate school. If you do the math, that comes out to a pretty hefty price tag of around $40,000 for higher education, but that doesn’t take into account the accessibility of financial aid in the form of grants, loans, and scholarships, which can significantly diminish the overall costs of higher education for qualified students.

The biggest cost of going back to school is definitely the tuition fees, but materials, cost of living, and the time you spend learning instead of working are all costs as well. Taking those costs into account when you’re making a budget and deciding whether to go back to school can tip the scales either way. Here are a few other important numbers to consider as a potential online BSN to MSN degree candidate:

  • Pay increase for master’s degrees: Someone with a master’s degree will earn $210 more per week, or $10,920 more per year than someone without one, statistically speaking. Increased wages will help you pay back any loans you may take on to finance your education.
  • Program length: Even if you continue working while taking a BSN to MSN online program, you’ll probably have to cut back on your hours, which means you’ll earn less money. The number one factor influencing a student’s decision to attend online classes is the speed with which they can complete the program. Are the programs you’re looking at fast enough without sacrificing quality of education?
  • Cost of living: Can you maintain your current lifestyle if you cut back your work hours to go to school? It is important to anticipate any major changes you’ll have to make to accommodate your schooling. If you’ll need to change apartments or even move to a different city to afford school, you may want to reexamine your timing, although one of the major benefits of online schooling is that most courses can be completed from anywhere with an internet connection.

Courses to Take in a BSN to MSN Online Program

The core courses that make up a BSN to MSN online program will be almost identical between different programs, but there will likely be openings in your schedule for electives, and the ones you choose might give you the insight or skill you need to move into a higher-paying specialty in nursing. Some elective course possibilities include:

  • Advanced Pharmacology: This course teaches nurses the mechanics of several classes of drugs, and provides knowledge that is necessary to anyone who prescribes or recommends drugs to patients.
  • Advanced Health and Illness Appraisal: This course teaches nurses how to communicate better with patients and use various diagnostic tools, including lab screenings, functional health pattern analysis, and developmental evaluation, to provide the best possible care and preventive advice to patients.
  • Health Care Systems and Leadership: This course will use system theory to help nurses think about the broader picture of nursing, so they can be a part of encouraging positive outcomes both on a patient to patient basis and at the aggregate level.

The above is just a sampling of the possibilities of courses to take in a BSN to MSN online program. Some programs may require these courses as part of the core curriculum, and some may offer them on an elective basis. Either way, they represent the leading edge of nursing education, and a nurse with these courses under his or her belt will be well equipped to provide quality care and be a leader in the workplace.

How to Select a BSN to MSN Program for You

Finding out the accreditation status, cost, and availability of accelerated courses for any schools you plan to apply to should be high on your to-do list before actually applying to colleges. After that, making the choice is just a matter of deciding which school feels best and going for it. Information about schools can only take you so far, and then you have to choose for yourself how best to further your education and career. The links below can help you get in touch with accredited schools that offer online BSN to MSN programs, so you can get the research portion of your school search off to the right start!


Find an online Nursing degree

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