If you’re a registered nurse with an associate’s degree or diploma in nursing who wants to advance into a leadership role as a Nurse Practitioner, an online Registered Nurse (RN) to Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program may be what you’re looking for. Sometimes referred to as an MSN-bridge program, the online RN to MSN allows nurses to earn a master’s credential without first needing to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
This advanced credential can prepare you to fill needed roles in clinical environments. The demand is growing because of factors like an aging population (by 2030 more than one billion people will be 65 or older), and a primary care physician shortage that could be anywhere from 7,300 to 43,100 by 2030, increasing the need for nurses who can provide treatment at advanced care levels.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes master’s degree-prepared nurses as advanced care registered nurses and predicts a 31 percent increase in jobs for these nurse leaders, which translates to more than 53,000 jobs added through 2024.
If you’re motivated to provide higher quality health care, an online RN to MSN can help you diagnose, treat and manage health conditions, develop a professional and collaborative approach to care and become a leader in the nursing field. Read on to learn more about this master’s-level nursing program.
A Master of Science in Nursing is the next step for Registered Nurses looking to advance in their careers. Earning a master’s degree will potentially improve your job prospects, expand your scope of practice and propel you toward a doctorate.
Improve your job prospects and earning potential
The Tri-Council organizations—including the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, American Nurses Association, American Organization of Nurse Executives and National League for Nursing—are united in their view that highly educated nurses are critical to meeting that nation’s growing nursing needs.
According to a policy statement by the Tri-Council, “Nurses with advanced education are needed in large numbers to serve as teachers, scientists, primary care providers, specialists and leaders throughout the healthcare delivery systems.” The Tri-Council also encourages all nurses to “continue their education in programs that grant baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees.” By furthering their education, nurses earning advanced degrees can open more doors for opportunities in these types of areas.
A master’s degree may also improve your earning potential in nursing. Various nurse compensation salaries show the value of an advanced nursing degree. The 2016 AORN Salary and Compensation Survey, for example, found that nurses with a master’s degree receive an additional $4,900 in annual base compensation. In November 2016, Medscape found an even greater salary premium for master’s-prepared nurses:
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Deliver primary care as an independent Nurse Practitioner
Earning a master’s degree can also help elevate your career by making you eligible to practice as an independent Nurse Practitioner (NP). The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that over 870 million visits are made to NPs each year, and that patients report an extremely high level of satisfaction with the care they receive. The AANP also states that a graduate degree is the minimum entry-level preparation for NP practice.
Some of the specialty nursing roles you can pursue with a master’s degree in nursing include:
Forensic Nursing transforms RNs into advanced practice registered nurses who work with law enforcement, corrections and legal consulting. Forensic nurses provide specialized care for assault victims and may provide health care in a correctional facility.
Informatics teaches nurses to use data and computers to help solve health care challenges. Nurse informaticists may also help develop and implement health care IT systems, particularly in areas related to clinical documentation and electronic health records.
Nursing Administration develops leadership and organizational skills to manage a diverse range of health care settings. Nurse administrators may be the most qualified candidates for leadership roles such as Nurse Manager, Director of Nursing or Chief Nursing Officer.
Nursing Education develops nurse educators and researchers that contribute to nursing education and curriculum development. Nurse educators help shape the health care field by teaching, training and inspiring the next generation of nurses.
Public Health helps nurses gain the experience to work in the community, school or home health venue. Public health nurse leaders focus on improving health outcomes for entire communities, especially high-risk and/or under-served groups.
Completing an online RN to MSN degree program will allow you to to sit for certification exams offered by such organizations as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).
This is a practice-focused degree program, which requires rigorous academic coursework that’s supported by current research and clinical hours. This balance of theory and practice will provide you with opportunities to put theory into practice so you can build confidence and the ability to effectively meet the challenges of care situations.
You may also explore preventive health practices, in addition to the latest research related to diagnosing and managing chronic illness and disease treatment.
Here are some things to consider as you’re researching your degree program.
RN to MSN faculty
Look for faculty with experience in multiple disciplines, including academic and clinical settings. Review their bios, published studies and academic papers. When looking at schools, evaluate the faculty on:
- Years of experience/years teaching in the program
- Published research (if applicable)
Look for a school that offers a balance of classroom and clinical, hands-on education. To become a nurse leader, you must be as comfortable with scientific theory as you are with patient assessment, diagnoses and treatment. Required clinical hours must be completed as part of the program, as well as additional on-campus immersion or intensive programs to help achieve high levels of functional expertise prior to stepping into your new role as an MSN-prepared nurse.
RN to MSN bridge programs include a mix of bachelor’s- and master’s-level nursing courses. Although specific curriculum may vary, some of the RN to MSN coursework you can expect to work on may include:
- Evidence-based nursing practice
- Health care policy and law
- Patient assessment
- Nurse leadership
Course offerings vary by program. To give you an idea of what to expect as an online RN to MSN student, here is a look at a sample full-time RN to MSN schedule.
Online learning has revolutionized higher education by offering greater flexibility for adult students. Today, students can hold jobs and raise families while attending college, but there is a price for the convenience of distance learning.
If you are a social person, online learning may be challenging. You’ll have to be self-motivated and disciplined in order to be successful. Some online programs offer a more engaging learning experience with live-streaming classes and group projects. If this sounds like the type of experience you would like to have, make sure the online program you enroll in offers the “human element” you’re looking for.
You should also keep in mind that even in an RN to MSN online nurse practitioner program appears to be 100 percent online, you may be required to complete immersion events, clinical hours and on-campus visits to earn your degree.
RN to MSN clinical hours
Programs have different requirements about where you’ll complete your clinical hours. Check with the program to find out about their clinical requirements and how they choose clinics that satisfy the clinical requirement. In some cases you may even be able to complete the clinical component where you work, assuming you work in a hospital, physician’s office or a similar health care setting. Also ask if the program offers clinical placement support services.
Many online nursing programs have students find their own clinical placements, although some will find clinical placements nearby, making it easier and more convenient to complete the clinical component of the program.
RN to MSN immersion events
Online RN to MSN programs may require students to attend on-campus immersion events. These could be intensive programs that help you integrate new treatments, research knowledge and gain additional practice under the watchful eye of your professors. You’ll also have the opportunity to interact with faculty and peers in person. Immersions may last a few days or a week, depending on the school. This is something else you’ll want to know about before enrolling in a program.
Most MSN programs take two years to complete, but a bridge program like an RN to MSN curriculum may take one or two terms longer because some bachelor-level classes must be completed before a student can successfully move on to MSN coursework. Plan on completing your degree in two and a half to three years if you go to school full-time; if you want to attend a part time program it may be three years and beyond, depending on how quickly you complete the program requirements.
If you are an RN with a bachelor’s degree, you may be eligible to complete an accelerated program, which could take around two years to complete.
Your classes will have a start and end date with benchmarks that must be met in between. The classroom requirements and standards are the same, but the method of attending class, communicating with your professors and peers and submitting homework may differ.
An online degree program may sound ideal because it offers the flexibility to study and attend class from almost anywhere. But keep in mind that this flexibility may require more discipline and pre-planning depending on the nature of the program you enroll in. Some online programs leave it up to the students to access coursework and arrange group meetings on their own. You may find it more enjoyable and rewarding to enroll in a program that offers live-streaming classes and weekly group meetings.
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