If you’re an RN who does not have a bachelor’s degree, but you’d like to get one of the more senior-type nursing positions that a master’s degree can qualify you for, an RN to MSN program can potentially help you get there on a faster track.
These so called “bridge” degree programs, which allow you to compress your bachelor and master’s degree studies, are fairly unique to the nursing profession. In recent years, RN to MSN online programs have gained in popularity, as new nursing specialties have sprung up that require nurses with more advanced qualifications.
You’ll need to do some homework to locate an RN to MSN online program that fits your own particular profile. That’s because, while virtually all of them are designed to help you earn a nursing master’s on an accelerated basis, they don’t all have the same admission requirements. Also, MSN’s can be general in nature or very focused on specific tracks like nursing education or leadership. Spending some time to learn about the options can be worth the effort. If you’re able to find an RN to MSN program that’s right for you, there’s real potential to save a great deal of time and money on your nursing master’s degree. Some online programs of this type can be completed in three years if you study at an intensive rate. By comparison, going back to college for a full bachelor’s degree and then going to a graduate school to get your MSN is a process that can take you more than six years of full-time study to complete.
What Qualifications Do You Have Now?
The first question to research is what kind of credentials you need to enter a particular degree programs. Many of the top RN to MSN programs are designed for RNs who have an associate’s in nursing and at least two years of work experience in the field. But many will accept RNs who have a diploma rather than an associate’s. Still others are designed for RNs who have already completed a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing specialty.
If you have completed some college study that goes beyond an associate’s degree, make sure to find out about transferring credits from your old school toward your MSN. Since the basic idea of the RN to MSN degree is to accelerate the student’s studies, most schools that offer it tend to be friendly toward degree transfer. And because this type of program does include bachelor’s level study, which means a certain number of general education or humanities type courses, it’s very likely that at least some of your bachelor’s degree courses will be counted toward your MSN even if you were studying to be an English major previously.
The nursing master’s can qualify you for a management positions in a hospital or other health care facility, for certain clinical specializations or even, in some cases, to become an independent practitioner. Some popular specialties for RN to MSN degrees include:
- Nurse Midwifery
- Nurse Practitioner
- Nurse Anesthetist
- Nurse Educator
- Nursing Informatics Specialist
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
- Adult Health Care Nurse
- Emergency Nurse Practitioner
- Women’s Health Care (Title X) Specialist
It’s hard to provide exact earnings numbers for MSN degree holders because they work in so many different specialties. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, an advanced practice nurse coming out of school can earn up to $90,000. per year (Source: AACN), though salaries in small health facilities in rural areas can be less than half that. Nurse anesthetists are about at the top of the earnings ladder. According to a recent article on ExploreHealthCareers.org, they can earn well over $200,000. (Many advanced nursing specialties, including nurse anesthetist, require certification in addition to a master’s degree.)
Bachelor’s Degree Questions
Be aware of two issues relating bachelor degree studies. First: if you enter an RN to MSN program with only an associate’s degree, you may not be eligible to go into all of the specialties that are open to BSN holders. Second: while most RN to MSN programs give you a bachelor’s degree along with your master’s, some do not. It’s not likely that the lack of a BSN will hinder you if you have an MSN, but it’s good to make sure that it doesn’t present an issue in the particular specialty or even the exact hospital you want to work in.
Why Not Just Get an RN to BSN?
RN to BSN programs have become extremely popular for nurses wanting to move up the career ladder. A BSN can certainly help get a nurse hired in many hospitals and clinics. But this type of degree doesn’t provide a background in leadership or management. If you’re a nurse who would like to eventually stop spending 100% of your time in direct patient care, which can become physically taxing as you get older, an MSN is more likely to qualify you for a managerial position than a nursing bachelor’s degree.
What About CNL Certification?
Many RN to MSN online programs are meant to qualify the graduate to sit for the CNL (clinical nurse leader) Certificate Exam sponsored by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The CNL is a somewhat new role in healthcare. A clinical nurse leader will oversee the care of certain specific patients, generally who tend to have complex health issues. CNLs college info on patients and evaluate care outcomes, working with doctors, pharmacists, social workers and others in the clinical care environment. This is a senior role in direct patient care and not, strictly speaking a management position. However, it can be a more intellectually challenging role with a slightly higher salary and a basic nursing position. CNL jobs can also offer some upward mobility to nurses working in hospitals where budget constraints have cut down on the number of management jobs available.