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Online BSN-to-MSN NP Programs

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Online bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) to master’s of science in nursing (MSN) nurse practitioner (NP) programs accept students with an bachelor’s degree in nursing and a registered nurse license. Universities often use different titles for these programs, which can lead to confusion. Sometimes these programs are called “traditional”, and commonly they are referred to as “online MSN programs” but for the sake of clarity and disambiguation, on this website we refer to them as online BSN-to-MSN NP programs.

While indeed many online nurse practitioner programs are MSN programs, and many online MSN programs are NP programs, there are also online DNP programs for NPs seeking the ultimate terminal degree for the profession, and online MSN programs dedicated to nurse leadership, education, and other non-clinical specialties. So, to clearly differentiate nurse practitioner MSN programs from these other programs, we will always add “NP” when describing nurse practitioner programs, and specify the degree or qualification like so: online MSN NP programs.

As of this writing most MSN NP programs require a BSN, although it is important to note there are at least two common exceptions: first, there are several online ADN-to-MSN bridge NP programs designed for registered nurses with an associate degree in nursing (ADN); second, there are some accelerated online MSN NP programs designed for registered nurses with a non-nursing Bachelor’s Degree.

With those alternatives noted, this post is focused on online programs that require their applicants to have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and a RN license by the first day of classes. Usually, these applicants have worked as a registered nurse for a few years, but this is not a requirement for all schools.

Admission Requirements

Admission to online BSN-to-MSN nurse practitioner programs vary by school but they almost always include:

  • An unencumbered RN license
  • A BSN from an accredited school of nursing
  • A cumulative grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
  • A personal statement of the student’s professional goals
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • A successful in-person or telephone interview

Additionally, some schools require applicants to submit their Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores.

Prerequisites

Most nurse practitioner schools require incoming graduate students to have completed prerequisite courses with at least a B grade. These prerequisite courses might include:

  • Statistics
  • Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Developmental psychology
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Nursing Research

These courses are usually required in BSN programs; therefore, applicants rarely need to take additional courses before applying to an online MSN nurse practitioner program.

Clinical Specialty

Prior to admission, BSN-to-MSN students must declare their clinical specialty. Different schools offer different specialties; therefore, applicants should seek out schools that offer their desired clinical focus. Examples of clinical specialities for nurse practitioners include:

  • Psychiatry
  • Acute Care
  • Family
  • Adult Gerontology
  • Neonatology
  • Pediatrics
  • Women’s Health

Some schools offer subspecialities. To practice in a subspecialty, students are required to take additional classes and complete extra clinical rotations. Nurse practitioner subspecialities include:

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Oncology
  • Dermatology
  • Endocrinology
  • Immunology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Neurology
  • Occupational Health
  • Orthopedics
  • Pulmonology
  • Sports Medicine
  • Urology

Courses and Curriculum

MSN-level coursework varies by the chosen NP specialty, but all nurse practitioner students take a handful of core classes. These courses might include:

  • Health Assessment
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Epidemiology
  • Biostatistics
  • Evidence-Based Practice

The remainder of the curriculum is often devoted to your specific NP specialty and subspecialty. For example, if you chose psychiatry, your additional courses might include:

  • Psychopharmacology
  • Neurobiology
  • Theory of Personality
  • Individual Psychotherapy
  • Group Dynamics
  • Family Counseling

Duration

Most online BSN-to-MSN nurse practitioner programs range from 40 to 70 credit hours depending on the clinical specialty. The duration of the program varies depending on the student’s full or part-time status. Usually, students complete these programs in two to three years of full time study and four to six years of part-time study.

Accreditation

Both traditional and online MSN nurse practitioner programs are accredited by either the the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). Accreditation ensures that the program meets high standards of quality, rigor, and value. You can search for accredited programs through the CCNE and ACEN websites.

Example Online Program 1: Vanderbilt University

Ranked as one of the top 15 best nursing schools in the country by U.S. News and World Report, Vanderbilt University offers an elite NP program. Specifically, their psychiatric NP program is ranked 4th in the country and their adult-gerontology acute care NP program is ranked 5th. Their family NP program and their pediatric NP program are also ranked 7th and 9th respectively.

Vanderbilt provides a state-of-the-art patient simulation lab, extensive NP alumni network, and it is located next to the world renowned Vanderbilt Medical Center. The Vanderbilt School of Nursing values innovation, collaboration, and research. An incredible 94% of graduates find jobs immediately upon graduation. Dr. Linda Norman, Dean of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing explains, “We hear from many employers that there’s something special about a Vanderbilt-educated graduate, and we agree. You will enter as an eager student and graduate as a practice-ready professional or nurse scholar who will make a difference in many lives and will help shape the future of health care.”

Program Overview

At Vanderbilt, the traditional NP program is called Direct Entry for Nurses. This program is designed specifically for those who already possess a BSN or who will graduate with a BSN before the start of the NP program. Some of the specialties (e.g. Emergency and Neonatal) require RN experience while others do not.

All students take a core set of courses including Advanced Health Assessment, Advanced Pathophysiology, Advanced Pharmacotherapeutics, Scientific Underpinnings for Advanced Nursing Practice, and Advanced Practice Nurse’s Role in U.S. Healthcare Delivery System. Students also complete additional courses in their specialty areas.

Vanderbilt School of Nursing offers their program in a modified block schedule so that students can complete the program at a distance without relocating to Nashville, Tennessee. Courses are offered in concentrated blocks of time on-campus. Vanderbilt also helps each student locate a preceptor in their hometown. In general, each semester starts with one week where the student must visit Vanderbilt for in-person meetings. The remainder of each semester is completed from their home.

Specialty Options

In their application, students must choose a clinical specialty. Clinical specialties include adult-gerontology acute care hospitalist, adult-gerontology acute care intensivist,
adult-gerontology primary pare, emergency, family, neonatal, pediatric acute care, pediatric primary pare, psychiatric mental health, women’s health, and dual women’s health and adult-gerontology primary care. See Table 1 for details about each specialty.

Only the emergency and neonatal specialties require RN experience: to be admitted into the neonatal specialty, applicants must have two years neonatal ICU experience, and to be admitted into the emergency specialty, applicants must have two years of RN experience and, at least, one year of emergency room experience. Furthermore, the hospitalist, intensivist, and psychiatry specialties must be completed on-campus if the student does not have prior RN experience.

The adult-gerontology acute care program is especially unique at Vanderbilt. They offer two different focuses: hospitalist and intensivist. Hospitalist NPs are prepared to practice in a variety of settings and manage the increased patient acuity on general hospital units. Intensivist NPs graduate and upon certification work on critical care teams or shock teams on critical care intensive care units (ICU), medical ICUs, surgical ICUs, burn care units, and intensivist care units.

Also noteworthy, Vanderbilt’s psychiatric NP program is ranked 4th in the country by U.S. News and World Report. Lead by Dr. Dawn Vanderhoef, this program integrates biological, psychological, social, and spiritual elements of mental health care in a holistic manner. Courses cover topics like theory of personalities, cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, and group dynamics. Upon graduation, psychiatric NPs practice in community mental health centers, correctional facilities, domestic violence shelters, psychiatric hospitals, schools, and veterans affairs facilities.

Table 1: Vanderbilt University
Specialty TrackRequires Prior RN Experience?Total Credit HoursNP Clinical Hours
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care HospitalistNo*40630
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care IntensivistNo*41630
Adult-Gerontology Primary CareNo40560
Emergency2 years with at least one year in an emergency room.641190
FamilyNo39630
Neonatal2 years in a neonatal ICU.42700
Pediatric Acute CareNo39700
Pediatric Primary CareNo39650
Psychiatric Mental HealthNo*40600
Women’s HealthNo39630
Dual Women’s Health and Adult-Gerontology Primary CareNo561190
*If the student does not have RN experience, he or she must complete the entire program on campus.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for Vanderbilt School of Nursing NP programs include:

  • A BSN from an accredited program with a minimum grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
  • An undergraduate course in statistics, which includes inferential statistics, with a grade C or better.
  • A Graduate Record Exam .score taken within five years of the date of application.
  • Completed application including a statement of career goals.
  • Official transcripts from all colleges or universities attended.
  • Completed interview survey; some specialties may also require a telephone interview.
  • Three letters of academic or professional reference.
  • Registered nursing license in the state in which you will be completing your clinical training.

The UAB emphasizes the competitive nature of admissions and encourages all applicants to submit proof of health care experience although it is not required. This experience should be documented by a letter from a supervisor on organization letterhead.

Prerequisites

The Vanderbilt School of Nursing requires the following prerequisite courses: statistics, microbiology, human anatomy and physiology, nutrition, and developmental psychology. The human anatomy and physiology course must have been completed within the last five years. Applicants must have a grade point average of at least a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.

Online Experience

Vanderbilt offers exceptional technological support for its students. Vanderbilt uses the application Blackboard for web-based learning. Students access this program through the Internet to attend virtual classes, download important documents, view assignments, and communicate with professors. Vanderbilt offers technology assistance for their students via email, live chat, or in-person. Vanderbilt also provides an extensive online library with access to academic journals, databases, and online textbooks. Furthermore, Vanderbilt helps students find a clinical preceptor in their hometown.

Professors

Kathryn
Dr. Kathryn Lindstrom PhD, FNP-BC, ACHPN, HSMI

She is a board certified family NP and assistant professor in the Vanderbilt school of Nursing. She teaches Community Health Nursing and palliative care courses. Her scholarly and research interests include family caregivers in palliative and hospice care, healthcare professionals self-care, reflective practice, and online learning in hospice care. She is a member of many professional nursing organizations including Hospice and Palliative Nursing Association and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

AbbyLuck

She is a board certified adult-gerontology NP and assistant professor in the Vanderbilt School of Nursing. She teaches Advanced Pharmacotherapeutics, Mental Health in Primary Care, and Advanced Clinical Practica for the adult-gerontology acute care NP students. Her scholarly interests include the well-being of NP students and free recall testing for learning. She is an active member of multiple professional nursing organizations and she was the recent past president for the middle Tennessee chapter of the Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association.

Timeline

Many factors, including the student’s part-time or full-time status and the chosen clinical specialty, influence the time from beginning the application to starting their first job as a licensed nurse practitioner. Overall, the entire process ranges from 1.5 to 4.5 years. Generally, the application process and preparing for the Graduate Record Exam takes about 6 to 12 months. Each specialty varies in a number of courses and clinical hours, but a full-time student can complete all courses in 12 to 24 months and a part-time student in 24 to 48 months.

Upon graduation, students become eligible to sit for their board certification exam. Generally, students prepare for their board exam by taking a certification preparation course or studying independently for three to four months. During this time, students may also begin their job search. After passing the exam, students apply for their nurse practitioner licensure in their state of residence, which can take an additional two to three months. While waiting, students may continue their job search and begin interviewing. On average, three to six months will lapse between graduation and a new nurse practitioner starting his or her first job.

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Program 2: Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions

Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions offers eight online NP programs. U.S. News and World Report ranked them #31 in best online graduate nursing programs. They pride themselves on their 100% pass rate for all NP board certification exams as well as their rigorous teaching methods.

Program Overview

Drexel University is well-known for their forward-thinking programs designed to be responsive to the ever-changing local, national, and global health care needs. Their programs are offered online with occasional short, on-campus meetings when students undergo complex patient simulations in their high-tech skills lab. Online lecture courses typically meet once per week for three hours, while students are expected to spend 16 hours per week with their assigned clinical preceptor.

Specialty Options

Drexel offers eight different NP specialties: adult-gerontology acute care, adult-gerontology primary care, family, pediatric acute care, pediatric primary care, pediatric acute care and primary care (dual option), psychiatric mental health, and women’s health. The number of credit hours ranges by specialty with both pediatric acute care (57 credit hours) and adult-gerontology acute care (57 credit hours) requiring the most. The adult-gerontology acute care specialty tract requires two years of RN experience on an ICU of any specialty, and the pediatric primary care specialty tract requires, at least, one year of pediatric RN experience. The other specialties do not require any RN experience.

Table 2: Drexel University Requirements by NP Specialty Track
Specialty TrackRequires Prior RN Experience?Total Credit HoursNP Clinical Hours
Adult-Gerontology Acute CareTwo years in an intensive care unit of any specialty.57800
Adult-Gerontology Primary CareNo52800
FamilyNo56800
Pediatric Acute CareNo57800
Pediatric Primary CareOne year working with children.52800
Psychiatric Mental HealthNo52800
Women’s HealthNo55800

Admission Requirements

The admission requirements for each clinical specialty vary slightly. In general, all applicants must submit or complete the following:

  • A BSN from an accredited program.
  • A cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above.
  • Two professional references from supervisors, managers, or program directors who can attest to applicant’s clinical knowledge, skill, and potential aptitude for graduate study.
  • A personal statement (800 to 1600 words) that explains (1) why the student is choosing this particular program of study and (2) the student’s plans upon completion of the graduate.
  • An interview with the admissions committee.
  • A detailed curriculum vitae.
  • A copy of the students unrestricted RN license or eligibility for licensure as an RN.

Prerequisites

The Drexel University College of Nursing does not list any specific prerequisite courses on their website; however, only students who have earned a BSN or who will complete a BSN program by the start date of the MSN program are eligible to apply.

Online Experience

Drexel University College of Nursing is unmatched in their innovative use of teaching technologies. For example, they use the program ShadowHealth, which offers students virtual, interactive case simulations. Drexel has also recently implemented ApprenNet, a video-based program that allows students to learn new clinical skills and engage with other students.

Professors

Joan_Rosen

Dr. Joan Rosen is a board certified women’s health NP and tenured associate professor in the Drexel University College of Nursing with a joint appointment in the School of Public Health and Nutrition Sciences. Her mission in nursing is to promote optimal health for women and their families through practice, teaching and research. Her scholarly interests include urban women’s health, prenatal care, health disparities, and innovative healthcare delivery models. In addition to her teaching and research, Dr. Bloch’s service to her profession and community is marked by over 25 years of serving on numerous Boards of Directors for national and local professional nursing organizations.

Douglass
Dr. Brenda Douglass DNP, FNP, CDE, CTTS

Dr. Brenda Douglass is a board certified family nurse practitioner and assistant clinical professor in the Drexel University College of Nursing. Dr. Douglass was a two-year recipient of the Pennsylvania Independence Blue Cross Nurse Scholars Program, and she is an active member of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and the National Organization for Nurse Practitioner Faculties. She has practiced in specialty areas of endocrine, cardiology, pulmonology, sleep disorders, and chronic health conditions. Dr. Douglass is also a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist (CTTS).

Timeline

Many factors, including the student’s chosen clinical specialty, determine the overall timeline. Generally, the application process will take about 3 months. Each specialty track differs in the number of courses, but most students complete the program in 3 years of part-time study (Drexel nurse practitioner program students are working professionals who complete their studies on a part-time basis). Upon graduation, students study for and take their board certification exam, typically over a period of three to six months. Simultaneously, they will search and apply for jobs. Most students will complete the entire process in four years.

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Program 3: University of Nebraska Medical Center

The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Nursing consistently ranks in the top tier of federal research funding from the National Institutes of Health. For NP students, this means they will learn under top-caliber faculty who are directly impacting the future of nursing education and practice. Due to its online format, the UNMC NP school attracts students from across the nation. Each year their enrollment is close to 300; male enrollment is around 10% and growing rapidly.

Program Overview

All students, regardless of specialty take core NP courses including advanced statistics, nursing scholarship, leadership in nursing, health systems innovation, and health promotion for populations. The goal of these foundational courses to prepare NPs for leadership positions in administration and management and provide a foundation for future doctoral study.

Their NP program is known for its flexibility and can be completed in two to five years, depending on the student’s full-time or part-time status. Courses are taken on-demand via the Internet to meet the needs of working RNs. Students are able to complete their clinical rotations in their hometown with local preceptors. The UNMC College of Nursing guides its students in arranging clinical sites and locating preceptors.

Specialty Options

Unique to the UNMC College of Nursing, all NP specialty tracks can be combined with their nurse educator training. Students who choose this route will gain expertise as a nurse educator and take an additional 12 credit hours. These courses include topics such as designing curricula, teaching and learning strategies, using technology in education, and implementation of the educator role.

Table 2: UNMC Requirements by NP Specialty Track
Specialty TrackRequires Prior RN Experience?Total Credit HoursNP Clinical Hours
Adult-Gerontology Acute CareNo47580 – 640
Adult-Gerontology Primary CareNo47580 – 640
FamilyNo48580 – 640
Pediatric Primary CareNo47580 – 640
Psychiatric Mental HealthNo45580 – 640
Women’s HealthNo37-47580 – 640

Admission Requirements

The MSN program admission requirements at the UNMC College of Nursing include the following.

  • A BSN degree from an accredited school of nursing.
  • A cumulative grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
  • An unencumbered RN license.
  • A personal statement that includes the goals of the student’s nursing career.
  • Three letters of reference from former nursing supervisors, professors, or an advanced practice nurse.
  • A successful interview with graduate faculty members where the student will speak to his or her background and career goals.
  • The Graduate Record Exam is not required for admission.

Prerequisites

The UNMC College of Nursing requires all students to have completed a nursing research course and a health assessment course prior to admission. Registered nurses with previous research experience may not need to have taken a research course and should contact the admissions office for details. Students may choose to complete a graduate level statistics course prior to admission or they may complete it during their program.

Online Experience

The UNMC College of Nursing prides itself on its online and distance education programs. They use cutting edge technologies and innovative course delivery methods to ensure online students are adequately prepared for clinical practice. They use the online learning management system Blackboard for online courses, and they provide plenty of free support for new students. Students access this program through the Internet to attend virtual classes, download important documents, view assignments, and communicate with professors.

The college expects students to have a basic understanding of Microsoft Word and the Windows operating system. They provide strategies for gaining computer literacy through their free online tutorials. The technology help desk is also available to students via phone or email.

Professors

Lynne
Dr. Lynne Buchanan PhD, APRN-NP

Dr. Lynne Buchanan is an associate professor at the UNMC College of Nursing. She is a board certified adult health nurse practitioner with a background and ambulatory care. She is also a certified tobacco dependence specialist, and her scholarly interests focus on health lifestyles and health behavior change. Dr. Buchanan is currently researching the use of a personal digital assistant to reduce tobacco craving and prevent relapse. A the UNMC College of Nursing she teaches health assessment health promotion. She participated in the Legacy Foundation core curriculum for tobacco addiction and control, and she frequently lectures on tobacco cessation treatment approaches.

Twiss
Dr. Janice Twiss PhD, CWHNP

Dr. Janice Twiss is a board certified women’s health NP and an associate professor at the UNMC College of Nursing. Her passion is life-long learning and she has been a professor for over 30 years. Her scholarly interests include high-risk perinatal nursing as well as perimenopausal and menopausal women. At the UNMC College of Nursing, she coordinates the women’s health NP program and teaches a variety of its graduate courses.

Timeline

From applying to UNMC College of Nursing to practicing as a NP, the entire process ranges from 2 to 5 years. Generally, the application process takes about 3 months. Each specialty varies in the number of courses and clinical hours, but a full-time student can complete all courses in two years and a part-time student in 5 years.

Upon graduation, students become eligible to sit for their board certification exam. Generally, students prepare for their board exam by taking a certification preparation course or studying independently for three to four months. During this time, students may also begin their job search. After passing the exam, students apply for their NP licensure in their state of residence, which can take an additional two to three months. While waiting, students may continue their job search and begin interviewing. On average, three to six months will elapse between graduation and a new nurse practitioner starting his or her first job.

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Dr. Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP

Dr. Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP

Author

Melissa DeCapua is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner who graduated from Vanderbilt University. She has a background in child and adolescent psychiatry as well as psychosomatic medicine. Uniquely, she also possesses a bachelor’s degree in studio arts, which she uses to enhance patient care, promote the nursing profession, and solve complex problems. Melissa currently works as the Healthcare Strategist at a Seattle-based health information technology company where she guides product development by combining her clinical background and creative thinking. She is a strong advocate for empowering nurses, and she fiercely believes that nurses should play a pivotal role in shaping modern health care. For more about Melissa, check out her blog www.melissadecapua.com and follow her on Twitter @melissadecapua.

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*Also requires a non-nursing bachelor's degree; please see the "Online Accelerated MSN - NP" programs page for more details.