Some nurse practitioner (NP) schools have designed programs specifically for registered nurses with associate degrees in nursing interested in becoming NPs. These programs are sometimes called “RN-to-MSN bridge” programs. The term “bridge” arises from a need to bridge the education and knowledge gap between a nurse with an associate degree in nursing (an ADN-prepared nurse) and an NP.
These programs accept students with a registered nurse license and an associate degree in nursing. Applicants must possess a strong academic record, at least once year of clinical nursing experience, and passion for becoming an NP. Although these programs are relatively rare, they maintain strong, academically rigorous options for ADN-prepared nurses.
This post provides an overview of the admission requirements, prerequisites, clinical specialty options, courses and curriculum, and duration and accreditation of online RN-to-MSN nurse practitioner programs. In addition, it provides a comprehensive look at three of the most well-known online NP programs for ADN-prepared nurses: those offered by Frontier Nursing University, University of Mississippi Medical Center, and South University.
Admission to online RN-to-MSN nurse practitioner programs vary by school but they almost always include:
Additionally, some schools require applicants to submit their Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores. Usually schools require above average analytical and writing scores for admission to NP programs.
Most nurse practitioner schools require incoming graduate students to have completed prerequisite courses with at least a B grade. These prerequisite courses might include:
These NP programs usually examine your academic transcript to ensure you have successfully completed a number of math, science, social science, and humanities courses. While most associate degree programs in nursing require such courses, you may want to contact the NP school and ask to have your transcript reviewed to ensure you have completed enough prerequisite courses.
Prior to admission, RN-to-MSN nurse practitioner students must declare their clinical specialty. Different schools offer different specialties; therefore, applicants should seek out schools that offer their desired clinical focus.
The clinical specialty options are limited in most RN-to-MSN programs. Students usually have the option to specialize in:
Those interested in becoming a different type of NP, such as acute care, neonatal, or pediatric, may wish to first earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and then apply to BSN-to-MSN NP programs. Usually, BSN-to-MSN programs offer a wider variety of NP specialties and subspecialties.
In RN-to-MSN nurse practitioner programs, students begin by taking courses that “bridge” the gap between an associate degree and master’s degree in nursing. These courses are similar to those you would complete in a BSN program. Examples include:
After completing these “bridge” courses, students begin their NP courses. MSN-level coursework varies by the chosen NP specialty, but all nurse practitioner students take a handful of core classes. These courses might include:
The remainder of the curriculum is often devoted to your specific NP specialty. For example, if you chose psychiatry, your additional courses might include:
Most online RN-to-MSN nurse practitioner programs range from 60 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 four years of full time study and four to six years of part-time study.
Both traditional and online NP 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.
In addition to the detailed profiles of RN-to-MSN “bridge” programs in the following section, NursePractitionerSchools.com maintains (and annually updates) a database of all online NP programs in the United States. To qualify as “online,” the program must require a total of nine or fewer campus visits.
Frontier Nursing University (FNU) proudly claims 75 years of experience in graduate nursing education, and it is the oldest and largest nurse-midwifery program in the United States. It was also the very first school in the country to offer a family nurse practitioner program. To date, nearly 4,000 nurses and midwives have graded from FNU with advanced degrees, and their alumni represent every U.S. state and many foreign countries. The U.S. News and World Report ranked them the #1 nurse-midwifery program in the country, and they are in the top 30 best online graduate nursing programs.
Frontier Nursing University seeks to deliver high-quality education to prospective nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives who do not want to leave their home communities to obtain a graduate education. Their didactic coursework is delivered using top-of-the-line distance education technology, and they use clinics, hospitals, and preceptors in their local community to complete their clinical requirements. Frontier Nursing University requires two or three on-campus sessions for program orientation and intensive skill workshops.
Frontier Nursing University offers an exceptionally innovative and renowned program for those with an associate degree in nursing. They call this program the ADN Bridge Entry Option. This option is for registered nurses with an associate degree as their highest degree (i. e. no bachelor’s degree) who want to become either a nurse-midwife or a nurse practitioner. These students are automatically enrolled in FNU’s MSN + Companion DNP Program, which allows them earn their master’s degree in nursing and pursue a doctor of nursing practice degree if they wish. This companion program helps students progress seamlessly through their education to earn a terminal degree in nursing.
At FNU, ADN Bridge students first complete 12 months of bridge courses. This first year “bridges” the gap between ADN and MSN educational requirements. During this time, students attend Bridge Bound, a three-day intensive orientation in Hyden, Kentucky, to build relationships with faculty and other students. The bridge curriculum includes seven courses and 21 credit hours. Examples of courses include Physical Assessment, Communication, Statistics, Nursing Therapy, Community Health, Leadership, and Nursing Research. In the final quarter of the bridge program, students return to Hyden, Kentucky, for another on-site intensive called Crossing the Bridge.
After completing the bridge courses, these students progress into the MSN curriculum within their chosen clinical specialty. Students may choose to become either a family nurse practitioner or a nurse-midwife. The MSN program requires two on-campus visits, while all courses and clinicals are completed in the student's home community. Upon completion of the MSN curriculum, students may seamlessly progress into the DNP program where they will be required to earn an additional 17 credit hours and 360 clinical hours.
Frontier Nursing University highly recommends that students complete the option DNP program. The DNP offers the best education for preparing advanced practice nurses to provide high-quality care and become a leader in the field. Also, due to the increasing complexity of modern medicine, the American Association of Colleges of Nurses recommends the DNP as the degree to practice as an advanced practice nurse. The DNP courses at FNU include Organizational Therapy, Applied Biostatistics, Ethics and Health Care Policy, and Nurse as Educator.
With the ADN Bridge Entry Option, students may choose to become either a family nurse practitioner or a nurse-midwife. Both programs require 675 clinical hours while the family nurse practitioner program requires 61 credit hours compared with the nurse midwife program, which requires 64. The family nurse practitioner curriculum includes courses like Advanced Pharmacology, Principles of Independent Practice, and Epidemiology and Health Statistics. The nurse-midwife curriculum includes courses like Principles of Health Promotion, Primary Care of Women, and Skills for Nurse-Midwifery.
|Table 1: Frontier Nursing University|
|Specialty Track||Requires Prior RN Experience?||Total Credit Hours||NP Clinical Hours|
|Family||Yes; 12 months||61||675|
|Certified Nurse Midwife||Yes; 12 months||64||675|
|Women’s Health||Yes; 12 months||59||675|
Applicants who have an associates degree in nursing and who do not have another bachelor's degree are eligible to apply for the ADN Bridge Entry Option include the following. Applicants for this program must:
Applicants who have an associates degree in nursing and another non-nursing bachelor’s degree are eligible to skip the Bridge program and apply directly to the MSN + Companion DNP program. Applicants for this program must:
To apply, students must submit transcripts that indicate the successful completion of prerequisite courses. These courses include a three credit hour physical assessment course and a statistics course. The physical assessment content integrated into other courses does not meet this requirement. The statistics course can be either an upper division undergraduate course or a graduate course, and it must have been taken within 10 years of beginning the FNU program.
Frontier Nursing University is renowned for the innovative use of technology in their learning at a distance education programs, which they call Community-Based Education. At FNU, students visit campus two or three times for in-person intensives. During these intensives, students stay on the historic campus in Hayden, Kentucky, and they are pampered with home-cooked meals.
The remainder of the program is completed within the student’s home community. The courses are taught in 11-week terms and designed for the flexible adult learner. Faculty teach the course content through video lectures, chats, and interactive sessions using the learning management system Blackboard. Students communicate with their FNU professors through online forums, phone, and email. Frontier Nursing University helps students locate a clinical preceptor in their home community.
She is a certified nurse-midwife and associate professor at FNU. She has 19 years of experience in nursing education with 17 of those years in leadership positions including department chair, college dean, and program director. She is the capstone chair for students in the DNP program, and she presents nationally on LGBTQ issues. She is the Regional Clinical Faculty for Oregon and parts of Montana and Idaho, and she is an active member of the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the National Organization for Nurse Practitioner Faculties, and the National League for Nursing.
She is a board-certified women’s health and family nurse practitioner as well as a certified nurse-midwife. She also holds a certificate in nursing education. She is an associate professor and course coordinator at Frontier Nursing University, and she has published a variety of papers on outcome measures and women’s health clinical guidelines. She has presented at national conferences on clinical issues and clinical precepting, and she is an active member of The American College of Nurse Midwives, The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties, The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the Virginia Council of Nurse Practitioners.
Students entering the ADN Bridge Entry option can expect to complete the program in three years of full-time study or four years of part-time study. Generally, the application process can take six to 12 months, depending on the number of prerequisite courses an applicant needs to complete. Upon graduation, students usually spend six months studying and taking their board-certification exam while also applying for jobs. For students interested in completing the DNP Companion program, they can expect to take an additional 17 credit hours and 360 clinical hours, which can last another 12 months. Frontier Nursing University highly recommends that students complete the DNP program.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) located in Jackson, Mississippi, offers the state's flagship school of nursing. The UMMC School of Nursing hosts one of the country’s only state-supported nursing schools, and it is the leader in healthcare provider education for the state. The UMMC School of Nursing is affiliated with over 200 clinical sites, including community health centers, psychiatric facilities, private practices, and schools. Uniquely, they have access to four major hospitals including Batson Children’s Hospital, University Hospital, Wallace Conerly Critical Care Hospital and Wiser Hospital for Women and Infants, which offers students diverse opportunities for clinical experiences.
The UMMC School of Nursing is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. They hold the core values of respect, excellence, accountability, diversity, and integrity, and their mission is, “To develop nurse leaders and improve health within and beyond Mississippi through excellence in education, research, practice and service.” The UMMC School of Nursing is well known for their diverse degree programs and entry points, high pass rates on national certification exams, low tuition costs, and a reputation for quality graduate education.
The UMMC School of Nursing offers a unique program for nurses with an associate degree who wish to become a nurse practitioner. At UMMC, this program is called the RN-MSN Program, and it offers four different nurse practitioner specialty tracks including adult-gerontology acute care, adult-gerontology primary care, family, and psychiatry. The RN-MSN program was designed specifically for adult learners who need a flexible academic schedule in order to balance other family and work responsibilities.
Students can complete coursework at either the Jackson or Oxford campus, and most classes can be taken in an online format. Each program requires 630 clinical practice hours. The first 45 hours must be completed at UMMC along with an additional 200 more. All clinical hours must be completed within the state of Mississippi under the mentorship of a nurse practitioner or physician.
The UMMC School of Nursing offers four specialty tracks for students entering the RN-MSN Program. These tracks include family, adult-gerontology primary care, adult-gerontology acute care, and psychiatry. All of these programs require 12 months of prior registered nursing experience, and the adult-gerontology acute care specialty requires 12 months of critical care experience specifically. All of these programs can be completed online except for the Advanced Health Assessment course, and all clinical practicum hours must be completed within the state of Mississippi. The number of credit hours for each specialty ranges from 61 to 66, and they all require 630 clinical practice hours under the supervision of either a nurse practitioner or physician.
|Table 2: University of Mississippi Medical Center|
|Specialty Track||Requires Prior RN Experience?||Total Credit Hours||NP Clinical Hours|
|Family||Yes; 12 months||66||630*|
|Adult-Gerontology Primary Care||Yes; 12 months||64||630*|
|Adult-Gerontology Acute Care||Yes; 12 months in a critical care setting||61||630*|
|Psychiatric Mental Health||Yes; 12 months||62||630*|
|*The first 45 hours and an additional 200 hours must be completed at UMMC.|
Admission requirements for the RN-MSN Program include the following:
The UMMC School of Nursing has published a Quick-Start Guide to the RN-MSN Program that contains helpful links to websites, prerequisite requirements, and important contact information.
Prerequisite courses for the RN-MSN program include a total of 62 credit hours of coursework including 26 credits of math and science courses, 18 credits of social science courses, and 18 credits of humanities courses. Many of these courses are completed in an associate degree program and will transfer; however, applicants should review the RN-MSN Prerequisite Course Checklist before applying. Also, students must demonstrate at least 12 months of previous registered nursing experience. Students applying for the adult-gerontology acute care specialty must demonstrate 12 months of critical care experience.
All programs are offered through a combination of online, in-person, and hybrid courses. Regardless of specialty, all students take Advanced Health Assessment, which must be completed in-person. The rest of the courses can be completed online in either a synchronous or asynchronous format. Students access course materials through an online learning.
management system called Canvas. If they wish, students may choose to take courses in a hybrid format, which requires them to meet on campus about four times per semester. Students also have access to a massive collection of online academic journals and databases through the Rowland Medical Library.
Dr. Marilyn Harrington is a board-certified adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, associate professor of nursing, and director of diversity and inclusion at UMMC. She teaches in both the undergraduate and graduate programs at the Jackson campus. Her expertise lies in pediatric care, childhood asthma, female health, and minority wellness. Her scholarly interests include community outreach and the promotion of optimal health in the African American community.
Dr. Robin Christian is a board-certified family nurse practitioner and associate professor at UMMC. She has 15 years of experience as a family nurse practitioner and has authored six articles in peer-reviewed journals. She was recently the keynote speaker for Shadow Health Instructional Webinars and she is an active member of the American Nurses’ Association, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and the Mississippi Nurses’ Association.
The RN-MSN Program at UMMC typically takes 2 years of full-time study to complete; however, students may choose part-time study as well. Generally, the application process can take six to 12 months, depending on the number of prerequisite courses an applicant needs to complete. Upon graduation, students usually spend six months studying and taking their board-certification exam while also applying for jobs.
South University offers two nurse practitioner programs for registered nurses with an associate degree in nursing. This program is called the RN to Master of Science in Nursing program. The South University nurse practitioner program can be completed online and at a distance to meet the diverse needs of its students. Students may choose to become either a family nurse practitioner or an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner. Both programs offer a challenging curriculum and rigorous clinical experiences.
South University promotes its programs as both focused and flexible. Their College of Nursing and Public Health offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs with expert faculty and top of the line technology. They are a private academic institution that is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. South University describes itself as wholly dedicated to the growth of each student, and they offer online classes so students can learn on their own schedule and at their own pace.
The RN to Master of Science in Nursing program allows students with strong academic backgrounds to transition from an associate degree to a master’s degree. The program includes integrated clinical experience, didactic instruction, and a final project. Upon graduation, all students are awarded both a bachelor of science in nursing and a master of science in nursing degree, and they are eligible to sit for their national board-certification exam.
The RN to Master of Science in Nursing program is divided into three curriculum areas: I, II, and III. Area I consists of 90 credit hours of general education requirements such as Anatomy and Physiology, English Composition, and General Psychology. Area II consists of 75 credit hours of foundation courses such as Legal and Ethical Issues in Nursing, Professional nursing Practice, and Caring for a Multicultural Society. Area III consists of 56 credit hours of core nurse practitioner courses such as Advanced Pathophysiology, Advanced Health Assessment, and Research Methods. Area II courses include both core and specialty nurse practitioner courses.
While this seems like a lot of credit hours, South University will review your previous academic transcripts and transfer up to 90 credit hours of applicable course work. Applicants with an associates degree in nursing will be able to transfer a substantial amount of coursework so long as they earned a “C” or higher in the respective course. In addition to their coursework, students are also required to participate in clinical translational efforts, education, and policy activities relevant to diverse population healthcare issues.
South University offers two nurse practitioner specialities: family and adult-gerontology primary care. Each of these programs can be completed online. The number of credit hours and clinical hours varies depending on the applicant's previous education. Specifically, the family nurse practitioner program requires 38 credit hours of specialty courses, and the adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner program requires 32 credit hours of specialty courses. Both specialities have a strong focus on health promotion and health behavior change principles. More details are available in the South University Academic Catalogue.
The admission requirements for South University’s RN to Master of Science in Nursing program are listed below and can be found on page 45 of their 2015-2016 Academic Catalogue.
There are no specific prerequisite courses, however students may transfer up to 90 credits of prior coursework under curriculum Area II.
South University allows students to complete their coursework in an online format. Their online courses hold the same high standards of academic excellence as traditional in-person classes. Students access their online classes by logging into South University’s Virtual Campus. The Virtual campus enables students to communicate with their professors, access course materials, and view their assignments and grades.
Student typically complete this program in three years of full time study or up to five years of part time study. Upon graduation, students usually spend six months studying and taking their board-certification exam while also applying for jobs. The entire process of becoming a nurse practitioner at South University can take anywhere between four and six years.
For RNs with an ADN degree
For RNs with a BSN degree
For RNs with an MSN degree
*Also requires a non-nursing bachelor's degree; please see the "Online Accelerated MSN - NP" programs page for more details.