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Best Online RN-to-MSN Programs

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A nurse practitioner (NP) holds advanced nurse's training and focuses on caring for a specific patient population. Specializations include acute care, gerontology, mental health, pediatrics, women's health, and family nurse practitioner. NPs perform many of the same tasks as registered nurses and physicians.

There are many benefits to becoming an NP, such as higher pay and more job opportunities. NPs enjoy an annual median salary of $115,800. The job growth rate for NP positions is projected to reach 26% through 2028.

NPs need a master of science in nursing (MSN) to become licensed and certified. A candidate's educational timeline depends on their starting place, specialization, and full-time or part-time status. Typically, bridge programs for registered nurses (RN-to-MSN), such as an associate degree in nursing (ADN-to-MSN), or programs for those with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN-to-MSN), take 2-4 years to complete. Accelerated bridge programs can shorten the time frame to graduation.

NPs become licensed by their state as advanced practice registered nurses. They may then take an examination in their population-focus area to earn national certification from one of five NP certification boards: American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, American Nurses Credentialing Center, National Certification Corporation, and Pediatric Nursing Certification Board.


Frequently Asked Questions

Can you go from RN to MSN?

Yes. RN-to-MSN bridge programs provide opportunities for RNs with a non-nursing bachelor's degree to earn their MSN, along with ADN-to-MSN tracks for RNs without a bachelor's degree. Students begin with courses that allow them to complete the credits needed between an associate degree and BSN before advancing to an MSN curriculum.

How long does it take to go from RN to MSN?

Accelerated programs can take as little as 18 months to complete. RNs who continue to work full time while earning their RN-to-MSN part time graduate in about four years. Most RN-to-NP education, including RN-to-MSN online programs, spans 2-3 years, depending on the student's specialization focus and enrollment status.

Can I get my MSN without a BSN?

Yes. RNs with either an ADN or non-nursing bachelor's degree can earn their MSN through RN-to-MSN bridge programs, in which students pursue their BSN and MSN within the same program. Enrolling in an RN-to-MSN online program streamlines the ADN-to-NP or RN-to-NP processes.

What is an RN-to-MSN bridge program?

RN-to-MSN programs bridge the gap between ADNs or non-nursing bachelor's degrees and BSNs by offering courses typically included in BSN programs. Students select their NP population focus and earn their degree by taking core MSN subjects as they complete coursework and clinical experience in their chosen specialty area.

How much is an RN-to-MSN program?

Costs vary by school and program, with some offering the same tuition regardless of residency status and others discounting in-state rates. Online programs can carry different costs than in-person programs. Tuition costs can start as low as $3,500 per year and exceed $30,000 on the higher end.


Admission Requirements for RN-to-MSN Programs

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

  • An unencumbered RN license
  • An ADN from an accredited school of nursing
  • A cumulative grade point average of at least 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
  • At least one year of clinical RN experience.

Additionally, some schools require applicants to submit their Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores demonstrating above-average analytical and writing scores.


Nurse Practitioner Clinical Specialty

Prior to admission, RN-to-MSN NP 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:

  • Family
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care
  • Psychiatry
  • Women’s Health

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.


Courses and Curriculum for RN-to-MSN Programs

In RN-to-MSN NP 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:

  • Physical Assessment
  • Communication
  • Statistics
  • Nursing Theory
  • Community Health
  • Leadership
  • Nursing Research

After completing these “bridge” courses, students begin their NP courses. While MSN-level coursework varies according to NP specialty, all prospective NPs 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 the student's NP specialty. For example, if you chose psychiatry, your additional courses might include:

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

Accreditation for NP Programs

Both traditional and online NP programs are accredited by either 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.



List of Online RN-to-MSN NP Programs

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