RN to MSN Bridge Programs

RN to MSN Bridge Programs

After a few or many years working in the field of registered nursing, many wish to change the job functions and increase their income while staying in the field.

This is especially true for nurses working in critical care areas or other areas with high pressure and emotional stress and high levels of burnout.

Earning a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) is one of the options to change responsibilities and increase income without leaving the field of nursing.

The RN to MSN degree is available in various colleges and universities nationwide.

Why Should I Enroll In an RN to MSN Program?

There are multiple opportunities for growth and change in the field of registered nursing without advanced education.

RNs can work in a variety of settings, including clinical education, insurance companies, physician’s offices, home health, hospitals, etc.

If a nurse becomes tired of working in one department of a hospital, they can apply for a position in a different department, which can include completely different functions.

So, why would you want to earn a Master’s of Science in Nursing?

  • Improved job satisfaction.
  • Autonomy.
  • More money.

Improved Job Satisfaction

With an advanced degree, you can move up from a bedside nurse to the practitioner.

In this position, instead of fulfilling orders given by the provider, the nurse with the MSN will be given orders themselves.

This is an especially great option for nurses who believe they can provide the best possible care to the patients and wish to see outcomes.

Over the long-term, bedside nurses spend less time taking care of patients than care practitioners.

They rarely know the entire outcome and follow-up details.

Because of this, some bedside nurses may feel dissatisfied with their job and seek an advanced degree.


MSN-educated nurses can take care of patients without the supervision of a physician, depending on the state regulations.

RNs, on the other hand, work under supervision.

Depending on the specialty, autonomy can be taught and performed differently.

Some of the degrees RNs choose include acute care/family nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist.

More Money

With advanced education, nurses can increase their income.

One of the primary reasons is that nurses with MSN have more responsibilities and liability.

MSN comes with many specialties, and nurses are required to work longer hours than RNs, but they also receive better compensation.

What Specialties Exist for the RN to MSN Educated Nurse?

RN to MSN educated nurses can take on many specialties.

With specialized programs, nurses can become a primary care practitioner, or focus on teaching, administration, etc.

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP).
  • Healthcare/Nurse Administrator.
  • Nurse Educator.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM).
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS).
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Despite the specialty, nurse practitioners focus on prevention, education, and wellness.

An Acute Care NP can work in an acute care setting, such as hospitals, they find a diagnosis, prescribe medications if necessary, and manage the illness of a patient.

They treat patients while they are in the hospital and usually follow-up after discharge.

Family nurse practitioners work in a non-acute care setting, such as a clinic or physician’s office, and diagnose, manage illnesses, and prescribe medications.

Both positions are gaining popularity and expanded employment opportunities.

Other specialties of NPs include Neonatal NP, Adult-Gerontology NP, Psychiatric NP, Pediatric NP, and Women’s Health NP.

Depending on the state which licensed the NP, some supervision of the physician may be required.

Healthcare/Nurse Administrator

These nurses with Ph.D. or MSN are the shapers and leaders of healthcare facilities.

Considering patient outcomes and data, they help create the protocols and policies of the facility, monitor and set budgets, manage employees, and oversee operations.

This nurse is usually a go-to person for many departments of the facility.

They can work at clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, or even schools.

Nurse Educator

Depending on the workplace, nurse educators may teach student nurses in clinics, classrooms, or monitor and educate experienced nurses.

In schools, nurse educators may hold online or in-classroom lessons and should provide quality education.

They create a curriculum and invent new methods of learning to inspire future nurses.

In such facilities as hospitals, nurse educators create and monitor graduate programs for RNs and assist in setting up procedures and policies.

They also monitor the quality of processes and stay updated on the current research and improvement methods.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

Midwives create and maintain relations with the mother and the child later.

These nurses work with pregnant women during pregnancy, labor, and after the child is born.

Their roles are different from a physician as they are more involved with the pregnancy and labor.

They are present during childbirth and assist the mother in avoiding an epidural, C-section, and closely monitor for complications.

Usually, midwives work in hospitals and birthing centers.

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS)

The CNS can focus on one of three areas: management, administration, and direct patient care.

They provide direct patient care as a provider.

To compare, the NPs are trained to provide direct patient care.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

The CNRAs provide care to patients in surgery during all stages of the process: pre-op, intra-op, post-op, and follow-up.

Similar to anesthesiologists, a CRNA is trained to administer anesthesia during the operative procedures and insert advanced airways.

They should monitor vital signs and respiratory status to ensure effective and safe care.

This MSN or Doctorate-educated nurse is one of the highest-paid in the field.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

The term APRN includes nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, midwives, and clinical nurse specialists.

These are nurses with a graduate degree who focus on wellness and preventative care for the community.

Are Clinical Hours Required for the RN to MSN?

The CNS, NP, and CNM specialties require a state license to practice since the positions include providing direct patient care.

To get one, you need a certain number of clinical hours required by the state to become eligible for the licensure exam.

Schools that offer such programs may have coursework available online, but students usually need to find a preceptor to complete clinical hours.

For some students, it can be not as easy.

MSN degrees in healthcare administration and nursing education may not require any clinical hours.

This may depend on the state.

However, these degrees don’t allow providing direct patient care, so you don’t need a state license to practice.

For this reason, many schools have online programs for these MSN specialties.

Working RNs may find it perfect.

MSN specialties that don’t include direct patient care usually require an internship or preceptorship.

Before you graduate, most schools require you to work alongside a professional in the field to gain experience.

How Long Are RN to MSN Programs?

The programs for specialties that don’t require direct patient care are usually much shorter.

Education and administration are usually available at 100% online and take less than 2 years.

They are designed for busy working nurses.

NP, CNS, and CNM Programs

CNS, CNM, and NP programs usually take from 2 to 3 years including clinical hours.

Usually, they require about 60 credit hours in either all courses or some of them.

This can vary depending on the school, though.

To sit for the licensure exam, every state requires a certain number of clinical hours.

CRNA Programs

CNRA programs can also vary depending on the school and state.

However, typically they take about 2-3 years.

These programs are usually full-time and require in-classroom coursework and preceptorship.

The state license is required, and tuition costs can vary greatly as well.

Most schools don’t allow students to work while in school because of the intensity of the curriculum.

It can be financially difficult for some students to take years off of work, but many of them take loans for education.

How Do I Select the Best RN to MSN Program for Me?

There are multiple options for potential graduate students, which can feel overwhelming.

Many programs are available as online, in-classroom, full-time, and part-time.

With some experience as an RN, most nurses already have an idea of what they like and don’t like about their daily functions.

It’s important to find a true motivator and vision for the future when selecting the right program.

Some self-discovery may be involved.

Questions you should ask yourself:

  • Are you considering a graduate degree to change the course completely and become a provider?
    • You can consider the roles of CNM, NP, CNS, and CRNA.
  • Are you looking for a more hands-off approach to patient care?
    • You can choose education, research, or nursing administration.
  • Do you think you can provide more help to patients by creating procedures and policies and monitoring outcomes from an administrative level?
    • You can choose the nursing administration.
  • Do you want to teach future nurses on how to be great to influence patient care?
    • Consider education.

Other things to consider:

  • Time.
    • How much time can you dedicate to coursework every day?
      Are you planning to work during school or can you afford to work less or not at all?
  • Money.
    • Are you prepared to take a student loan if you need it?
      Consider how your income will change in the chosen specialty vs the costs of the program.
  • Preceptorship.
    • For many Nurse Practitioner programs, students should find their own preceptors in the area.
      This is usually done through cold-calling physicians’ offices or clinics to find if they are willing to take a student.
      Are you prepared to spare the time for that?
  • Online versus in-classroom.
    • Do you need to interact with other students and instructors to understand the material better?
      Or maybe you are able to learn by reading, writing, and using the online classroom discussions and emails?
      Most schools use easy-to-use software, so you don’t have to be super tech-savvy, but somewhat computer literate.

Changing Specialties

There are many specialties in the field that don’t require a graduate degree.

Some nurses can earn a certificate in something new to change the daily activity and increase job satisfaction.

Pain management, wound care, case management, and legal nurse consulting are different options for nurses.

MSN-educated nurses can acquire a post-master’s certificate.

This can help them change specialties without the necessity to earn a separate degree.

Often, this is a more affordable option and takes less time than an MSN or DPN degree.

Sometimes, a nurse can already qualify to apply to a new position without a new certification and can obtain training on-the-job.

For example, if you change roles from ICU to Recovery room or Medical-Surgical to Emergency department, it’s quite common.

Online RN to MSN Considerations

  • Autonomy.
  • Tutoring vs in-person help.
  • Learning-Style.
  • Visual.
  • Audio.
  • Kinesthetic.


Determine whether you can research answers to your own questions fairly easily and are good using Help forums or emails to ask instructors for help.

If so, you can succeed with the online program.

Tutoring vs In-Person Help

Consider what type of students you are, whether you need help to understand the material.

Did you require much help after-class during your RN or BSN program?

If you ask questions frequently during the class or spend much time in a Teaching Assistant’s office, an in-classroom format of learning may be a better option for you.


Consider the learning style that suits you best.

There are visual, audio, and kinetic styles and most people aren’t only one or another but typically blend two or all three of them.

It’s essential to consider the style from which you learn the best and whether it applies to online or in-classroom format.

Visual Learning Style

People with a visual learning style benefit the most from using visual aids or seeing material in the text.

This can be suitable for both online or in-classroom formats as they both can use visual aids and written text.

Audio Learning Style

The auditory learners understand the material the best when it’s spoken out loud, typically in a format of a lecture.

Usually, the in-classroom format is the best for these types of learners.

However, many online programs adjusted their curriculum to suit these learners as well by providing recorded or live lectures.

If you learn the best this way, check each online program individually to find out if they offer recorded lectures.

Kinesthetic Learning Style

Kinesthetic learners understand the material best by acting out concepts and the ability to experience educational materials.

Learning online may call on some creativity to come up with ways to understand things easier.

Online programs usually don’t include hands-on lab time and field trips, but the classroom program can have classes like this.

So when choosing the right format, consider the following:

  • What type of learner you are, if you need to see, hear, or experience the material.
  • Whether you are comfortable reading text then advancing comprehension with homework tasks and chat room discussions.
  • Whether you need to be physically present with an instructor and other students.

Online programs have been developing for a long time and became effective and convenient to advance education for many students.

With their format, students can read the materials through online discussions, homework assignments, team projects, or other tasks.

However, they aren’t perfect for every student.

While the activities are similar to in-classroom ones, the biggest difference in not having a speaker or visual aids.

However, some online programs include online lectures in their curriculum.

How Much Will Tuition Cost for an Online RN to MSN Program?

Tuition costs can vary depending on college, location, specialty, and salary.

Generally, they range from $20,000 to $60,000 for an RN to MSN degree.

Often, employees offer tuition reimbursement.


Online programs may cost the same as in-classroom formats since the costs acquired by schools and the number of students in the program may not be too different from the in-classroom format.

However, some students may be able to work while studying considering the convenience of the programs and depending on the specialty.

This makes the online program more effective.


Every specialty has a different number of credit hours required.

For instance, Certified Nurse Midwife requires 87 credit hours with 900 clinical.

The healthcare administrator, on the other hand, requires 42 credits.

Colleges usually change per hour not including clinical.

Location and Salary

The cost per credit hour can depend on such factors as location and salary.

In some parts of the country, MSN educated nurses can make more compared to nurses with the same educational level in a different area.

To make the price fair, schools usually consider such factors.

How Long Will an Online RN to MSN Program Take to Complete?

The duration of a program can vary depending on specialty and college.

But, in general, Bachelor’s-educated nurses will need another 30 credit hours for most specialties to obtain the Master’s degree.

Nurses with the Associate’s degree need 60 more credit hours.

That includes 30 per each, Bachelors and Masters.

With full-time studying, each semester is about 12-15 credit hours.

Therefore, a BSN to MSN can be finished within 1-3 years.

Some specialties may take longer as they require clinical hours as well.

What Are the RN to MSN Curriculums Like?

The curriculum of the program depends on the specialty.

Nurse Practitioner

The curriculum of a Nurse Practitioner focuses on wellness, prevention, and holistic healing.

They are trained to treat patients entirely, not just a disease.

The core of training includes nutrition, medications, maintaining good health, exercise, and treating diseases quickly and effectively.

Nurses that have treated an advanced disease for one patient may find it useful to help others prevent these disease from advancing.

Their job can be very fulfilling while they educate people and help them create a plan for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Nurse Practitioners will learn:

  • Diagnose chronic and acute medical problems.
  • Perform comprehensive head-to-toe assessments.
  • Prescribe medications in states which allow it.
  • Prepare a plan for treatment by working with patients and families.
  • Work with insurance companies for repayment.

Nurse Midwife

The curriculum of the Nurse Midwife includes a comprehensive and complex assessment of the mother and newborn at every stage of childbirth.

The special focus is on community health for children and mothers.

Nurse-Midwives study:

  • Diagnose and treat complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Perform complex and comprehensive head-to-toe assessments of both mother and newborn.
  • Manage and maintain an independent practice.
  • Promote proper health and nutrition throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and after childbirth.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

The Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist study general and regional techniques of anesthesia and ancillary methods such as conscious sedation, pain management, advanced airways during an emergency, etc.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist study the methods to:

  • Place advanced airways for procedures and during an emergency.
  • Administer and monitor various types of anesthesia.
  • Recognize and treat anesthesia emergencies.

Are Any Exams Required Before I Can Practice with an MSN Degree?

The specialties that require an examination for the state license to practice are:

  • Certified Nurse Midwife.
  • Nurse Practitioner Certification.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist.

Nurse Midwife Exam

Nurse-midwives can take a certification exam held by The American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB).

It ensures that the specialists can provide safe care to patients at a beginner level.

Nurse Practitioner Certification

Nurse practitioners take the exams manages and issued by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

This includes the Emergency Nurse Practitioner Specialty for Family Nurse Practitioners available since January 2017.

The available certifications today are the following:

  • Adult Nurse NP.
  • Acute Care NP.
  • Family NP.
  • Gerontological NP.
  • School NP.
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP.
  • Adult Psychiatric-Mental Health NP.
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP.
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health NP.
  • Pediatric Primary Care NP.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

CNS examinations are provided by the Clinical Nurse Specialist The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), including:

  • Pediatric CNS.
  • Adult Psychiatric-Mental Health CNS.
  • Adult-Gerontology CNS.
  • Adult Health CNS.
  • Home Health CNS.
  • Public/Community Health CNS.
  • Child/Adolescent Psychiatric-Mental Health CNS.
  • Gerontological CNS.

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