RN-MSN nursing education bridge program guide

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An introduction to nursing education

Nursing is a field that demands an immense amount of knowledge, dedication, and compassion. It’s the nurses’ responsibility to provide top-notch primary care, patient support and reassurance. Nursing combines intuitive insight into a patient’s needs and an underlying respect for human dignity with knowledge gained from dedicated learning and experience.  

Nurses have some of these qualities innately as part of their personality, but many things – both clinical and interpersonal – they learn from their educators. These nurse educators have the privilege and the responsibility to lead and form the next generation of nurses. This may be the job for you if you’re passionate about making sure new nurses have both the excellent clinical skills to provide highest-standard care, and the softer skills to provide care that comforts.

Nursing education programs in a nutshell

This field of expertise focuses on the continuous skill development and training of nurses to improve patient care. It grants graduates the abilities and know-how required to teach and train others. These programs focus on the following 2 key areas: 

  • Foundations of nursing education. Scholars study curriculum development and student learning assessment, enabling them to create, implement and evaluate nursing education programs. 
  • Clinical education. Students have to specialize in a clinical practice area, using direct care internships to better understand how to translate practical experience into classroom-based learning.  

RN-to-MSN bridge program prerequisites 

Traditionally, a person would have to earn a bachelor’s degree before they can obtain a master’s. However, advocacy by nursing educators in the past has resulted in the introduction of direct RN-to-MSN programs which grant practicing RNs a faster and more affordable way to enter the field of nursing education as an MSN, bypassing the BSN degree. 

Entry into these programs varies between schools and typically depends on the number of accepted bridge credits. To qualify for an MSN program, students need to have a valid RN license and possess at least one of the following: 

  • An associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) 
  • A bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field 
  • A nursing diploma  

Additional prerequisites may include: 

  • Official records from preceding college courses 
  • A cumulative minimum 3.0 GPA (or higher for some programs)
  • Graduate record examination (GRE) scores 
  • Letters of recommendation  
  • A resume featuring relevant nursing work experience
  • Letter of intent or personal statement 
  • Criminal background check 

Most colleges and universities offer RN-to-MSN bridge courses. There are also many online opportunities available. Where you apply will depend on your learning preferences, geographical constraints, and scheduling limitations. The application process typically takes 4 to 6 weeks to complete before you hear back from the school.  

On-campus, online and hybrid programs

RN-to-MSN courses are divided into 4 primary types. To help you identify the option best suited to your needs, here’s a brief explanation of each: 

The students physically attend discussions, lab work, lectures, and examinations. Scholars who need in-person support from faculty staff and enjoy class discussions with peers are likely to find this type of program optimal.  

This method of education can also provide scholars with more personal support from the student community and could grant them considerable networking opportunities.  

These courses are delivered entirely online. They require no campus visits and typically allow for maximum flexibility. This may be the perfect choice for  students with significant work or family obligations, or those who want a degree from an institution that isn’t close to them geographically. There are some schools that don’t have a physical campus and deliver all of their instruction online.  

Online-only learning may also be ideal for those that are comfortable with, and capable of, independent learning as it provides less structure than on-campus courses. 

These programs provide students with an enormous amount of flexibility while still giving a modicum of in-person experiences. The majority of the course gets delivered via the internet, and is supplemented by some on-campus requirements.  

On-campus immersions are intended to support the concepts scholars learn in class. Secondly, they allow the opportunity to test academic knowledge through clinical tasks. On-campus components may include: 

  • Lectures  
  • In-person discussions with faculty members, such as meeting in-person during their office hours 
  • Hands-on clinical simulations 
  • Networking events 
  • In-person examinations 
  • An in-person graduation ceremony

This form of higher education encompasses a balanced mix of on-campus and online components. It splits the workload in one of 2 ways: 

  • A mix of classes that are entirely online or on-campus 
  • Classes have both in-person and online components 

Hybrid courses may be ideal for scholars who want in-person education and the campus experience yet also need some flexibility to cope with other commitments.  

It’s important to note that currently, there’s no standardized definition of either online or hybrid graduate nursing programs. Scholars need to verify the on-campus commitments of the study program that interest them. 

Furthermore, all types of RN-to-MSN programs have similar requirements when it comes to practicum hours. All students need to accrue enough practical experience in their desired specialty to qualify to sit for the national certification exam. For nurse educators, this generally means teaching practice hours. Consult the program director of your desired school to see if this can be conducted online or is strictly in-person. There may be the possibility of getting the required teaching hours through your current workplace.

RN-to-MSN nurse educator bridge program coursework 

RN-to-MSN bridge courses serve to replace the traditional BSN-MSN progression. They provide students with a more direct bridge course sequence, taking previous education and experience into account. Although the exact coursework will vary between schools, all programs should cover the fundamental nursing concepts and methods. Typical studies may include: 

  • Evidence based practice 
  • Health assessment 
  • Statistics for medical professionals 
  • Community health nursing 

Upon completing the required bridge classes, students may advance to the MSN portion of their curriculum. These typically include subjects like: 

  • Ethics in healthcare
  • Principles of teaching and learning
  • Curriculum design and simulation
  • Assessment and evaluation in nursing education
  • Advanced human physiology and physiopathology 

Clinical practicum requirements

Practicums or internships play a vital role in RN to MSN programs. They provide scholars with invaluable hands-on experience in their future area of expertise. Nurse educators are expected to complete teaching practicums that are typically around 100-150 teaching hours, or 3 credits. This gives valuable hands-on experience in creating curriculums, setting educational goals and assessing achievement, classroom management, and more. Before you enroll in a program, it’s useful to find out where and in what form these teaching practicums take place; some of these hours may be completed within online forums or other online activities.

RN-to-MSN nurse educator program duration

How long it takes to complete these programs depends on the individual’s enrollment status, credentials, and program requirements. Scholars who have already obtained a valid RN license, BSN, or transferable college credits may earn their MSN in less time. Most full-time students usually complete their chosen program within 2-3 years.   

How much does an RN-to-MSN program cost? 

The cost of an RN-to-MSN program depends on various factors. These include: 

  • The educational institution and location
  • Whether you opt for online, hybrid, or on-campus study 
  • The length of the program  
  • Your chosen specialty  
  • Any other associated costs such as learning materials or lab fees

Additional expenses may include the time and money it takes to travel to and from the college or the impact it may have on your potential to earn an income while studying. Overall, RN-MSN programs range from a very low $13,000 up to around $66,000, averaging out at around $36,6000.

Fortunately, online RN-to-MSN programs can prove to be significantly less expensive and time consuming, ultimately providing you with a lot more flexibility. They average around $17,000-$30,000 for the full program.  RN-MSN bridge programs, both online and on-campus, have been ultimately designed for working RNs so flexibility is a high priority for most programs.

Financial aid

There are usually plenty of financial aid opportunities available. It’s crucial to remember that some of these options only award a few hundred dollars, whereas others could cover the total cost of your studies. Every dollar adds up, though, so it’s worth applying for everything you qualify for. Some of the possibilities you may want to consider are: 

American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) 

The AACN helps healthcare students by offering various graduate and post-graduate  fellowships and scholarships.  

Additionally, the AACNs website also provides you with links to various potential grants and loan forgiveness programs. 

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) website is dedicated to helping eligible scholars find financial aid. Amongst other opportunities is the nurse corps scholarship program. This bursary initiative provides 4 continuation and 215 new awards to deserving nursing students in exchange for at least 2 years’ service in a facility with critical staff shortages. 

To review this and other opportunities, check the HRSA website

Nursing grants 

Where scholarships are merit-based, grants are usually based on need. It’s also considered ‘gift-aid,’ meaning that it doesn’t have to be repaid. Options are available from the federal and state governments and various other organizations. 

Federal subsidies, such as Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), require scholars to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Participating schools receive a specific sum of money every year, and this funding is then distributed amongst qualifying students through the financial aid office. Award amounts usually vary between $100 and $4,000 per year. 

There are also various professional research grants made available for nursing specialties. Sigma lists several grant opportunities and provides deadline lists for nursing research grants.

Institutional scholarships

Although it’s seldom advertised, some colleges do have funding relief programs for RN-to-MSN students. Search using keywords such as ‘student financial services’ or ‘financial aid’ within a school’s website. 

College’s administrative offices also assist scholars by providing them with information on all types of funding possibilities.  

Statewide searches may also prove to be fruitful. For instance, some state nursing boards and official nursing organizations have information regarding student funding options on their websites. 

Nurse educator career opportunities and income

With an MSN degree, nurse educators can train and teach in clinical settings such as hospitals or long-term care facilities. Or they may choose a more academic route by teaching at universities or vocational schools. Some nurse educators split time between the 2 settings. They can even carve out a career by hosting special-topic seminars and workshops in a variety of locations. They can combine specific topics, such as training nurses in critical care or diabetes care, or teach general nursing topics and skills by training future CNAs or RNs for example. As they progress, they may also be presented with many various possibilities to advance their careers and income.  

Nurse educators work alongside administration staff to develop and facilitate continuing education and staff training along with evaluations within the hospital, urgent care facility, care home, or other institution. They earn an average salary of $76,480 per year.

Clinical nurse specialists work in clinical settings such as hospitals and strive to improve patient care and satisfaction within their units or departments. They earn an average salary of $90,997 per year.

MSN licensing and certification 

Nurse educators are certified by the National League for Nursing (NLN). There are 2 key certificates, which must be renewed every 5 years through continuing education credits or retaking the required exam:

  • The CNE® (Certified Nurse Educator) certification is for nurse educators working as faculty within academic settings who typically work in non-clinical skills roles.
  • The CNE®cl (Academic Clinical Nurse Educator) certification is specifically for the members of faculty within academic programs who teach clinical skills.

MSN holders are typically eligible for licensure as a Nurse Practitioner (NP). NPs are recognized by all states as advanced clinical practitioners. They’re commonly licensed as either advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) or have a certification added to their RN license. 

Scholars can obtain detailed regulatory and licensure requirements information for all jurisdictions from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). 

Numerous sites provide prospective students with plenty of useful facts and tips associated with RN-to-MSN in Nursing Education bridge programs.  

National League for Nursing (NLN)

Among other professional development, testing, advocacy, and public policy activities, the NLN provides accreditation for nurse education programs through its NLN Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation program. It also provides certification for nurse educators as Certified Nurse Educator and Certified Academic Clinical Nurse Educator.

Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 

The Department of Education officially recognizes the CCNE as an independent nursing education accrediting organization that encourages and supports quality nursing programs at all levels. The CCNE is housed under the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Professional Nurse Educators Group (PNEG)

Focused on lifelong professional development for nurse educators around the U.S., PNEG holds annual conferences, provides membership benefits and networking, has an active social media presence with discussion groups, and serves to mentor those new in the field.

American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) 

The AANP strives toward empowering NPs to develop and improve quality health care through education, research, advocacy, leadership, and practice.