Accelerated MSN Programs Offer Degree Options for Non-Nurses and Associate Degree RNs

There are two important goals in the nursing profession. One is to encourage more people to become nurses to help relieve the nursing shortage.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts nurse employment will grow by 511,500 jobs from 2018 to 2028. BLS based that number on needed licensed practical and vocational nurses, registered nurses (RNs), nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners.

The other goal is to elevate the level of education in the nursing workforce to better tackle today’s complex healthcare system and needs.

Accelerated degree programs can help achieve both goals.

Accelerated MSN programs

People who have a bachelor’s or graduate degree in a non-nursing discipline and want to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing degree should consider an accelerated MSN program. Another name for the program is entry-level master’s or direct-entry MSN.

Adults with many types of educational backgrounds are attracted to being able to start a new career with a master’s degree. This includes lawyers and business school graduates to those with liberal arts degrees.

Students in the fast-track master’s degree typically complete these programs in about three years, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Accelerated nursing programs are popular. They exist in 49 states plus the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands and Guam. In 2018, there were 64 accelerated or entry-level master’s programs available at U.S. nursing schools, with 13 such programs in the development stages, according to AACN.

These programs vary in their requirements. But non-nurses can save time and tuition costs with the accelerated model. Traditionally, students with non-nursing college degrees would first get a BSN, then an MSN. Students in accelerated MSN programs might be able to waive courses typically required if one were to get a BSN, then a traditional MSN degree.

Programs vary from school to school. For instance, one accelerated MSN program requires a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing. Students complete a total of 60 credit hours and graduate in three years.

Another program offers the MSN entry into nursing program. Scholarships and financial aid are available. Students need a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing discipline from an accredited college or university and must have a GPA of at least 3.0. There are prerequisites, such as anatomy and lab, which students can complete online before starting the accelerated degree program. The cost for the 72-credit hour degree is more than $61,600 each year for full-time students just for tuition

One of the challenges with choosing the accelerated entry-level master’s is that financial aid tends to be limited. But that could soon be changing. Since many employers see the value of training and recruiting new nurses, many are partnering with schools and offering accelerated graduates tuition reimbursement, according to AACN.

Researchers have found that accelerated master’s entry nursing programs can produce a high-quality nurse workforce. Authors of a study in the Journal of Nursing Education studied employment performance outcomes of students who completed the pre-licensure segment of an accelerated graduate entry program, the masters entry program in nursing (MEPN).

They found that, in self-assessments and managers’ performance evaluations, MEPN RNs were rated as very effective in their staff RN roles, regardless of years of nursing experience.

“Graduates of accelerated programs had similar knowledge and skills as other new nurses but also brought work experience and maturity to the clinical setting, which fostered their transition to the nursing role,” according to authors of another study in the Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing.

But accelerated MSN programs aren’t for everybody. They tend to be fast-paced and intense. Some might find these programs too taxing to incorporate in their daily routines.

RN-to-MSN accelerated option

Nurses who have associate degrees in nursing often benefit from the RN-to-MSN degree option. The RN-to-MSN takes into consideration the degree they have, the training they need to bridge the gap between an RN and BSN, then takes them through to the Master of Science in Nursing degree.

The option can save students time and money. One RN-to-MSN program reduces the needed credits for a traditional MSN degree from 39 to 33 credits, for example.

Traditionally, RNs with associate degrees would need to first earn the Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

The accelerated curricula usually takes less than three years to complete.

One example of an online RN-to-MSN program takes most nurse graduates 24 months to complete. This is at a cost for tuition and program fees of more than $3,500 every six months.

According to the Campaign for Action, an RN-to-MSN program values the practice experience of associate degree nurses and meets BSN criteria. The seamless university-based program emphasizes practice components. It allows associate degree nursing students to move efficiently into leadership, teaching, advanced practice and research roles.

RN-to-MSN accelerated programs often have substantial online components. These programs usually start with content for a BSN program, such as writing and statistics.

As with other MSN programs, students should look for programs that are accredited by professional third-party accreditation agencies such as the National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation and Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Nursing students should also check on a school’s regional accreditation.

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