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Alternate Entry Master of Science in Nursing Programs

This article explains how alternate entry graduate nursing degree programs work. Subjects covered include the career possibilities this degree can lead to, general admission requirements and standard coursework.

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An 'alternate entry' Master of Science in Nursing program is designed for students who already hold at least a baccalaureate degree in another discipline, who do not hold any degree in nursing, and would like to cross over to a nursing career. This program may also be called a Master's Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN) at some schools.

Graduates of these programs can usually expect to proceed to an entry-level nursing position, but the programs do also teach skills that are required for leadership roles in the field.

Career Progression With an Alternate Entry Master of Science in Nursing Degree

In addition to earning the Master of Science degree, graduates of one of these programs will be prepared for a variety of nursing positions in hospitals, public health, outpatient clinics, psychiatric mental health, skilled living facilities and other areas of health care.

These programs prepare students to become a registered nurse (RN). This is the more advanced of the two major nationally recognized nursing licenses for new nurses. Students obtain their RN license by taking a national examination called the NCLEX-RN. Each state may have its own additional unique licensing requirements, but passing the NCLEX-RN is a baseline qualification for all RNs. Alternate Entry Master of Science in Nursing Degree programs prepare students for their RN testing, but do not necessarily require that the student actually obtain the license before graduating.

Some programs either prepare students for certification as a Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) or include certification as part of the program. A CNL is a type of RN with more advanced training and greater focus on designing and implementing programs of clinical care. There are usually clinical practice requirements that must be completed before taking the CNL exam.

Though these roles may not be immediately available to new graduates, the Master of Science in Nursing degree is often a prerequisite element for more advanced nursing positions such as nurse educator, nurse scientist or nurse administrator.

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Coursework and Program Length

Alternate Entry Master of Science in Nursing programs vary in length from about 1.5 to three years. There can be significant variation between different programs in terms of course structure and overall schedule.

Some courses seen in these programs include the foundations of professional nursing, public health nursing, mental health nursing, genomics applications and aging and disability. Many courses are split into theory and practicum elements. Theory is the classroom portion, while practicum is a field assignment in an actual patient care setting.

General Admissions Requirements

Students will need a bachelor's degree in some field other than nursing to qualify for an alternate entry program. Students who have an undergrad degree in nursing may qualify for a standard Master of Science in Nursing program instead. A broad range of degree types are accepted by alternate entry programs, but there may be some specific prerequisite coursework in subjects such as anatomy and physiology.

Other possible program requirements include a 3.0 GPA, academic or professional references, some amount of volunteer time in a hospital observing RNs, an American Red Cross Basic Life Support (BLS) certification, statement of purpose and CV. Most programs will ask that students pass the GRE before applying, and some may require it to have been taken within the past several years.

Expect most programs to require up-to-date medical immunizations and screenings, since students will spend time in clinical settings. Programs may also require a physical examination. International students may be asked to demonstrate proof of English language ability and adequate funding for tuition and living expenses.

Alternate entry nursing programs can be found under several different names, but the common quality is that a bachelor's degree in some other field is the primary prerequisite. These programs allow students interested in nursing to launch right into their studies at a graduate level and begin working as a nurse in about two to three years.

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