The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is an advanced nursing degree that is usually obtained by those looking to enter a particular specialty area of nursing or a management role. It's also a significant addition to a resume when applying for competitive nursing jobs. The traditional track to an MSN is to first obtain a BSN and RN license, but this is not the only way to do it. This article covers the options for those who want to skip over the BSN program and proceed straight to an MSN.
Overview of MSN Program Options for Non-Nurses
The United States has been experiencing a shortage of qualified nurses for some time, and this is projected to continue until at least 2030 according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics studies. To shore up the numbers in the career field, quite a few schools have offered alternative educational programs that allow non-nurses to cut down on the educational transition time to becoming a nurse.
The path that is best for you largely depends on whether or not you already have a non-nursing bachelor's degree (or are close to completing one). With a bachelor's degree in some other subject, you can look into an 'alternate-entry' or 'direct-entry' MSN program. If you haven't yet started a bachelor's program or are still in the first two years of one, you might instead consider an ASN to MSN program, which would have you obtain an associate's degree in nursing before moving directly into an MSN program.
Alternate/Direct-Entry MSN Programs
'Alternate-entry' or 'direct-entry' MSN programs were designed to encourage holders of other types of bachelor's degrees to make the transition to nursing. The existing bachelor's is used to satisfy all but the core nursing class requirements of the BSN. Those requirements are usually folded into a standard MSN program that is nearly as long (about two years of class time on a full-time schedule).
Just about any other bachelor's degree from an accredited institution will do as a prerequisite, so long as it is not a BSN. Although the specific field of study usually doesn't matter, these programs do usually require at least a handful of specific prerequisite courses. These are most often standard undergrad entry-level courses in anatomy & physiology, biology or microbiology, pharmacology, statistics, nutrition and human growth & development. Programs often ask that students have a 3.0 GPA in these particular courses.
Other items that are often requested include academic references or letters of recommendation, a current resume and a personal statement.
ASN to MSN Accelerated Program
If you don't already have a bachelor's degree, a faster path to the MSN is available by first earning an associate's degree in nursing (ASN) and obtaining licensure as an RN. You are then qualified for a number of programs that allow you to take a combined BSN-MSN program that is faster than either option alone. These programs usually give you advanced standing in a BSN program that transitions directly into an MSN program. You can expect an associate's degree to take about two years to complete, and then the BSN-MSN program can be completed in an additional two years if you attend full-time. That gets you the MSN in the same amount of time the standard BSN program would usually take.
An RN to MSN program will usually require an associate's degree in nursing from an accredited university along with an unencumbered RN license from that state. Other requirements can include a personal statement, academic references and a current resume. Some programs will ask that applicants have some experience working as a nurse before being accepted.
MSN Coursework Overview
The MSN is the level of education at which nurses usually begin to enter a field of specialty. The coursework is thus oriented to that specialty to a great deal. Some common specialties include cardiac care, HIV/AIDS, gerontology and pediatrics.
Given the focus on a specialty and the varying incorporation of BSN classes in accelerated programs, the coursework lineup can vary greatly. MSN programs nearly always have a practicum period in which students observe and assist at a patient care facility. While online MSN programs are available, students should expect any accredited program to require them to do the practicum in person at a facility in the area.
Whether you already have a bachelor's (or higher) in another field or have no undergraduate education whatsoever, you can obtain an MSN more quickly than you might think.