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Question: What Are RN-to-BSN-to-MSN (Dual BSN/MSN) Programs?

Answer: For Registered Nurses (RNs) who hold an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma, RN-to-BSN-to-MSN programs provide a pathway to completing Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) requirements while working toward a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. These programs, which may also be designated as dual BSN/MSN programs, allow RNs without a BSN degree to earn an MSN degree in less time than it would take to earn a BSN and an MSN separately. Not all RN-to-MSN programs formally confer a BSN and an MSN degree; some only confer an MSN degree.

RN-to-BSN-to-MSN Programs

Nursing programs that offer an RN-to-BSN-to-MSN pathway are designed to accommodate RNs who hold a valid and unencumbered state nursing license but who have not completed a BSN program. This typically includes RNs who received training for licensure in an associate’s degree program or a hospital-based nursing diploma program. It may also apply to RNs who hold a bachelor’s degree in a discipline other than nursing.

The RN-to-BSN-to-MSN pathway allows RNs who want advanced training in the practice of nursing and the opportunity for career advancement that comes with earning a master’s degree to finish BSN requirements while working toward an MSN degree. In contrast to traditional, two-year MSN degree programs, which are designed for BSN program graduates, a dual BSN/MSN program enables students with an ADN or the equivalent to transfer and apply credits from prior undergraduate courses and clinical training toward the completion of BSN requirements in preparation for MSN coursework.

RNs who enter an RN-to-BSN-to-MSN program with an ADN or a nursing diploma can earn an MSN in three to four years, depending on the number of credits they are able to transfer into the program. Some programs formally confer a BSN degree once undergraduate crediting requirements have been met, while others do not. RNs who want a formal BSN degree should check with a program administrator to ensure that this is an option. It is not uncommon for RN-to-BSN-to-MSN programs to require that students maintain a minimum grade point average (GPA) in undergraduate coursework in order to remain eligible for formal enrollment in the MSN portion of the program.

RN-to-BSN Coursework

There are several components to an RN-to-BSN-to-MSN curriculum, the first of which varies depending on a student’s level of educational attainment. Some students may need to complete one or more undergraduate-level nursing courses before the conferral of a BSN degree. These may be referred to as “bridge” courses and they may include classes in:

  • Nursing Research
  • Clinical Nursing Practice
  • Public and Global Health
  • Information Systems in Healthcare
  • Evidence-Based Practice

In addition, students coming from ADN and nursing diploma programs have to meet undergraduate general education requirements in areas outside of nursing, including the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, and English composition. These requirements vary by program, and the specific courses needed to fulfill these requirements depend on how many general education credits a student carries into the program. Students who hold a bachelor’s degree in an area other than nursing often do not need additional general education courses. However, they may be required to enroll in additional nursing courses in order to meet the training requirements for a BSN degree.

MSN Coursework and Specializations

The MSN portion of a dual BSN/MSN curriculum also has several components. There are general MSN courses, which provide advanced instruction in clinical and administrative proficiencies. These may include: healthcare research and evidence-based nursing practice; healthcare policy and advocacy; quality improvement and safety; informatics and healthcare IT systems management; and organization leadership and communications. The core MSN curriculum often covers advanced practice training in pathology, pharmacology, and patient assessment protocols as well.

Another component of the MSN curriculum involves coursework in a specialized area of nursing practice. There are a number of different MSN specializations that are offered at the master’s level, including:

  • Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  • Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Nursing Administration/Executive Leadership
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Nursing Education
  • Quality, Safety and Risk Management
  • Public Health
  • Nurse Practitioner (NP)

At the master’s level, students take designated courses in their area of specialization and may have the option of choosing electives related to that area of practice. The MSN portion of an RN-to-BSN-to-MSN program commonly includes at least 500 hours of supervised practice in a clinical, administrative, or educational setting. These hours are generally completed within the area of specialization.

Admissions Requirements for RN-to-BSN-to-MSN Programs

The primary requirement for admissions to dual BSN/MSN programs is a valid and unencumbered state-issued RN license. Applicants should also be prepared to submit transcripts from previous academic programs, as well as an updated CV and any other relevant documentation regarding educational and professional experience. Depending on the selectivity of a particular program, admissions boards may have a minimum preferred or required GPA, and applicants may be asked to submit letters of recommendation and a short personal goals statement.

Some schools may require students to complete some of all of their general educational courses before enrolling in an RN-to-BSN-to-MSN program.

Dual BSN/MSN Programs

RN-to-BSN-to-MSN programs are offered in on-campus, online, and hybrid formats. It is important to note that these programs, whether online or campus-based, often include clinical hours that must be completed in person at an approved site (the requirement for clinical hours typically depends on the specialization). In most cases, students in an online program can complete their clinical hours at a geographically convenient location, although this is something applicants should confirm before applying to a program.

Schools offering online RN-to-BSN-to-MSN programs include:

MSN Careers & Certifications

Career paths for nurses who complete an RN-to-BSN-to-MSN program vary depending on the area of specialization. Graduates with training in nursing education typically become clinical nurse educators, while those with an MSN in executive leadership may move into mid- and upper-level administrative roles. CNSs, CNMs, CNRAs, and NPs fall into the category of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), which means they qualify for certification in their specialized area of practice. NPs have an additional level of specialization, which may lead to credentialing in adult care, acute care, family care, pediatric care, primary care, psychiatric care, neonatal care, or women’s health. While an MSN is required for these certifications, the credentialing process is separate from and takes place after the conferral of the master’s degree.

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