If you've recently encountered a mention of an RN to MSN bridge program for the first time, it's understandable if you're puzzled about what, exactly, this terminology means. You might or might not be aware that "RN" means "resident nurse" and that "MSN" refers to a Master of Science degree in nursing. When it comes to the part about the bridge, you'd be correct if you've already concluded that we're not talking about either the card game or the infrastructure that connects one riverbank to another, allowing you to safely pass over the water flowing underneath. So what, exactly, does the word "bridge" mean when it is used in this sense? What is an RN to MSN bridge program, anyway?

In this case, the word "bridge" is metaphorical. It is, indeed, a connector — only what it connects is an educational gap. A bridge program can bridge the academic gap for someone who holds a nursing diploma or associate's degree but wants to earn a Master of Science degree in the field of nursing. Let's discuss some situations where bridge programs could help current or aspiring nurses meet their academic and career goals.

Situation #1: A Registered Nurse Wants to Further Her or His Academic Credentials in the Fastest Possible Way.

It's possible to become a registered nurse simply by obtaining a nursing diploma or an associate's degree; a bachelor's degree or master's degree is not a necessary prerequisite for a nursing career. In cases where a licensed, practicing RN without a bachelor's degree wants to obtain a master's degree, completing a bridge program can be the fastest way to accomplish that goal. Some bridge programs grant MSN degrees upon successful completion without requiring students to have obtained their bachelor's degrees. The required coursework in bridge programs like this typically includes the material required for both degrees in the most efficient possible manner.

Most bridge programs are structured with the flexibility necessary to enable working RNs who have busy schedules to earn their Master's degrees quickly without giving up their current nursing jobs. Many bridge programs feature online learning options that allow RNs to study at their own convenience.

Situation #2: Someone Who Already Has an Unrelated Bachelor's Degree Wants to Change Careers to Become an Advanced Practice Nurse.

This is a less common situation than situation #1 described above; not all bridge programs are intended to accommodate career changers who decide they want to become advanced practice nurses after previously having pursued unrelated work. Staff members in some nursing bridge programs are willing and able to accommodate students in this type of scenario. If you find yourself in this situation, expect to spend significant time discussing your educational and career goals with your chosen institution's staff, mapping out your academic schedule and figuring out which of your prerequisite courses would be eligible for transferring. To qualify for most bridge programs, you may also have to independently obtain your RN license prior to beginning your studies.

We hope these insights provided you with a better understanding of what nursing bridge programs are all about. If you'd like more information about RN to MSN bridge programs, we encourage you to research them further at the US News website.

See also:10 of the Cheapest Nursing Degree Programs