Registered nurses (RNs) earn an average median salary of $71,000, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 15% growth in the field. Advanced practice nurses earn nearly $114,000 per year with a projected 31% growth rate.
Current nurses and prospective nurses with no background in the field can advance their careers quickly by enrolling in nursing bridge programs. These programs provide an accelerated pathway to a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or a master of science in nursing (MSN), even for students with no prior nursing experience.
Students enrolled in bridge programs save time and money while increasing their earning potential. Keep reading to learn how nursing bridge programs work.
How Do Nursing Bridge Programs Work?
Nursing bridge programs offer an accelerated route to a nursing degree. While the structure and admission requirements for bridge programs vary depending on the program, they all provide a faster pathway to a nursing degree.
RN-to-BSN programs accept students with a current RN license and an associate degree in nursing. Admitted students complete their BSN in two years, or half the time of earning a BSN in a traditional program.
Similarly, direct-entry programs admit professionals with no prior nursing experience who seek a career change. Direct-entry MSN programs, for instance, accept applicants with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field. Once admitted, students earn their MSN in as little as two years.
Like other nursing programs, bridge programs offer online options for students seeking greater flexibility. Online bridge programs let students complete their coursework online while meeting lab and clinical requirements in the student's local area.
Benefits of Nursing Bridge Programs
Many nurses choose bridge programs to advance their careers. Accredited nursing bridge programs offer several benefits, including saving nurses time and money when earning their degree.
It's Faster Than a Traditional Program
- Nurses enroll in bridge programs because they save time. While earning a BSN typically takes four years for full-time students, an RN who enrolls in an RN-to-BSN bridge program can earn a degree in two years. Therefore, nurses can advance their careers faster and spend less time in school.
Nursing Students Receive Specialized, Focused Training
- Instead of completing additional general education requirements, students in accelerated BSN programs focus on nursing coursework and clinical requirements. Similarly, RNs who enroll in an RN-to-MSN program train as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, or nurse midwives. A bridge program offers specialized, focused training designed for the student's career goals.
Nurses Advance Their Career While Saving Money
- Earning a higher degree helps nurses advance their careers. Nurses need a BSN to qualify for many supervisory positions and an MSN for advanced practice roles. Bridge programs provide a pathway to career advancement for less money by saving on tuition costs. Instead of spending four years paying undergraduate tuition, RN-to-BSN students only pay for two years of tuition.
Types of Nursing Bridge Programs
Nursing bridge programs let nurses advance their careers in less time by granting credit for prior training. The right bridge program depends on the prospective student's current training and career goals.
LPN to BSN
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) interested in becoming registered nurses with a bachelor's degree can enroll in LPN-to-BSN bridge programs. These programs give LPNs credit for their prior healthcare training, saving them from enrolling in a four-year BSN program. Most LPN-to-BSN programs take two years, with the option to complete the degree on a part-time basis or while working. LPN bridge programs appeal to healthcare professionals who want to earn their RN license and BSN degree in less time.
LPNs expand their career opportunities by completing a BSN because the degree meets the qualifications for an RN license and for advanced positions in nursing. BSNs stand out in a competitive job market, with many employers preferring BSN degrees to RN degrees, and the degree typically means a higher salary than RNs without a bachelor's degree. A BSN also opens doors for managerial roles, such as nurse supervisor or nurse educator.
RN to BSN
One of the most popular nursing bridge programs, RN-to-BSN programs let registered nurses earn their bachelor of science in nursing in less time. Nurses receive credit for their prior nursing coursework, cutting the time to complete a bachelor's degree. Most RN-to-BSN programs require two years for full-time students, compared to the typical four-year pathway for BSN programs. Accelerated RN-to-BSN programs let students earn a BSN in less than two years.
Many RN-to-BSN programs offer flexible schedules, allowing nurses to continue working while earning their degree. Some programs admit both candidates with a nursing diploma or an associate degree, while others only accept those with an associate degree. All programs require a current RN license, particularly to complete clinical requirements. After earning their BSN, graduates pursue supervisory positions, increase their competitiveness on the job market, and prepare for master's programs in nursing.
An accelerated BSN program lets students without a background in nursing complete their BSN in as little as one year. Also called a second-degree BSN, accelerated BSN programs admit candidates who hold a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing subject. Admitted students complete BSN coursework, meet clinical requirements, and graduate with a second bachelor's degree in nursing. The bridge program lets professionals transition into nursing in less time than completing a BSN.
Accelerated BSN bridge programs require two years for full-time students, with the option to enroll on a part-time basis. Second-degree BSN students receive credit for the general education requirements completed during their first bachelor's degree, meaning they only complete focused nursing coursework and clinical rotations during the accelerated BSN. Graduates move into nursing positions in hospitals, doctors' offices, clinics, and other healthcare settings. A BSN also meets the requirements for many supervisory and educational positions.
RN to MSN
RNs considering careers that require a master's degree can enroll in a bridge RN-to-MSN program to advance their careers quickly. RN-to-MSN programs train nurses without a bachelor's degree for opportunities as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists. RNs can also enroll in programs designed for nurse administrators or nurse educators. By enrolling in an RN-to-MSN program, nurses save valuable time while earning their master's degree.
Applicants to RN-to-MSN programs typically need an associate degree in nursing and a current registered nursing license. Depending on the program, most RN-to-MSN degrees require one year to complete BSN requirements plus an additional two years for the master's coursework. Accelerated RN-to-MSN programs may take as little as two years. After graduation, nurses pursue advanced practice and management positions in their field. Advanced practice registered nurses will see exceptional job growth by 2026, with a 31% increase in job openings.
Direct-entry MSN programs help prospective nurses with no background in nursing enter the profession by completing their master's degree. To qualify for a direct-entry MSN program, applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing major. Once accepted into the MSN program, students gain advanced nursing training designed for those without a nursing background. The coursework covers BSN nursing skills and graduate-level nursing classes, preparing graduates for advanced nursing careers.
Direct-entry programs offer an accelerated pathway to a career as a nurse practitioner, a nurse administrator, or a nurse educator. As with other bridge programs, graduates must meet the requirements for an RN license and any other professional licenses before practicing. Direct-entry MSN programs typically take two years for full-time students, offering one of the fastest pathways to an advanced practice nursing career.