RN to MSN Programs in California

The latest statistics from the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) reveal that there are more than 300,000 actively licensed RNs in California, representing the largest contingent of healthcare professionals in the State. California’s RNs tend to be ambitious and upwardly mobile, very often choosing to return to school to pursue additional nursing degrees. In fact, recent statistics found that about 30 percent of California’s RNs return to school to complete at least one post-licensure nursing degree.

As of 2013, the Board of Nursing reported that nearly 11 percent of all working RNs in California possess a master’s degree as their highest education.

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Other findings showed the proportion of nurses that completed a post-licensure Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, by area of specialty:

  • General nursing: 5.5 percent
  • Pediatric nursing: 5.1 percent
  • Nursing administration/leadership: 17.4 percent
  • Nursing education: 12.8 percent
  • Clinical nurse specialist: 6.7 percent
  • Nurse practitioner: 36.2 percent
  • Nurse anesthetist: 4.4 percent

These statistics reveal that a significant number of California’s RNs pursue RN-MSN programs as a pathway to advanced practice licensure. Still, a significant portion pursues a master’s degree in order to work in nonclinical roles such as education, informatics and administration.

RN to MSN Programs in California

Thanks to the large number of RN to MSN programs available in California and the more than 166 online RN to MSN programs available nationwide, RNs that want to specailize by completing a graduate-level education have more options than ever.

In California alone, there are nine campus locations for RN-MSN bridge programs in the cities of:

  • San Marcos
  • Los Angeles
  • Fullerton
  • San Rafael
  • San Francisco
  • Pomona

Online programs are ideal for today’s busy RNs, as they feature dedicated online coursework. Many campus-based programs also incorporate online learning through a hybrid platform that combines the two.

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Because California no longer offers diploma programs in nursing, most programs in California are aimed at nurses enrolling with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) (ADN to MSN or BSN to MSN).

Unlike separate BSN and MSN programs, an RN to MSN program takes into account a student’s prior experience and pre-licensure education, often allowing students to earn both a BSN and MSN at an excelerated pace:

  • Programs for nurses with an ADN – approximately 7-8 semesters and can also result in a BSN
  • Programs for nurses with a BSN – approximately 3-4 semesters

RN to MSN Tracks/Specializations

Although RN to MSN programs are generally similar in design and structure, as they include prerequisite, general education, and BSN requirements, graduate curriculum varies, as these programs allow students to focus their MSN degree on a specific nursing track or specialization.

Some programs may offer a generalist MSN degree or one that is focused on just one area, while other programs combine role, specialty and patient population focus.

The American Association of Community Colleges reports that most RN to MSN programs offer two or more specialty areas/tracks, which may include:

  • Clinical nurse leader/specialist
  • Nurse educator
  • Leadership and management
  • Community health
  • Nurse anesthetist
  • Nurse midwife
  • Ambulatory care
  • Nurse practitioner with a specific patient population focus (family/lifespan, adult/gerontology, pediatrics, neonatology, women’s health, mental health)

Admission Requirements

Admission into an RN to MSN program in California requires, at a minimum, a current and unencumbered RN license, an ADN, and the completion of all courses within the program’s pre-nursing core. Most institutions require students to have obtained a minimum GPA in their pre-nursing core coursework.

Further, most programs require students to maintain a minimum GPA while enrolled in the BSN portion of the program and possess at least one year of RN experience.

Graduate Course Requirements

Aside from the specific course requirements associated with the track or specialization the student has chosen, core graduate nursing requirements must be successfully completed. These often include:

  • Nursing research and evidence based practice
  • Advanced health assessment
  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Healthcare policy
  • Nursing research methods
  • Epidemiology for advanced practice nursing
  • Biostatistics for advanced nursing practice

Most RN to MSN programs culminate in a capstone/graduate project or thesis. A capstone project may be aimed at evidence-based innovation, a grant proposal, or an evaluation of a project or procedure.

RN-MSN Programs as a Pathway to APN Licensure in California

The California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) certifies public health nurses and advanced practice nurses (APNs). The four APN roles recognized in California are:

  • Nurse practitioners
  • Nurse-midwives
  • Clinical nurse specialists
  • Nurse anesthetists

Before an application for an APN specialty can be completed, graduates must take and pass a BRN-recognized national certification examination in the APN role they studied in their RN to MSN program. National certifying bodies recognized by the BRN include:

Nurse Practitioner:


Nurse Anesthetist

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Applications for all APN certifications can be found here. RNs seeking APN certification must complete an application and provide the Board with proof of their RN to MSN program completion and their national certification in the corresponding specialty for which they are applying.

Other Career Opportunities for MSN-Educated RNs in California

MSN-prepared RNs in California enjoy a wide array of professional opportunities, as is evident from recent job postings (examples as of March 2015):

  • Nurse practitioner-hematology/oncology: Murrieta
  • Nurse practitioner-director, health and wellness center: Bakersfield
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist, electrophysiology: Palo Alto
  • Clinical nurse specialist, ICU: Long Beach
  • Clinical nurse specialist, pediatrics/pediatric oncology: Sacramento
  • Director of nursing, surgical services: Santa Maria
  • Director of nursing, perioperative services, Oakland

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