Entry-level MSN degrees—also referred to as generic, second-degree, accelerated, and direct-entry MSN degrees—are specifically designed for students that already possess a bachelor’s or graduate degree in a discipline other than nursing.
Entry-level MSN degree programs take between 2 and 3 years to complete. Students complete their baccalaureate-level content and initial RN licensure within the first year of the program. These fast-paced programs provide a challenging environment for students that have already proven their ability to succeed in post-secondary studies.
In 2014, there were 6,219 students enrolled in entry-level MSN programs, an increase from 5,930 in 2013. Similarly, 2,325 students graduated in 2014, an increase from 2,162 in 2013.
Why a Direct-Entry MSN Program?
The future of our nation’s healthcare depends on nurses who can function in and effectively manage a highly complex patient-care environment. To help ensure safe, effective, top quality patient care well into the future, the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice recommends that at least two-thirds of the nation’s nursing workforce possess a bachelor’s degree or higher.
But there’s a problem: According to the American Association for Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the current demand for master’s- and doctorate-prepared nurses who can take on roles in advanced practice, clinical specialties, teaching, and research roles far outstrips the supply.
This is one of the reasons why a number of professional authorities, including the Institute of Medicine, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Tri-Council for Nursing, among others, encourage all nurses to strive for higher levels of education – including graduate-level preparation. This is just one of the reasons why institutions have expanded their graduate program offerings to cater to students that already hold bachelor’s degrees in non-nursing majors.
Called entry-level Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees, these programs, like their traditional MSN counterparts, prepare students for a variety of roles in administration, research, informatics, teaching, and direct patient care.
Career Opportunities for MSN Graduates
Entry-level MSN degrees prepare students to practice in a number of direct and indirect care roles. Direct care MSN nurses typically serve as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), who provide primary, preventive, and specialty care in a variety of roles in acute and ambulatory care settings. Their graduate education allows them to perform a wide array of services, including:
- Prescribing medications
- Performing minor procedures
- Ordering diagnostic tests
- Diagnosing and managing common acute and chronic diseases
Nurses serving as APRNs may work in one of four recognized roles:
- Nurse practitioner (NP): Essential provider of primary and acute care
- Clinical nurse specialist (CNS): Practice is defined by a population, setting, or disease type
- Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA): Provides anesthesia care for individuals across the lifespan
- Certified nurse-midwife (CNM): Provides a full range of primary health services, including gynecologic and obstetric care, childbirth, and care of the newborn
Clinical nurse leaders also provide direct patient care. Their role includes overseeing the coordination of care for patients, assessing risk, developing quality improvement strategies, facilitating team communication, and implementing evidence-based solutions.
Indirect care roles for MSN graduates include:
- Nurse researchers: Scientists who investigate ways to improve healthcare services and patient outcomes
- Nurse educators: Prepare new nurses and advance the development of practicing clinicians
- Nurse administrators: Serve in a variety of managerial and leadership capacities in all practice environments
- Public health nurses: Focus on preserving the health and well-being of the public
- Nurse informaticists: Seek to improve information management and communications in nursing
- Nurses in public policy: Work to shape public policy at the federal, state, and local levels
Nurses with MSN degrees may serve in a number of other roles, including:
- Case management
- School nursing
- Military officers
What to Expect from Direct-Entry MSN Programs
There are currently 64 entry-level MSN programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), with another nine programs in the planning process. The AACN maintains a list of these entry-level MSN programs.
Just a few of these program titles include:
- Accelerated Masters in Nursing Pathway (AMNP)
- 2nd Degree Accelerated Master’s Degree Program
- Entry Level Master of Science in Nursing (ELMSN)
- Master’s Entry Clinical Nurse (MECN)
- Direct Entry MSN
- Entry-Level Master’s (ELM)
- Alternate Entry Master of Science in Nursing (AE-MSN)
- Master of Science for Entry to the Profession of Nursing (MEPN)
Students of entry-level accelerated MSN programs apply their general education and science credits from their bachelor’s or master’s degree program, thus allowing them to focus on a rigorous program of nursing theory and clinical work.
Most institutions design these fast-track programs to allow students to complete the requirements for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) first, and then enter into a more specialized track of study for their MSN degree. A few programs also require students to practice as an RN after completing the BSN component of the program (and after passing the NCLEX-RN and becoming state licensed as a registered nurse) so as to allow them to gain valuable clinical experience and an understanding of the nursing profession as they complete their MSN.
Many entry-level MSN programs require students to choose their area of study when applying to the program, and not all institutions offer the same specialties.
Admissions into entry-level MSN program tends to be highly competitive, with applicants required to:
- Possess a bachelor’s degree or higher from a regionally accredited college or university
- Provide proof of the completion of specific prerequisite courses with a minimum GPA
- Sit for an entrance interview
- Submit letters of recommendation that attest to personal and academic competence
- Submit a comprehensive resume
Required prerequisites generally include:
- General chemistry
- Human lifespan development
- Human nutrition
- Anatomy and physiology
- Human physiology
- Organic chemistry
- General psychology
- Research methods
- English composition/writing
Students must complete prerequisites before they can apply to the program if they haven’t already done so. Many institutions offer online courses to allow students to complete these requirements in a timely fashion.
An entry-level MSN allows students to develop expertise in a specialized area of nursing. Master’s level study incorporates nursing science and its applications, as well as the management of care.
Students complete theory and clinical courses during the first half of their MSN program, followed by a clinical residency. Although much of the program design depends on the chosen area of specialization, core coursework in an entry-level MSN program often includes:
- Pathophysiology across the lifespan
- Health assessment across the lifespan
- Concepts and competencies across the lifespan
- Nursing pharmacology
- Concepts and competencies across the lifespan
- Nursing research for evidence-based practice
A clinical residency involves an intensive period of clinical education under the direct supervision of a clinical preceptor and supported by the clinical faculty of the graduate program. Most institutions pair students with clinical partners at various hospitals and healthcare settings throughout the community.
Graduates of entry-level MSN programs that focused their graduate nursing education on an APRN role may take the appropriate national certification examination to receive recognition in a specific APRN role and achieve state licensure as an advanced practice nurse.