RN to MSN Programs in Illinois

Not only is Illinois expected to experience a nursing shortfall of 21,000 licensed nurses by the year 2020 – not a large enough proportion of active nurses in the state are expected to have the advanced skills necessary to meet the needs of the state’s residents at that time.

To face the state’s future health care demands, nurses in Illinois are going back to school in greater numbers and earning higher degrees. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nurses (AACN), in 2013 there were 5,845 students enrolled in MSN degree programs in Illinois. This pales in comparison to a statewide total nursing workforce of nearly 178,000, of whom only 4.8 percent are APN-qualified.

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In 2013, there were 3,911 nursing students in specialized MSN programs preparing for Advanced Practice Nurse (APN) licensure in Illinois. Still, many nurses also pursue MSN programs in order to work in non-clinical areas like education, leadership, management, and research.

Many RN to MSN progression programs provide a flexible online format that lets nurses maintain their jobs while pursuing an education. Allowing nurses to study and work at the same time is important to maintain a vibrant and educated nursing workforce. A landmark study published by a team at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2009 concluded that all nurses should earn an MSN within a decade of becoming hired. This was out of recognition of future heath care challenges, and largely based on research that has revealed how nurses with MSNs positively affect patient outcomes.

RN to MSN Degree Programs in Illinois

Illinois is home to at least two-dozen MSN graduate programs, many of which offer a bridge curriculum for RN to MSN completion.

Schools of nursing offer several types of RN to MSN programs. Many of the beginning core courses in these programs are similar, however as nurses progress in their graduate studies they will have the option to differentiate their education, earning any of the following types of MSN degree:

  • Generalist MSN
  • MSN in Health Care and Nurse Administrator
  • MSN in Nursing Systems and Informatics
  • MSN in Community Health or Occupational Health
  • MSN in Nursing Education
  • MSN in Clinical Nurse Leadership
  • MSN in an area of Advanced Practice Nursing (APN)
    • Nurse Midwife
    • Nurse Practitioner
    • Clinical Nurse Specialist
    • Nurse Anesthetist

Schools of nursing in Illinois offer students several options and a great deal of flexibility when it comes to completing an RN to MSN program:

  • Many programs are offered entirely or partially online to accommodate a busy work schedule
  • Full-time students can complete programs in as little as three semesters, while students who want to take their time can complete their program more slowly
  • Programs accept nurses who have varying levels of education, including a nursing diploma, ADN, or BSN
  • Programs that accept nurses with a diploma or ADN can result in a BSN along the way to an MSN
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Admission Requirements to Illinois’ Schools of Nursing

Nursing schools in Illinois each have their own admission requirements for RN to MSN programs. Candidates can expect to encounter requirements such as the following:

  • Degree requirements, such a Nursing Diploma, an ADN, or a BSN
  • Written essay
  • Professional references
  • Must be a licensed RN in Illinois
  • Must be admitted to the main college or university
  • Minimum GPA requirements
  • Completed nursing prerequisites
  • Minimum test scores, such as on the GRE or ACT

RN to MSN Curriculum

The curriculum for an RN to MSN program depends on what level of education the prospective nurse has already attained.

Nurses with a Diploma or ADN:

If nurses are entering with a Nursing Diploma or ADN they will need to start by taking any outstanding prerequisites to reach the graduate level. Upon reaching this level, nursing schools often offer the option of earning a BSN. Completing these courses can take anywhere from three to five semesters for full-time students:

  • Statistics
  • Professional and community health nursing
  • Healthcare information systems
  • Nursing health assessment
  • Evidence based practices and nursing

Nurses at the BSN Level:

Nurses who have already earned a BSN can complete an RN to MSN bridge program in as little as three semesters in schools that offer accelerated tracks. Typically programs will start with courses that bring a nurse’s education and experience up to a common academic starting point so a class is on the same page. At this point nurses can start taking their core graduate-level courses. These courses will total around 44 credits/three semesters:

  • Advanced nursing fundamentals
  • Foundational concepts and applications of advanced nursing
  • Fundamentals of nursing informatics
  • Advanced nursing research methods
  • Healthcare policy and nursing issues
  • Courses that relate to a specialized MSN degree, such as:
    • Advanced Practice Nursing (APN) areas
    • Nursing education
    • Nursing clinical leadership
    • Nursing administrative leadership

Nursing Clinicals

Clinicals are a part of any RN to MSN program, and nurses will already be familiar working in a clinical environment. Because many students complete their education online, nursing schools make clinical agreements with health care facilities at locations throughout Illinois, the region, and even the nation. Distance learners have the possibility of finding a clinical location nearby that is associated with their school of nursing.

Clinical locations can include places like:

  • Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago
  • Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn
  • Saint Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates
  • Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge
  • NorthShore Evanston Hospital
  • Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
  • Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana
  • Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet
  • Rockford Memorial Hospital


RN to MSN Programs as a Path to APN Licensure in Illinois

Many nurses pursue the RN to MSN track because it will prepare them for an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN) License, issued by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).

The IDFPR issues APN licenses for four broad categories of nurses:

  • Nurse Midwife
  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Nurse Anesthetist

MSN programs can offer special tracks that prepare nurses for one of these specific categories as well as additional sub-categories.

Once nurses have an MSN they will need to become certified in their APN area of practice by an approved national organization. The APN Application includes a complete list of approved organizations for each of the four categories or additional sub-categories of APN specialization.

RN to MSN Programs as a Path to Other Careers

Illinois nurses who have an MSN have additional career options besides APN licensure. Nurses can choose among a variety of programs that offer general MSN degrees as well as specialized MSN courses of study that are tailored to:

  • Future nursing teachers
  • Community health nurse leaders
  • Nursing researchers and informaticists
  • Lead nursing administrators
  • Nursing clinical directors

For example, a survey of job vacancies in Illinois taken in February of 2015 found the following announcements seeking nurses with an MSN:

  • RN Clinical Coordinator at a medical center in Chicago
  • Ambulatory Administration Staff Nurse at a college in Chicago
  • Adjunct Nursing Instructor at a school in Springfield
  • Transplant Nurse Coordinator at a clinic in Chicago
  • Clinical Coordinator at a medical center in Aurora
  • Director of Nursing with an emergency services company in Galesburg
  • Director of Hospital Performance Improvement and Regulatory Review at a facility in Chicago
  • NCLEX-RN Instructor
  • System Director of Quality with the Sinai Health System in Chicago

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