RN to MSN Programs in Pennsylvania

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, just over 20% of Pennsylvania’s 23,769 nursing students were pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing through specialized RN-MSN programs in 2013. Of these, nearly 75% were using the program to prepare for a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner (CRNP) or Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) certificate through the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing.

Advanced practice nurses such as these go on to providing advanced patient care in clinic and hospital settings, while MSN students in other tracks go on to fill crucial roles in hospital administration, education, policy development and clinical leadership.

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Not only do these nurses improve patient care and hospital working conditions, they earn higher salaries than they would with an undergraduate education. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, MSN-qualified nurse administrators in Philadelphia made an average of $28,000 more annually than their ADN and BSN prepared counterparts in 2011.

Nurses who pursue CRNP certification through an RN-MSN bridge program are also well suited to meet Pennsylvania’s growing healthcare needs and ease the shortage of primary care providers in the state. The Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners notes that 2.5 million state residents live in medically underserved areas that lack adequate primary care access.

Enrolling in an RN-MSN Bridge Program in Pennsylvania

RN-MSN programs are available to generalists, as well as those aspiring to become advanced practice clinicians, educators, informaticists or administrators.

RN to MSN bridge programs for ADN-educated nurses typically involve about 60 credits.

Required credits also depend on a student’s prior level of education.

Those with diplomas or ADNs will need to either complete a BSN before applying, or complete undergraduate bridge coursework in their program of study in conjunction with or in lieu of open electives.

Many institutions offer convenient online course options for working RNs, however most programs consist of hybrid of online and campus-based courses in addition to a practicum. Campus-based and hybrid programs are available at campus locations in the following cities:

  • Reading
  • Bloomsburg
  • Pittsburgh
  • Edinboro
  • Center Valley
  • Philadelphia
  • Lancaster
  • Latrobe
  • Erie
  • Newtown
  • Immaculata
  • Indiana
  • Scranton
  • Millersville
  • Dallas
  • Aston
  • University Park
  • Chester

After selecting a program, students will encounter enrollment requirements similar to the following as set by their institution of choice:

  • Diploma or associate’s degree in nursing at minimum
  • Complete an application for admission and pay a fee
  • Maintain a minimum GPA in prior coursework
  • Have at least one year of recent RN patient-care practice
  • Completion of a statistics course
  • Submit transcripts from all colleges or universities attended
  • Supply a copy of an unencumbered U.S. RN license
  • Obtain Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certification and submit GRE scores if applying as a nurse anesthetist
  • Write a personal goal statement
  • Submit three letters of recommendation
  • Complete a program interview
  • Pass a background check

General RN-MSN Course Outline

Nurses with diplomas or associate’s degrees will typically take undergraduate bridge courses before beginning graduate coursework, often in place of open electives early in the program. In some cases a BSN is then conferred at graduation along with an MSN.

Core RN-MSN coursework builds on an RN’s existing body of patient care knowledge, preparing graduates for greater levels of clinical responsibility and a better understanding of the workings of the healthcare system.

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Regardless of the area of focus, RN-MSN programs will generally be structured to include:

  • Master of Science core curriculum including courses in Leadership Development in Healthcare, Systems Thinking in Patient Safety, Applied Healthcare Accounting and Business Planning
  • Specialty courses in a student’s area of focus (education, administration, information systems, etc.)
  • A Master’s thesis or capstone course involving research and a final paper (in some cases this requirement is replaced with a final practicum course and project)

Students enrolled in an RN-MSN program with a CRNP track will also need to complete up to 750 clinical experience hours through advanced patient care rotations at medical facilities. Students in non-clinical track programs like education and administration will shadow professionals working in hospital administration and leadership.

Specialized CRNP/CNS Programs

Specialized RN-MSN bridge programs are available for students pursuing their MSN as a pathway to CRNP or CNS certification. Applicants typically choose this specialized option in their initial application along with a specific role and patient population focus. They then complete much of the general MSN coursework above in addition to courses pertaining to their chosen advance patient care role.

Specialized programs are available in Pennsylvania for the following roles and population foci:

  • Nurse Practitioner in Adult, Gerontology, Family Practice, Pediatric, Psychiatric/Mental Health, Pediatric, Neonatal or Women’s Health
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist in Acute or Primary Care, Oncology, Orthopedics

Note: Though Nurse Midwives and Nurse Anesthetists need advanced certification in most other states, they may practice in Pennsylvania with their RN license provided they complete an accredited degree program and obtain national certification credentials. For this reason they have not been included in the above list.

Students take courses pertaining to their role and foci, such as those below:

  • Complex Diagnosis and Management of Adults Across the Lifespan
  • Advanced Physical Assessment and Clinical Decision Making
  • Professional Role Issues for Nurse Practitioners
  • Health Care in an Aging Society

Transitioning into Employment as a CRNP or CSN in Pennsylvania

Prior to obtaining a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner or Clinical Nurse Specialist certificate through the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing, RN-MSN graduates are expected to obtain national certification credentials in their specific role and population focus. These are obtained through national credentialing bodies that maintain their own specialized applications and exams. After completing the appropriate application and passing the exam, a student may apply for certification at the state level.

Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing- Approved Credentialing Bodies

The following provide acceptable certification for Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners in Pennsylvania:

The following provide acceptable certification for Clinical Nurse Specialists in Pennsylvania:

After obtaining certification through the appropriate credentialing body, future advanced practice nurses must apply for the CRNP or CNS certificate with the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing. To do so, graduates must submit a complete an initial application for certification and submit proof of graduation from an accredited program and an official transcript, national certification credentials and a $100 fee to the Board. Those wishing to obtain prescriptive authority must have completed 45 hours of advanced pharmacology coursework and may submit a separate application and a $50 fee to do so.

Career Opportunities for CRNP and CNS Certified Nurses in Pennsylvania

As the Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners notes, advanced practice nurses are increasingly able to meet treatment gaps in the state, particularly in rural and medically underserved areas, and nurses who hold a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner or Clinical Nurse Specialist certification are well-qualified to meet these healthcare needs.

Below are some careers into which CRNPs and CNSs might transition as of March 2015:

  • Psychiatric Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner at Eagleville Hospital in Eagleville
  • General Medicine Nurse Practitioner Allegheny Clinic in Pittsburgh
  • Surgical NICU Nurse Practitioner at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia

Transitioning into Nursing Leadership Careers in Pennsylvania as an MSN Graduate

Graduates of RN-MSN bridge programs in tracks other than advanced practice are equipped to fill a variety of higher-level healthcare positions as a result of their training, and many transition into roles as nurse administrators, directors of nursing or human resource specialists at the same facilities where they worked as RNs. These nurses manage complex systems within their hospital or clinic and work to ensure a safe and healthy environment for patients and staff.

Other MSN degree graduates take positions as faculty with the state’s nursing education programs. Nurse educators work diligently to promote safety and best practices, and help ease the state’s nursing shortage by training the next generation of nurses that will be joining the workforce.

As of March 2015, some careers into which RN-MSN graduates might transition are:

  • Assistant Professor of Nursing at Millersville University in Millersville
  • Kidney Transplant Coordinator at UPenn Health System in Philadelphia
  • Clinical Director at UPMC St. Margaret in Pittsburgh

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