According to a report published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), a quarter of Washington’s 4,016 nursing students were enrolled in Master of Science in Nursing programs in 2013, many of which were registered nurses returning to school to complete RN to MSN bridge programs. Of these, more than 75% were pursuing MSN degrees as a pathway to advanced practice licensure, as reported by the Washington State Department of Health’s Nursing Commission.
As revealed in a 2014 Seattle Times article, Washington’s rural areas are strapped for primary care providers as its population ages and more people acquire healthcare through the Affordable Care Act. In the most challenged rural areas located east of the Cascades, there are only six doctors available to provide primary care to every 10,000 residents, nearly twice as many residents for every doctor as seen in the Puget Sound area. Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNP) are seen as the solution to the critical shortage of primary care providers in Washington’s rural communities.
MSN graduates also fill other crucial roles outside of the clinical environment as administrators, educators, and informaticists. Additionally, MSN qualified nurses earn much higher salaries than nurses with associate or baccalaureate-level preparation. In fact, a 2011 report released by the U.S. Department of Labor showed MSN-educated nurses in the Seattle area earning an average of $38,000 more per year than staff RNs.
Enrolling in an RN-MSN Bridge Program in Washington
Washington’s RN-MSN programs are available to generalists, as well as those aspiring to become advanced practice clinicians, educators, informaticists and administrators.
Most RN-MSN bridge programs are available online to better accommodate the schedules of working RNs. Still, many programs are comprised of both online and on-campus classes in addition to a clinical practicum. Students may choose from campus-based and hybrid programs through institutions located in the following cities:
Applicants will typically encounter the following admission requirements as determined by their academic institution:
- Have an associate’s degree in nursing at minimum
- Submit official transcripts from all universities attended
- Hold an active, unencumbered Washington state RN license
- Complete an admissions application and pay a fee
- Submit a resume and cover letter
- Submit two professional letters of recommendation
- Write a personal statement
- Complete an admissions interview
RN-MSN Bridge Program General Outline
Most RN-MSN bridge programs require about 60 credits that build on the knowledge and skills RNs have gained working in the field, and which can be completed in about three year’s time. Credit requirements are also determined by an RN’s prior level of education.
In accelerated RN-MSN programs, nurses with diplomas or associate’s degrees will typically take undergraduate bridge courses before beginning graduate coursework, often in place of open electives. In some cases a BSN is then conferred at graduation in addition to an MSN.
Regardless of the program’s focus, RN-MSN students will typically find programs include:
- Master of Science in Nursing core curriculum including courses in Professional Nursing Leadership, Population Health and Financial Management in Healthcare
- Specialized courses pertaining to a student’s area of interest (leadership, administration, informatics, advanced clinical practice, etc.)
- A Master’s thesis or capstone project (in some cases students are enrolled in a corresponding class, while in others the project is completed outside of class)
Students preparing for non-clinical roles will shadow professionals in their area of focus, while those in an ARNP track will complete clinical rotations in advanced patient care at a medical facility working in partnership with their institution.
Specialized ARNP Programs
Specialized RN-MSN bridge programs are available for nurses looking to pursue careers in advanced patient care as Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners. These programs are specific to the ARNP role and patient population focus.
Schools in Washington offer programs for the following ARNP roles and patient population foci:
- Nurse Practitioner in the Family, Pediatric, Neonatal, Psychiatric/Mental Health, Acute Care, Adult, Diabetes Management or Gerontological
- Nurse Midwife
- Nurse Anesthetist
Note: Many MSN programs are available in Washington for Clinical Nurse Specialists. While these nurses practice advanced patient care similar to that of the ARNP roles, they are not currently required to be licensed as ARNPs in Washington and as such may practice with their RN license provided they are graduates of an accredited program.
In addition to core MSN courses, students in these advanced practice specialty tracks will take classes tailored to their specific role and patient population focus.
Becoming a Licensed Advanced Practice Nurse in Washington
Before obtaining an ARNP license through the Washington Department of Health’s Nursing Commission, candidates must be certified by national credentialing bodies in their respective roles and patient population foci. These bodies each maintain a specific set of standards, an independent application process, and a credentialing exam that students must pass before being certified.
Washington Nursing Commission-Approved Credentialing Bodies
The following certifying bodies provide acceptable certification for Nurse Practitioners (NPs) in Washington:
- American Academy of Nurse Practitioners for Family, Psychiatric/Mental Health, Acute Care, Adult, Diabetes Management or Gerontological NPs
- American Nurses Credentialing Center for Family, Psychiatric/Mental Health, Acute Care, Adult, Diabetes Management or Gerontological NPs
- Pediatric Nursing Certification Board for Pediatric NPs
- National Certification Corporation for Obstetric, Gynecological, and Neonatal Nursing for Neonatal NPs
Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) must be certified through the American Midwifery Certification Board.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) must be certified through the National Board of Certification & Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists.
After obtaining certification, graduates may apply for their ARNP license with the Nursing Commission by submitting these national credentials along with an application, fee and official transcripts.
Career Opportunities for ARNP-Licensed Nurses in Washington
With just one primary care provider per 1,500 people in some rural areas of Washington, new ARNP graduates find themselves in high demand at hospitals and clinics looking to meet the primary care needs of Washington’s residents. Many ARNPs choose to go into independent practice, opening clinics of their own.
A sampling of the jobs available to Washington’s ARNPs as of March 2015 are shown here for illustrative purposes:
- Family Practice Nurse Practitioner at Valley View Health Center in Chehalis
- Certified Nurse Midwife at Valley Medical Center in Renton
- Certified Nurse Anesthetist at Catholic Health Initiatives in Lakewood
Transitioning into Other High-Level Healthcare Roles as an MSN Graduate
RN-MSN bridge programs also prepare graduates to take on crucial non-clinical roles in nursing administration and human resource management, as well as information systems and informatics. Nurses in these positions exercise high levels of responsibility and expertise and are an essential part of keeping a hospital or clinic running smoothly.
Still, other MSN graduates specialize in nursing education and go on to become professors and other faculty members in the halls of academia. These leaders ensure students learn the latest, most effective patient care methods and help ease nursing shortages in Washington by increasing enrollment to nursing programs and training the nurses that enter the field each year.
Shown here for illustrative purposes, some positions into which RN-MSN bridge program graduates might transition include (as of March 2015):
- Clinical Nurse Educator at the University of Washington in Seattle
- Women’s Health Care Coordinator at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Lakewood
- Clinical Services Manager at Pacific Northwest Fertility Specialists in Seattle