Highly educated nurses are becoming a necessity in today’s increasingly complex and specialized medical environment. While RNs may enter the field with an associate degree, the need for more advanced training is becoming more pronounced as much of the country suffers from a shortage of physicians and primary care practitioners. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation considers new education requirements a blueprint to better preparing nurses to take on leadership roles and care for an aging society. The Master of Science in Nursing is increasingly being seen as the level of education necessary to adequately prepare nursing professionals to meet the healthcare challenges that states like West Virginia face.
Among existing registered nurses, RN-MSN bridge programs are considered the preferred pathway to receiving the training and credentials that will be required in years ahead. These programs eliminate redundant coursework and allow working RNs to complete courses online. Programs can be completed in one to three years depending on the student’s previous education and the institution’s requirements.
There are many benefits that come along with the completion of an MSN degree. For one, there is a high demand for MSN-prepared nurses in several fields, especially clinical education, primary care, health policy consultation and research. RN to MSN programs allow nurses the ability to carefully choose a more specialized career path and earn a higher salary.
Since an MSN is the minimum requirement for APRN licensure, many RNs interested in advance practice go back to school to complete specialized RN-MSN bridge programs specific to their desired role and patient population focus.
The West Virginia Nurses Association is involved in a campaign to remove restrictive legislative language so as to allow APRNs to practice to the full capacity of their training in the absence of primary care physicians. This is important especially in the more rural areas of West Virginia that commonly experience a shortage of primary care physicians.
RN-MSN Completion Programs in West Virginia
Specialized RN-MSN programs allow students to really zero in on a specific area of practice in advanced practice, leadership, administration and research, however generalist programs are also available. These programs are available both online and on-campus and hybrid programs that combine both types of study are also available. Some specialties combine two areas of study to fully round out the role an RN. For example, Nursing Education and Nursing Administration are often offered together.
A growing number of community colleges and state universities are engaging in partnerships to make RN-MSN programs accessible and affordable. The West Virginia RN Board offers a listing of which colleges offer these programs in West Virginia. Cities that currently house campuses that offer these bridge programs include:
Many RN-MSN programs are offered completely online. This allows maximum flexibility for working RNs.
Entry into RN-MSN programs is highly competitive. Many programs encourage applicants to have a minimum of two years of full-time nursing experience to be considered as a candidate to the program. Steps to enrolling in an RN-MSN program in West Virginia typically include the following:
- Submit application to chosen institution.
- Submit official transcripts of post high school education with a minimum 3.0 GPA.
- Have an acceptable Graduate Record Exam (GRE) within five years of applying to program.
- Have minimum of two – three letters of professional reference.
- Answer application questions specific to degree specialty.
- Complete minimum prerequisite courses required by specific institution.
- Must have unencumbered RN license and have graduated from an L.N.A.C. or C.C.N.E. accredited school.
RN-MSN Program Structure
Total required hours and coursework varies by specialty, but RN-MSN bridge programs are typically about 48 credit hours in length. Courses may be organized in the following way:
- Core theoretical knowledge
- Nursing education or nursing administration foundations
- Elective support courses
- Capstone project
Specialized programs include the following, each of which will involve highly specialized coursework and clinical training in the respective area:
- Nurse Practitioner (in one of several patient population foci)
- Nurse Midwife
- Nurse Educator
- Clinical Nurse Leader
- Nursing Administration
- Psychiatric Mental Nurse Practitioner
RN-MSN Programs as a Pathway to APRN Licensure in West Virginia
Advanced Practiced Nursing (APRN) licensure is often the next step for MSN-educated nurses. The Institute for Medicine emphasizes the importance of senior-level nurses in today’s health care system, citing patient safety concerns in increasingly complex and specialized clinical environments.
Qualifying for APRN licensure after completing a master’s degree or higher in one of the four specialized roles involves passing a national certification exam specific to one of the four advanced practice roles. Specialty role certification candidates can pursue certification and schedule exams directly through the respective certification agencies:
- Certified Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) – National Board on Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA)
- Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP) – American Association of Critical Nurses (AACN), American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), and Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
- Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM) – American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB)
- Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)- American Association of Critical Nurses (AACN), and American Association of Critical Nurses (AACN).
Certification and the related exams are further specialized by the specific patient population group an advanced practice nurse will be working with.
Upon earning national certification, the next step is to apply for advanced practice licensure through the West Virginia RN Board.
Career Opportunities for MSN-Educated RNs in West Virginia
An MSN degree allows nurses to take their skills to the next level and opens up opportunities that include everything from specialized advanced practice roles, to non-clinical roles in education and administration.
The specialized education required for APRN certification and licensure gives these nurses the advanced knowledge needed to take on advanced clinical responsibilities, including prescriptive authority in some cases.
Just some of the career opportunities available to MSN-educated nurses in West Virginia as of February 2015 include:
- Nursing Faculty – West Liberty University, West Liberty
- Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner – WVU Health Sciences Center, Morgantown
- Clinical Coordinator – WVU Healthcare, Martinsburg
- Nurse Practitioner – Provider Health Services, Kanawha County
- Hospitalist Nurse Practitioner – Select Specialty Hospital, Charleston