Nurses follow a unique professional trajectory that includes a complex assortment of certificates, degrees, exams, and credentials. This is most obvious with the position of a registered nurse (RN), which, while available to those with their associate degree, is often a professional distinction held by those with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
All this becomes even more complicated as nurses aim to rise through the ranks. Many hope to move into new specialties but may be reluctant to take time off work to pursue necessary degrees or other credentials. Therein lies the value of today’s top nursing bridge programs. As a strategic pathway designed to help nurses move up to the next rung on the career ladder, this opportunity allows nurses to continue working in the field. Meanwhile, they can acquire both the knowledge and experience needed to achieve greater autonomy and provide a higher standard of care.
Though many nurses might take advantage of a nursing bridge program at one time or another, many enter the profession with a limited understanding of how these programs function or why they even exist. We are excited to provide much-needed clarification. Keep reading to learn how nursing and nurse practitioner bridge programs work — and why they are such a vital part of modern nursing education.
The Advantages of Nursing Bridge Programs
Few professional training initiatives come close to reaching the scope of today’s nursing bridge programs. These span the full spectrum of nursing education, beginning with aspiring licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and extending through elite levels of practice such as the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). At every level, you can expect a range of compelling benefits, both personally and professionally
It Could Expand Your Knowledge
If there is one overarching reason to pursue further education through a bridge program, it is that the pursuit of knowledge is always valuable. The more you learn, the better care you can provide for your patients. Through nursing bridge programs, you will be exposed to a wealth of theoretical knowledge, as well as numerous hands-on learning opportunities.
Potential Time Savings
If you need an expedited path toward getting an advanced degree, a nursing bridge program may be your best bet. Because these programs are specifically designed to move nurses through the ranks promptly, they can often be completed in a few short years. Prior credits are easy to apply, and testing out is often an option. Further time savings can be gained by completing nursing bridge programs online, as this limits the need to fit an extra commute into your already packed schedule.
Potential Money Savings
Because nursing bridge programs can be expedited, they could allow for cost savings in the long run. Some bridge program participants may be able to secure tuition reimbursements or discounts from their employers, who recognize the value of continuing nursing education. Tuition and other costs can vary considerably from one program to the next, so it’s important to understand the costs and any financial assistance available as you consider pursuing a nursing bridge program.
Keep Working While You Pursue Your Degree
In addition to keeping tuition costs reasonable, nursing bridge programs benefit your budget by allowing you to continue to work full-time as you pursue your degree. With other fields of study, it can be incredibly difficult to juggle classwork with professional pursuits — but this is less of a problem for bridge programs, which are built for and around the working student.
There is also a practical component to helping you continue to work. Leaders in nursing education understand that healthcare professionals gain more valuable insight when they can immediately apply what they learn in the classroom in real-world clinical scenarios. This is more easily accomplished when students are gainfully employed in the healthcare industry.
Flexible Class Times
As a working student, you need maximum flexibility to accommodate both your academic and professional pursuits. That is exactly what bridge programs provide. As we have discussed, these programs are meant to meet the unique scheduling concerns of currently employed nurses. Many nursing bridge courses are available entirely online, with self-directed classes accommodating your busy work schedule.
Types of Nursing Bridge Programs
Nursing bridge programs take many forms, spanning all levels of the profession and even encompassing several specializations. Which type of program you pursue will ultimately depend on where you are currently at in your professional journey — and what you hope to accomplish next. The following are among the most common bridge programs:
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) Bridge Programs
Many people enter the healthcare profession as nursing aides or assistants but ultimately hope to become licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or licensed vocational nurses (LVNs). This represents a significant step up for hardworking employees, who, upon receiving LPN or LVN designation, can take on a wider range of clinical duties.
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) Bridge Programs
LPNs and LVNs must earn nursing diplomas in order to practice, but many hope to secure their associate degree. This promotes considerable progress towards both RN status and an eventual bachelor’s. ADN bridge programs provide preparation for the NCLEX-RN exam, as well as the opportunity to transfer credits towards a BSN.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Bridge Program
The BSN is increasingly the gold standard in RN education, so it is important for nurses to have a streamlined path toward earning this valuable degree. Hence, the popularity of today’s RN to BSN programs, which are among the most common bridge programs. Available with both term-based and competency-based modalities, these programs can typically be completed in just one or two short years. Students must already be licensed as RNs when applying and may already have earned a considerable share of the necessary credits via previous ADN programs.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Bridge Programs
Nurses who hope to enter advanced practice can pursue their MSN, which opens a whole new world of professional opportunities. The corresponding bridge program is known as the BSN to MSN, although there are also excellent dual-degree programs that enable current RNs to obtain both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. These dual degrees are appealing to the most ambitious RNs, who can feel confident in knowing that there is a defined pathway toward their greatest professional goals. Depending on the preferred modality, both degrees could potentially be obtained in two or three years.
Nurse Practitioner (NP) Bridge Programs
MSN programs allow RNs to pursue many types of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) specialties. Among these, one of the most popular is that of nurse practitioner. An MSN with a relevant NP specialization can help aspiring NPs prepare for board certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). Meanwhile, these targeted bridge programs pave the way to desirable credentials, such as:
- FNP-BC (Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified)
- AGPCNP-BC (Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified)
- PMHNP-BC (Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified)
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Bridge Programs
As advanced nursing’s terminal degree, the DNP is generally regarded as the highest academic level a nurse will achieve. This should not be confused with nurse practitioner, which is a role, not a degree. Often, nurses enter DNP programs with the intention of taking on leadership positions. Nurses who already qualify as APRNs may complete MSN to DNP programs, but BSN to DNP options could provide an alternate path forward for those who have yet to pursue graduate-level education.
Is a Nursing Bridge Program Right for You?
If you want to climb the nursing career ladder but also hope to avoid taking time off from your career, you will likely enroll in a nursing bridge program at some point. Eventually, the question will become not whether a bridge program is right for you but, rather, which program is best suited to your specific situation.
The best way to determine whether a particular nursing bridge online program is ideal? Consider exactly what you want to achieve with your nursing career. Do you want to reach a particular level of nursing or enter a specific niche? Many programs can help you achieve these goals, but it will be difficult to determine which is best suited to your situation until you have a clear understanding of your preferred career path.
Many nursing programs incorporate compelling specialty areas, which are particularly abundant for MSN and DNP degrees. If you hope to eventually earn one of the many targeted RN or APRN credentials that are available today, you will want to enter a bridge program that is tailored to your unique vision. Take a close look at which specializations are available at your preferred college, as well as the impact these could have on the length of the program.
Clinical or Capstone Requirements
Many nursing bridge programs include strict clinical requirements designed to promote hands-on experience in relevant healthcare settings. These practical experiences may count towards clinical requirements for becoming an RN. With advanced degree programs, capstones enter the picture, providing focused opportunities to dive into compelling research surrounding specific patient populations. This serves as the culmination of the MSN program and an exciting opportunity to pursue passion projects.
As you embark on a nursing bridge program, you want the peace of mind that only accreditation can provide. When in doubt, look to the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) to verify the quality of any program you are interested in completing. As the ultimate authorities in nursing education, these organizations perform strict evaluations and are highly trusted resources.
Online vs. On-Campus
If you are a busy nurse with limited free time, online coursework can make a world of difference. Instead of struggling to build your work schedule around in-person classes, you can complete coursework at a time and place that fits your busy schedule. This is also an excellent option if you are already employed and do not wish to relocate for the sake of getting another degree or credential.
There is no denying the value of expedited bridge programs, but it is important to acknowledge just how rigorous these can be. Many nurses are only able to sustain this increased level of commitment for a year or two. As such, program timelines must be closely examined prior to enrolling.
As previously mentioned, timelines may be influenced by the availability of multiple modalities, such as term or competency-based setups. Term-based programs take longer to complete but provide a sense of structure that many students find appealing. Competency-based programs can expedite academic timelines but tend to be rigorous and may require a lot more self-discipline.
Another consideration to keep in mind: the role of transfer credits. These could speed up your timeline if you already have your ADN and want to obtain your BSN next. Depending on transcript evaluations, you could potentially get up to 90 credits transferred. When possible, opt for programs in which general education credits do not expire.
Achieve Your Nursing Goals
If you are ready to step up your nursing practice, you can count on an excellent resource for assistance every step of the way: the American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Sciences at Post University. We offer a variety of nursing programs, including bridge solutions such as the RN to BSN and the RN to BSN/MSN. Contact us today to learn more about these exciting opportunities.
Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!
Please note jobs and/or career outcomes highlighted in this blog do not reflect jobs or career outcomes expected from any Post program. To learn more about Post’s program and their outcomes, please fill out a form to speak with an admissions advisor.
Professional credentials vary by state and include requirements outside of education, which may include exams, background checks, work experience, and more.