Nursing Bridge Programs: An In-depth Look at What They Are and How They Work
Have you been working as a nurse for some time and are you starting to feel like it’s time to move ahead in your career? At the same time, are you having reservations about going back to school and going through the lengthy and costly process of getting a degree from scratch?
If you already have some type of nursing degree, the good news is you can opt for a nursing bridge program – an accelerated educational path from your current nursing level to the more advanced one you have your heart set on.
There’s more to nursing bridge programs than meets the eye. In this guide, we will explore what bridge programs are, what they offer, what types of programs exist, who they are meant for, and much more.
So, if you are looking for a way to advance your education, stick around for an in-depth look at nursing bridge programs.
What Is a Bridge Program?
Before we go into the in-depth exploration of nursing bridge programs, it’s worth taking a moment to clarify what a nursing bridge program is. As the name suggests, bridge programs aim to do one thing: to bridge the educational gap between your current nursing level and a more advanced level of knowledge and skill. If you are currently an LPN and want to become a Registered Nurse, an LPN-to-BSN bridge program would be a good option for you. Or, if you are already an RN and wish to advance to a Master’s level, RN-to-MSN might be a path worth considering.
These types of programs allow you to transition to a more advanced level of nursing in a fairly short period of time and with less of a financial burden. They will build on your preexisting knowledge and help you make the journey to a higher degree smoother and faster.
According to the Future of Nursing, an Institute of Medicine book, bridge programs and educational pathways that link undergraduate and graduate programs are also a way to meet and support the growth of healthcare careers, as well as ensure higher diversity in the student body and among nursing faculty.
Moreover, bridge programs that prepare nurses for higher levels of nursing practice are regarded highly by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), which places special emphasis on lifelong learning among RNs. The AACN encourages employers to offer incentives for RNs who seek to advance their education to BSN and higher degree levels. Afterall, BSN degrees (and higher) help clinicians be better prepared to meet the demands placed upon today’s nurse.
What Types of Nursing Bridge Programs Are There?
There are so many options available, tailored to different needs and ambitions. What they all have in common is that, by building on previous learning, they will provide you with the education necessary to move forward in your nursing career. You need to find the one that fulfills your personal educational demands. Below are some of the most common nursing bridge programs available.
CNA to RN
Certified Nursing Assistants who have decided that they want to move ahead in the nursing field can choose to enroll in an RN program. Completing an RN program can take between two and four years, depending on whether you go the ADN or BSN route. As a CNA, based on your previous experience and knowledge, that time will be cut down. The difference may be as high as six months due to some of the CNA course credits being transferable to RN programs.
For example, some courses you may have to take in your Nursing Assistant bridge program include Anatomy and physiology, personal care/patient hygiene, vital signs, nutrition, medical terminology, and communication. Many of these concepts will either be introduced as prerequisites or will be studied in the first semester of the nursing program. CNAs can generally transfer those credits to their advantage.
Also, since your CNA role already exposed you to the healthcare field and has gained you some bedside experience, transitioning to an RN role may seem less daunting.
Paramedic to RN
There are also opportunities for Paramedics looking to transition into Registered Nursing careers. Becoming an RN after having gained experience as a Paramedic is a fantastic progression that will result in higher pay and a wider array of job opportunities.
Paramedic-to-RN bridge programs take around three semesters to complete. Building upon their pre-existing knowledge and skills, the programs offer a curriculum that broadens their scope of practice. As part of the coursework, learners will get familiar with nursing theory, patient care planning, mental health nursing, and more.
LPN to RN
There’s also a specific, accelerated educational path for Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) who want to advance their education and career to the Registered Nurse level. LPN-to-RN programs use your LPN education as a stepping stone to a more comprehensive curriculum offered at a faster pace. There are two options for Licensed Practical Nurses looking into becoming an RN: LPN-to-ADN and LPN-to-BSN. Both programs fit the “bridge” mold since they will consider your previous education and nursing experience and shorten the time needed to complete the degree. The focus in LPN-to-RN programs is more on developing clinical skills and enhancing decision making.
LPN to ADN
The shortest route from LPN to RN is by pursuing an ADN bridge program. The program length will not exceed one or two years and as a result you will be eligible for most entry-level RN positions. You can find this type of program at community colleges, vocational schools, and certain universities.
LPN to BSN
An LPN-to-BSN takes slightly longer – two to four years – but in the end you graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. As a BSN trained nurse, the responsibilities, as well as the job perks, increase significantly. You will have more autonomy, will be eligible for more promotions and receive higher pay. You can also choose to specialize in an area of nursing that’s of particular interest to you, like pediatrics, geriatrics, or orthopedics.
There are many reasons to transition from LPN to RN. The $30,000 bump in paycheck may be one of them. The possibility of having a higher level of autonomy and a wider pool of job opportunities is another. In the end, you decide what drives your decision to advance your education.
The admission requirements for LPN-to-RN program may vary from school to school, but typically they will include your PN certification, prerequisites, transcripts, a minimum GPA and ACT or SAT scores.
RN to BSN
RN-to-BSN might be one of the most common nursing bridge programs. They offer ADN or diploma prepared nurses the educational environment to improve their clinical reasoning and analytical skills to advance their nursing careers. RN-to-BSN programs will take into account the RN’s previous coursework and professional experience, and from there will offer courses that prepare them for a broader scope of practice and for more responsibilities.
This type of bridge program has become significantly more important in recent decades due to the push for BSN-trained professionals in the healthcare industry. Magnet hospitals and academic health centers already require BSN as the minimum requirement for certain positions. The IOM has been advocating for an 80% BSN nursing workforce for years. Also, employers from the healthcare industry have a strong preference for BSN RNs.
Now, there are more than 770 RN-to-BSN programs available in the country. Out of these, more than 600 are offered at least partially online. It takes one or two years to complete an RN-to-BSN program. Upon completion, you can have the perks of working as a BSN nurse.
RN to MSN
RNs with diplomas or Associate Degrees can also transition to the Master’s degree level. This boost in education is perfect for Registered Nurses who want to move up even higher up the professional ladder. The bridge program prepares you for very specialized nursing roles, Clinical Nurse Leader positions or careers in administration, teaching, or research.
For bridge MSN programs you can expect to spend up to three years in school mastering graduate nursing content. Requirements may vary by institution. Also, the length of the program adjusts depending on the learner’s previous academic and professional experience. Most RN-to-MSN programs are offered in traditional classroom environments. In the last few years however, online or blended RN-to-MSN bridge programs have been gaining more traction.
Bridge MSNs are a particularly great option for RNs interested in a teaching career. An MSN will prepare you for teaching in clinical settings and entry-level nursing programs. It can also serve as a first step en route to a doctoral degree, should you aim to teach in senior colleges and universities; but you can pursue a Nurse Educator career even without a PhD or DNP.
RN-to-MSN is an alternative for aspiring Nurse Practitioners, as well. An MSN is the minimum educational requirement for NPs. Even if you did not take the traditional BSN and then MSN path, you can still qualify for this role with an NP bridge program. This Nurse Practitioner bridge program will use your preceding knowledge as the groundwork and will build on top of that. Upon completion of the degree, you will be able to seek out NP positions which involve more responsibility, but also higher pay, increased autonomy, and better benefits.
BSN to DNP or PhD
Are you wondering what the appropriate credential is if you want to work toward leadership positions, advanced faculty roles, or highly specialized nursing posts? For those, you will likely require a doctoral degree. In nursing, a doctorate can go in either one of two directions. If you find yourself interested in advancing nursing practice through research, a PhD is your best bet. If you want to focus on advanced practice nursing, then you should consider a DNP: Doctor of Nursing Practice.
Should you be attracted to the idea of a doctoral degree, the good news is that you can enroll in a bridge BSN to DNP or PhD program and get there faster.
The Advantages of Nursing Bridge Programs
The list of benefits of nursing bridge programs is extensive and each aspiring learner can find a good reason to consider them. All in all, the pros of these programs fall into three big categories:
It will save you time
Going the nursing bridge program route will help you earn your degree faster compared to what it would take if you were to choose the traditional path. Sometimes, it may even cut the time spent studying by half. Also, many bridge programs are either offered year-round or have multiple start dates. That is an improvement considering that traditionally, college courses have two start dates per semester, making it less flexible.
Also, bridge programs either have shorter waitlists or none at all. Nightingale College has a no waitlist policy. That translates into you having more control over when you start your nursing program. Lastly, given that the majority of nursing bridge programs are offered online, in the long run that will also save you time in terms of travel, going to and from class, and so on. Of course, you will still have to travel to your clinical rotation appointments, but lectures and assignments will happen mostly online.
It will save you money
Bridge programs tend to be less expensive than the traditional college degree. While the tuition may or may not be cheaper (depending on the institution), you can save a lot of money by avoiding boarding costs, travel expenses, childcare expenditures, and other beyond-tuition costs.
RN bridge programs are a lot more flexible. You may be able to keep working while studying to advance your degree, which will allow you to both gain experience in the field and save money while you’re at it.
It will expand your knowledge
In the nursing field, continuous learning is paramount. If you want to be a successful Registered Nurse, you have to keep improving your skill set and knowledge throughout your career. Advancing your degree is a great way to stay on top of the game. It helps you always be ready to tackle the new challenges and embrace new developments. There are no shortage of studies proving that nurses with more advanced degrees are linked to better patient outcomes, lower mortality rates, and improved hospital performance. By enrolling in a bridge program and furthering your education you give yourself the space to become a better nurse.
What Do You Need to Take into Account When Considering Bridge Programs?
Going back to school is an important decision that you need to consider carefully. Bridge programs, even with their money and time-saving capabilities, are no exception. So, what are some of the factors you need to keep in mind when pursuing a bridge program?
Your Professional Goals
Currently, you can still practice as a Registered Nurse by getting a nursing diploma or an ADN degree. You don’t necessarily need a BSN or an MSN in order to get licensed and get a job as an RN. But if you want to grow in your profession, if you would like a pay-bump and access to more job opportunities, then you need to start considering advancing your education. Your academic credentials need to line up with your professional goals. Successfully completing a bridge program, whether RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN or other bridge program, will put you on the path to career growth in a faster and more efficient manner.
The Accreditation of the Institution
Accreditation matters! You want the school and the program you are enrolling in to be approved and accredited. Otherwise, you may not be able to sit for the NCLEX, and as you already know, passing this exam is the main prerequisite for becoming a Registered Nurse. Most institutions will also not accept credits from non-accredited programs, so that will make it harder for you to advance your education even further, should you want to do so. Even employers see an institution’s accreditation as a stamp of approval – a sign of the program’s quality. So, the accreditation of the institution has the potential to impact your hiring perspectives.
Before deciding on a bridge nursing program, make sure it’s accredited by the relevant accrediting bodies. While accreditation is not mandatory for institutions, it’s in your best interest to seek it.
Nursing bridge programs still require you to complete a certain number of clinical rotations or lab work. Some programs will help students set their clinicals at local facilities, while others will expect you to find a clinical site and arrange your own experiential sessions. Make sure you iron out all the details before enrolling, so that you know what to expect and can properly prepare.
Type of Program: Online vs On-Campus
The vast majority of bridge nursing programs can be completed online. They offer increased flexibility and are generally more time-efficient. That does not make them any less rigorous or challenging than on-campus options. Here you’ll also have to check the nature of the program: synchronous or asynchronous. The first one will call for your presence online at specified times in a similar manner to on-the-ground classes. Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, is even more flexible – you can watch the pre-recorded lectures and seminars at your convenience. In the end, you need to decide what works best for you.
Are You Ready to Bridge the Gap?
Advancing your nursing education comes with many perks and benefits both for you and for the entire healthcare system. And there are many ways to further your schooling, from traditional degrees to accelerated bridge programs.
Regardless of the type of program you choose, getting a higher degree will undoubtedly make you a better nurse. It will help you help more people and save more lives while also taking better care of your own. More advanced degrees are linked to higher job satisfaction, better pay, greater benefits, and more career opportunities.
Your degree deserves a boost, and nursing bridge programs are an efficient, smart, and advantageous way to get it. There are programs at every level and tailored to specific needs. You need to find the one that’s right for you!
Closing the distance between your current nursing level and a more advanced one is one bridge program away. Enroll in Nightingale College’s RN-to-BSN program and become a more qualified, more skilled, and knowledgeable professional!