As a registered nurse, you already know that healthcare is a dynamic field, one that requires a lifelong commitment to learning. Healthcare systems are increasingly complex, and nurses are rising to the challenge by completing their bachelor's degrees. For RNs with an interest in leadership, education or advanced practice, a master's degree is the next logical step. If you plan to manage a nursing unit, work as a nurse executive or educate the next generation of nurses, an RN to MSN degree can help you achieve that goal.
Completing your BSN and MSN together in one program can speed your path to leadership. The RN to MSN online is not only faster than earning each degree separately, it's also less expensive. Studying online also allows you to advance your practice while maintaining your current employment and remaining on the frontlines of care.
From job options to tuition, there's a lot to consider before getting started. Follow the links below to learn more about this streamlined degree option.
What Is an RN to MSN Degree?
It's a degree that allows RNs to accelerate their studies, and earn both a bachelor's and master's degree in nursing. While the BSN has become the gold standard in RN education, nurses who plan to develop their leadership skills often earn a master's degree as well. Having both degrees can help you gain a competitive edge in the job market, increase your earning potential and speed up your career advancement. Enrolling in an RN to MSN program allows you meet those goals faster.
Typically, a BSN is a four-year degree and an MSN is a two-year degree, so it could take six years or more to achieve both milestones when completed separately. An accelerated online program can help you graduate in half the time, and also save you money on tuition. The University of Texas at Arlington's online RN to MSN program can be completed in as few as 36 months. Taking a full course load, you could go from ADN to MSN in just three years. UTA also offers an RN to MSN - FNP program that takes a little longer due to clinical requirements; it can be completed in 42 months.
Can I Skip the BSN and Just Focus On the MSN?
Some RN to MSN programs focus strictly on the latter degree, but you may not want to do the same. The reality is that even experienced RNs can't skip straight to master's courses without the undergrad foundation they need to succeed in graduate study. ADN- and diploma-prepared RNs must still complete their core BSN coursework (including master's prerequisites) before they can move on to advanced nursing classes.
If you need a BSN for a pay raise or promotion at work, completing the degree on the way to your MSN may also help you advance in your current job. In other words, it's a good idea to enroll in an RN to MSN program that also confers a BSN.
New knowledge becomes available constantly, and a good nurse works to incorporate that into one's practice.
, Clinical Assistant Professor, UTA online RN to MSN program
One of the biggest differences is the leadership and the conflict resolution skills that you gain with the BSN. The greater knowledge of not just doing things, but why you do them and the process.
, UTA online RN to MSN student
How Do RN to MSN Programs Work?
Most RN to MSN programs lead to a BSN and a general or specialized master's degree. Paths to specialization include coursework for future nurse educators, nurse administrators and family nurse practitioners, among other options.
No matter which track is right for you, RN to MSN curriculum includes general education credits and nursing courses. Once you complete your undergraduate degree, you'll begin your graduate coursework. Some programs also allow you to start MSN courses sooner.
In the online RN to MSN program at UTA, you will work with an academic advisor to create a personalized course map. If you've completed your ADN and other general education requirements at a different school, your degree plan will account for transfer credits. That way, you can finish your bachelor's and move on to your master's as quickly as possible.
Which Courses Will I Take in an Online RN to MSN Program?
The general education and BSN classes required at the start of your online RN to MSN program can be taken simultaneously at some schools. After completing your bachelor's degree and transitioning to your MSN, you'll take core master's courses and select a specialization. In UTA's RN to MSN program, you can choose the nurse educator or nurse administrator track, or go the RN to MSN - FNP route.
Here are some of the topics your core RN to MSN courses will cover at UTA, regardless of specialization.
You'll also complete a six-credit-hour BSN capstone course in professional nursing practice, with an option to focus on management, clinical care or education.
Which MSN Specialization is Right for Me?
Nurse educators and nurse administrators apply their leadership skills in different contexts, but as MSN-prepared RNs, both possess advanced knowledge in health assessment and evidence-based practice. Those who choose the nurse educator track will go on to share that knowledge with other RNs and future RNs. If you want to teach in classroom and clinical settings, lead hands-on practice experiences or administer simulated clinicals, the nurse educator track is a great choice.
Nurse educators facilitate patient care by supporting knowledge acquisition and professional development, and nurse administrators facilitate patient care by supporting and managing nursing teams. They each work in multiple healthcare settings to lead nursing units or departments. Some may serve at the executive level and lead entire hospitals.
Whether they work in the C-suite, an ambulatory clinic or a cardiac unit, nurse administrators know how to support bedside nurses while addressing operational logistics. If you're interested in strategic and fiscal planning, healthcare policy and team leadership, you might want to consider the nurse administrator track.
A lot of the classes are focused on management and leadership. So I think that those two things you definitely take and use. Every institution wants leaders. I've definitely been able to utilize those skills.
, UTA online RN to MSN student
Which MSN Courses Will I Take to Become a Nurse Administrator?
From patient advocacy to financial planning, specialization courses for MSN administrators prepare you to transition from bedside nursing to a leadership role. You'll learn how to facilitate patient care from a big-picture perspective, manage nursing teams and navigate healthcare policy. In UTA's online RN to MSN program, courses in the administration track include:
- Nursing Management in the Healthcare Environment
- Roles and Functions of the Nurse Administrator*
- Management Seminar and Practice*
- Financial Management in Nursing*
- Management of Nursing Operations*
- Nursing Leadership and Complex Healthcare Systems
- Nursing and Healthcare Policy
*Requires additional preceptored or clinical hours in a healthcare setting.
Which MSN Courses Will I Take to Become a Nurse Educator?
If you plan on becoming a nurse educator, you'll gain advanced knowledge in many different areas of patient care and disease management. You'll also learn how to share that knowledge with other RNs by taking on an educational role in a variety of classroom and clinical settings. In the UTA online RN to MSN program, courses for the nurse educator track include:
- Role of the Nurse Educator
- Advanced Health Assessment and Differential Diagnosis Across the Lifespan
- Advanced Pathophysiology for Nurse Educators
- Advanced Pharmacology for Nurse Educators
- Adult/Gerontology Assessment Lab or Pediatric Assessment Lab (student choice)*
- Special Topics in Clinical Practice
- Simulation Application in Nursing
- Nursing Education Practicum*
*Requires additional preceptored or faculty supervised hours in a healthcare setting.
How Do For-profit Colleges Compare to Other Nursing Schools?
Both nonprofit and for-profit colleges offer online RN to MSN programs, and sometimes their curricula are similar. For-profit schools can be a riskier choice, however. Some for-profit degree programs lack accreditation, for example, which is important in healthcare.
According to Forbes, many for-profit institutions have lower graduation rates and higher default rates on student loans as well. Their graduates also tend to earn less than those from nonprofit colleges and universities. These claims are supported by the National Bureau of Economic Research, and their findings are consistent across studies conducted on for-profits in 2012 and 2018.
On top of all that, they can be more costly than their nonprofit counterparts. With for-profits, you might end up spending more for a degree that does not ultimately meet your needs.
Are Online RN to MSN Programs Accredited?
Many online RN to MSN programs are properly accredited, but not all. Accreditation is reserved for nursing schools that meet stringent standards. Accreditors look at program curriculum and instruction, career preparation, graduate success and more. Unaccredited programs may not be as academically rigorous, or have the level of fiscal responsibility and oversight required for approval.
UTA's online RN to MSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
How Does Nursing Program Accreditation Impact Students?
Unaccredited nursing programs can negatively affect your financial aid, tuition reimbursement and military education benefits – meaning that you will not be eligible to use any of those sources to pay for your degree.
Credits from unaccredited programs don't typically transfer to other schools, and most doctoral programs don't accept applicants with an unaccredited master's degree.
Graduating from a program that's not accredited can also affect your future career. Employers heavily favor job candidates with accredited degrees, especially in the healthcare field.
How Can I Tell Whether Online Nursing Programs Are Accredited?
To confirm your program's accreditation status, be sure to search databases maintained by CCNE or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). If your program appears on either list, you're good to go. If not, you may want to reconsider your options.
Are Nursing Practicums the Same as RN Clinicals?
No. You definitely won't repeat your nursing clinicals during your RN to MSN program. Instead, you'll gain new skills in holistic healthcare, leadership, education and administration.
Like your original RN clinicals, BSN and MSN practicum hours offer an opportunity to engage with your coursework through hands-on learning. You'll also get the direct experience you need in your new role to meet professional standards for the nursing education or administration field.
What Will I Learn During Practicum Hours?
Your MSN practicum will help you make the transition to advanced practice, by integrating concepts of assessment and evaluation into a nursing framework. Future nurse administrators, for instance, will engage in interviews, observations, optional applied readings, quality management projects and community partnership projects. Future nurse educators, on the other hand, will learn to set up an online course, lead clinical lessons, create learning plans and implement learning evaluation strategies.
How Do Online Students Complete Practicum Hours?
Practicum specifics often vary by program, but yours may involve both simulation and face-to-face learning. If you're already employed in a healthcare setting, you might complete a practicum at your place of work. You have the option to choose other sites in your community as well, as long as your program approves. Keep in mind, however, that practicum hours are unpaid, and they must be completed outside of your assigned work schedule.
After completing practical experience in BSN and MSN common courses at UTA, students begin a practicum that's tailored to their degree track:
- MSN administration students complete 45 project hours in budgeting and staff development, 45 project hours in strategic planning and operations, 90 practicum hours in administrative duties and 90 hours in management tasks.
- MSN nurse educator students complete 135 preceptored practicum hours, as well as 45 lab hours in simulation application and 45 lab hours in adult/gerontology or pediatric assessment.
No matter which specialization you choose, at UTA these hours are built into your coursework. You can complete them as you move through the curriculum.
How Does MSN Preceptor Selection Work?
Generally speaking, preceptors are typically MSN-prepared nurses with professional experience in your chosen field.
Students in the nurse educator track at UTA will work with preceptors who hold an MSN in nursing education. Online MSN in Administration students at UTA do not engage in direct patient care experiences. Therefore, preceptors are not required.
You can reach out to your employer's education department or a local nursing program to find a preceptor. To meet program requirements, make sure that your selected preceptor is not a direct coworker, peer, current supervisor or relative.
Will I Be Eligible for Additional Nursing Certifications with an MSN?
As an MSN-prepared nurse, you'll be eligible to earn advanced professional certifications that can help you gain a competitive edge in the job market. Certification can highlight your skills and competencies, and show employers that your knowledge remains up to date. That's because it often requires renewal through testing, professional development or continuing education.
Many MSN graduates become a Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) to demonstrate their teaching and training expertise. Some employers also prefer CNEs to job candidates in without certification. Administrators may want to consider the Nurse Executive Advanced-Board Certified (NEA-BC), which recognizes RNs for their leadership skills in clinical and management operations.
Why Should Nurse Administrators Earn the NEA-BC Credential?
The NEA-BC is a great option for RNs ready to take their nursing administration career to the next level. To meet basic eligibility requirements, you'll need a valid, unencumbered RN license, a master's degree and two years' experience in an administrative position at the nurse executive level.
Certification is issued by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and renewed every five years. To learn more about the exam, simply review the test content outline and sample test questions on the ANCC certification website.
Why Should Nurse Educators Become Certified?
As a CNE, you might direct staff development in a hospital setting, work in the classroom, teach online or lead RN clinicals. Regardless of the role, certified nurse educators are in high demand, and some employers even require the credential.
You'll need a valid, unencumbered RN license and an MSN to become eligible for the CNE, and a master's in nursing education is the best way to prepare for your certification exam. The CNE is issued by the National League for Nursing (NLN), and must be renewed every five years through professional development or by retaking the exam. You can review the CNE candidate handbook at the NLN website to learn more.
How Much More Can I Earn With an MSN?
MSN-prepared nurses enjoy much higher salaries than ADN- and BSN-prepared nurses. ZipRecruiter (March 2021) reports that the national average salary for registered nurses is $70,355 per year. Those with a BSN take home an average of $88,434 over the same timeframe, and those with an MSN average $102,576.
Compared to RNs, MSN-prepared nurses can earn an additional $32,221 every year. Over the course of a 20-year career, that's $644,420 in added income.
When I first started my nursing career, it was super important to go ahead and get your bachelor's. Now everyone wants you to get a master's degree.
, UTA online RN to MSN student
What Are My Career Options as a Nurse Administrator?
As an MSN-prepared nurse administrator, you'll have a vast array of career options across diverse healthcare settings. There are opportunities for nurses interested in policy, budgeting, management and public health. You might work as a practice manager in a healthcare provider's office, oversee a hospital care unit, lead a telemedicine company or direct a healthcare nonprofit. Whether you are interested in positions such as executive director of nursing, operating room nurse manager, chief nursing officer or clinical informatics manager, as a nurse administrator you will enjoy a wide range of career choices.
What Are Some Careers for Nurse Educators?
Nurse educators can pursue a number of different career paths, including some that offer shorter working hours and more flexible schedules that many roles for RNs. Those who teach online or lead simulated clinicals may even work from home.
If you prefer working in a clinical or classroom setting, you might join a hospital education department or a college nursing program as a faculty member. You can also serve as a patient educator for an insurance company or corporate wellness program, conduct professional development seminars for healthcare employers or join your local public health department.
Experienced nurse educators may also go on to work as university nursing program directors, faculty advisors or associate deans.
What's the Average Salary for Nurse Administrators?
Nurse administrators command high salaries, and the U.S. Department of Labor (November 2020) notes that jobs under the medical and health services management umbrella command a median annual wage of $100,980. This includes nursing directors, practice administrators, program managers, clinical directors, health information management directors and other healthcare managers.
According to ZipRecruiter (November 2020), experienced administrators earn even more. Chief nursing officers, for instance, make an average of $136,250 per year.
The table below includes a sampling of management roles for MSN-prepared nurses, along with their average salaries in different states.
|Average Annual Salary|
|Operating Room Nurse Manager||$118,092||$117,023||$107,753||$106,818||$100,786|
|Director of Clinical Services||$106,863||$105,895||$97,507||$96,661||$91,202|
|Surgical Services Manager||$105,484||$104,528||$96,248||$95,413||$90,025|
|Clinical Informatics Manager||$103,767||$102,827||$94,681||$93,680||$88,560|
|Executive Director of Nursing||$97,673||$96,788||$89,121||$88,348||$88,359|
|Emergency Room Nurse Manager||$94,199||$93,345||$85,951||$85,205||$80,394|
Source: ZipRecruiter, March 2021
What's the Average Salary for Nurse Educators?
The average salary for nurse educators is $75,223 per year per ZipRecruiter (March 2021). Experienced nurse educators can also expand their earning potential by transitioning into an executive role with oversight for RN training or education. For example, the average annual income for nursing program directors is $92,829.
The table below offers additional salaries for nurse educator jobs across the country.
|Average Annual Salary|
|Job Title||California||Virginia||Texas||New Mexico||Florida|
|Oncology Nurse Educator||$93,070||$92,227||$84,921||$83,547||$79,430|
|Clinical Nurse Educator - Pharmaceutical||$88,899||$88,094||$81,116||$79,804||$75,871|
|Clinical Nursing Instructor||$81,747||$81,006||$74,589||$73,383||$69,766|
|Online Nurse Educator||$79,490||$78,770||$72,531||$71,357||$67,841|
Source: ZipRecruiter, March 2021
Four of these states were also represented among the top-50 highest-paying cities for nurse educators in 2020.
- San Jose, California, was at the top of the ranking, with Ventura close behind at #5.
- Odessa, Texas, was the best-paying city in the Lone Star State, followed by Dallas at #10 and Houston at #14. Beaumont, San Antonio and El Paso also made the list.
- West Palm Beach, Florida, came in at #25, and neighbor Miami was #27. Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Orlando appeared on the list as well.
- Virginia Beach, Virginia, ranked #43.
Are Nurse Administrators In Demand?
The need for nursing administrators continues to rise along with America's growing demand for healthcare. As the Journal of Nursing Regulation notes, the country's rapidly aging population has increased care complexity, along with RN patient loads and retirement rates. Nurses in management and executive roles are uniquely qualified to address the types of challenges this situation creates.
In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts 32% job growth for medical and health services managers through 2029. This rate is more than double the national average. BLS projects an increase of 133,200 healthcare administration jobs during that period.
Career prospects are particularly bright for nurse administrators in California and Texas, according to the latest BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (May 2019). When it comes to the highest rate of employment for medical and health services managers by state, California tops the list. Texas ranks second in the nation. Cities in Arkansas are also seeing some of the highest demand in this job category. The Hot Springs, Fort Smith and the Little Rock metro areas are all in the top 10.
What's the Career Outlook for Nurse Educators?
There is a strong need for MSN nurse educators in all areas of healthcare, and demand should continue to rise. The nationwide shortage of nursing faculty is one reason. As the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) notes in its latest faculty survey, 52% of nursing schools had vacant full-time teaching positions for the 2020-2021 school year. However, many could not find enough qualified candidates to fill open positions.
This critical shortage offers great opportunity for future nurse educators, especially those in California and Texas. When it comes to employment rates for nursing instructors, both states land in the BLS top five. There is also a steady demand for nurse educators in patient care and other clinical settings, as well as corporate wellness programs, nonprofit health outreach, and local and state public health agencies.
Is Tuition for Online RN to MSN Programs Affordable?
Tuition for online RN to MSN programs can fluctuate widely, especially when you consider the difference between for-profit universities and nonprofit universities. As this table shows, tuition costs can be quite different depending on the school you choose. Even programs that require fewer credits to graduate can sometimes cost you more.
Per Credit Hour*
|Tuition for BSN/MSN
|University of Texas
Source: university tuition schedules 2020-2021
*Nursing courses only: additional fees may apply.
Don't forget about the general education courses you'll need to complete your BSN either, as they're also part of your total degree cost. In UTA's online RN to MSN program, you can take general education courses at a rate of $362 per credit hour.
If you have any eligible transfer credits, your total cost may be even less. Since the average salary for MSN-prepared nurses is $31,000 more than the average RN salary, your investment could pay for itself as soon as one year after graduation.
Is Financial Aid Available to Online Students?
If your nursing program is properly accredited, you should be able to apply for most types of financial aid. Loans, grants and scholarships may be available, depending on your income and the cost of your program. Simply fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and your school will determine the type of aid it can offer.
Can I Qualify for Scholarships and Loan Forgiveness With An Online MSN?
RN to MSN students have several options when it comes to scholarships and loan forgiveness programs. The AACN, for instance, offers a directory of scholarships and financial aid for nursing students at both the undergraduate and graduate level. The organization additionally maintains a dedicated funding guide for future nurse educators.
While scholarships don't require repayment, loan forgiveness is typically offered in exchange for a service commitment of at least two years. If you're interested in making a positive impact in an underserved area, or teaching at the college level after graduation, the following loan forgiveness programs are a great place to start:
I'm Eligible for Military Education Benefits. Can I Apply Them Toward an Online RN to MSN?
Yes. Like federal financial aid, military education benefits can apply to degrees earned at accredited institutions. That's the case whether you decide to study online or on campus. You may want to confirm your degree program's eligibility on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website. Once that's taken care of, you can estimate your benefits using the GI Bill Comparison Tool.
UTA is a member of the national Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) consortium, and is proud to provide educational support for military veterans and their families. The online RN to MSN program is approved for military tuition reimbursement, as well as Post 9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill benefits. For additional information, contact an enrollment specialist at 866-489-2810.
Do Nursing Employers Provide Tuition Reimbursement?
Healthcare employers often provide tuition reimbursement, and that's great news if you're already working as an RN. From payment structures to eligible degree programs, reimbursement policies vary widely, but funding can be as high as $5,000 per year.
Becker's Hospital Review's most recent list of 150 top places to work in healthcare includes tuition reimbursement info for hospitals and health systems throughout the country. Keep in mind that this isn't a comprehensive list, so if you don't see your employer among them, check in with your benefits manager or HR department to learn more.
Can I Work Full Time While Completing an RN to MSN Program?
Yes! Online degree programs are designed for working professionals, and it's a good idea to maintain your employment. Doing so allows you to implement the new skills you are learning, and apply your new knowledge. You may also be able to complete your practicum requirements where you currently work.
Maintaining your career as you progress from RN to MSN also allows you to build your experience and resume, connect with potential preceptors, and network in preparation for your future nursing role.
How Fast Can RNs Complete an MSN Degree?
Enrolling in an accelerated nursing program is one of the best ways to fast track your degree. While courses on campus take roughly 16 weeks to complete, accelerated online classes cover the same material in a matter of weeks. A standard bachelor's and master's degree can take full-time students six years or longer to complete, but students in online RN to MSN programs can finish in about half that time.
Most courses in UTA's accelerated online RN to MSN program are five to seven weeks in length. With a few exceptions, gen-ed courses are eight weeks in length. You can enroll in up to eight course sessions a year, and progress at your own pace. You can even graduate with your MSN in as few as 36 months.
How Many Hours a Week Will I Need to Study for Online Courses?
Since accelerated online courses cover an entire semester of content in half the time, you should plan to spend at least 15 hours studying per course, per week. From there, you can adjust your study time to accommodate less challenging or more challenging classes.
Online learning is meant to be flexible, and to fit into your life (not the other way around). Whether you prefer to study on your lunch break, after work or over the weekend, it's your choice.
Are Online Courses Easy to Navigate?
If you can easily navigate your online bank account, you can easily navigate your online courses. That's because they are administered through a web-based learning management system (LMS) with many aspects you can personalize to suit your needs.
Simply login to the LMS, select your course and enter your virtual classroom. You'll find links to discussion forums, video lectures and study materials. You can download the course syllabus and posted articles, upload assignments and complete course modules. It won't take long to familiarize yourself with the layout and begin working on your assignments.
If you run into any technical hurdles in UTA online courses, technology support provides links to Canvas tutorials and other support resources.
Will I Need a New Computer or Expensive Software?
Online classes are run through a web-based platform, so you won't need expensive software to access them. If you can load basic programs and connect to the internet without a problem, you can get started. Just make sure your computer is reliable and you can perform the following functions:
- Send and receive email
- Run word-processing software
- Upload and download files
- View PDF files
- View and create spreadsheets
- Stream audio and video
- Use a webcam for video chat
- View and create presentations