What's an RN to BSN program?

RN to BSN programs—also known as bridge programs—are for nurses who already have an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma, but want to get a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing (BSN). Getting a BSN helps nurses increase their scope of practice and increase their salary. There are more than 700 RN to BSN programs in the United states and 40% of BSN graduates attended bridge programs.

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If you're considering an RN to BSN program, the program you choose can determine your future job prospects and earning potential.  This article addresses the benefits as well as the potential challenges you may face when choosing a program. Having a BSN can present many exciting opportunities to you. RN-BSN programs can be expensive, so you might need to take out student loans. But in order to achieve your career and educational goals, you need to find a course schedule that fits into your life. It also needs to be affordable.

Why get a BSN?

There are many reasons to pursue a BSN. For some, it may simply come from a desire to further your nursing knowledge. Although all RNs are trained in procedures such as inserting urinary catheters, those with BSNs have more jobs to choose from compared to nurses with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Although an ADN and even an RN diploma program will prepare you to sit for the nurse licensing exam, the NCLEX, there are some key differences with a BSN education. Some additional components of a BSN curriculum may include community nursing, nursing research and nurse management and leadership. There is also a greater emphasis on critical thinking. Getting a BSN can give you more opportunities to work in settings unavailable to you as an RN, such as working in an intensive care unit or a home health agency.  Finally, a BSN can move you closer to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Another advantage of holding a BSN is that you will generally earn a higher wage than an RN.

In addition to learning more about nursing, getting a BSN can lead to more job opportunities. Currently 56% of nurses hold BSNs, but both hospitals and regulators are encouraging nurses to seek BSNs. Many hospitals and other agencies require a BSN as a condition of employment. This is partially due to the complexity of the current healthcare environment. One reason hospitals and other organizations prefer BSNs is employing BSN prepared nurses leads to better patient outcomes. This not only increases patient safety, but also reduces hospital expenses. As far back as 1965, the American Nurses Association (ANA) promoted the BSN as the minimum required level of education for an RN. And in 2017, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law that requires newly licensed RNs to obtain a BSN within 10 years of their initial licensure.

How to choose an RN to BSN program

When considering an RN to BSN program, finding a program that fits your life—whether it's full time or part time—is essential. Perhaps you are already working and wondering how to fit classes, studying and schoolwork into your busy life. Family obligations can also present challenges. Fortunately, there are numerous program structures which can accommodate nearly anyone’s schedule. While attending classes full time is generally the shortest path, it is not possible for many students. A part-time program might be a more realistic option. Evening and weekend classes are often available.

Online versus in-person programs

Choosing an online as opposed to an in-person RN-to BSN program depends on your personal preference—you can most likely fulfill any clinical requirements through working as a nurse. There are also many online programs which do not require any physical attendance and many schools offer a flexible schedule which allows you the time you need to complete your degree. Accelerated programs are also available. Some even provide credits toward an MSN. You can also take exams through College Level Examination Program (CLEP) whereby you can receive credit for college courses without actually having to take them. This can be a very valuable way to save time and money. The length of programs ranges from nine months to two years.

How much do RN to BSN programs cost?

Another important consideration regarding going back to school is how to pay for it. According to U.S. News and World Report, online RN to BSN programs typically cost $36,000 to $95,000 with a full course load. However, the cost can vary greatly, especially if you have transfer credits. Financial aid may be available in the form of loans, grants, scholarships and work-study.  It is important to note that financial aid is often available to older, non-traditional students and not strictly to those who have just graduated from high school.  Some employers even offer scholarships and/or tuition reimbursement.  If you are currently working as an RN, this is certainly worth exploring.  Flexible programs can also help spread out the cost over a longer period of time.

Although cost is important, your ultimate goal is to expand your job prospects. Consider a school’s ranking and reputation as well as its accreditation when selecting an RN to BSN  program.  Resources such as The Princeton Review and U. S. News and World Report are both reliable sources of information about how well colleges measure up against similar institutions.  With all nursing programs, it is important to ensure that they are accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Accreditation helps students to receive federal financial aid, increases the likelihood that credits are able to be transferred and also may be a requirement for acceptance into a graduate degree program.  In addition, many employers demand that job applicants obtained their BSN from an accredited college.

Final word

Completing your BSN is sure to bring many rewards.  There’s the deep satisfaction that comes from achieving a personal goal.  As mentioned previously, there are likely to be far more employment opportunities available to you with your new degree. Taking courses on leadership might propel you to switch to a managerial role.  You may choose to work in an entirely new setting such as a community health center or move into a hospital position for the first time. There may also be an increase in your salary.  No matter which path you choose, advancing your education will enhance your nursing practice and you will learn a lot about yourself along the way.  You will discover new abilities and interests.  You might even form new friendships either in person or virtually.  One thing is guaranteed.  You will emerge a changed person. And who knows?  You just may decide that a BSN is not your final degree.