When is an Online Nursing Bridge Program Right for You?

Online nursing bridge programs offer the opportunity for registered nurses, and in some programs, licensed practical nurses, to earn their next college degree.

Registered nurses who have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a field other than nursing and want to earn a BSN or MSN may also benefit from this type of program. Before deciding to enroll in an online bridge program, there are a number of factors you need to evaluate.

How does an online bridge program work?

If you are in one of these groups, a bridge program may work for you:

  • RNs who want to earn their BSN or MSN.
  • RNs who have their BSN and want to earn their MSN.
  • RNs who have a BS degree in another discipline and want to earn a BSN or MSN.
  • LPNs with associate’s degrees who want to earn a BSN or MSN.

You must have a current nursing license in order to enter a bridge program and have completed your previous education from an accredited school.

The online program allows flexibility in establishing your schedule. Programs vary, and some require you to take courses in sequence and to be online at certain times (synchronous) and interact with other students as though in a traditional classroom. Others allow you to learn at your own pace on your own time (asynchronous).

Although there are still lab and clinical requirements that must be met in addition to completing the online courses, you can generally meet these requirements by working with a healthcare provider near your home. The bridge program supervisor will have to approve your plan. The supervisor where you will be doing your clinical work will also need to agree to monitor your work and verify that you have completed the required hours.

Many bridge programs will give you lab and clinical credit for the time you have already spent working as an RN and this may be enough credit so that no other clinical work is required.

Are online bridge programs accredited?

An online bridge program you choose should be accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Degrees from a program accredited by one of these accrediting bodies are as valued as degrees from a traditional school. The schools have selective criteria:

  • Students must have at least a 3.0 in their prior education.
  • Students must earn a 3.0 in all science courses taken in the online program.

There are other accrediting bodies, such as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and others that are sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Education that also offer excellent and accepted programs. A degree from an accredited online bridge program is important in order to have your degree recognized and credited by your future employer.

How long does it take?

The length of time it will take to earn the next degree depends on what the goals are and the individual RN’s educational background.

  • An RN can earn a BSN in one year if there are no prerequisites, and the person is diligent in keeping up a fast learning pace.
  • A student with a BSN should be able to earn an MSN in about three years.

Each school will set a maximum time within which you must complete all the requirements.

Who can benefit the most from an online bridge program?

Most students are older and have been in the workforce for a few years. Since most programs require students to earn 60 credits in one year, those with a strong science background or undergraduate degree in science are better prepared.

Time-management skills are imperative, and students need to have good support systems, including emotional and financial. They must be committed to the program and to spending the time required. The fast pace is stressful, and they need the emotional support from their family members, not complaints about not spending enough time with their spouse or children.

Having someone who can help with routine chores, like cooking and laundry, is important as well as child care and someone who can fill in on those days a child stays home from school for illness or during extended vacations from school. The fast pace of the program makes it almost impossible to make up course time or clinical requirements that are missed due to personal commitments and unexpected interruptions. This is particularly true for those in synchronous programs.

Although the requirements are rigorous, and the programs are fast-paced, nurses who need to continue working while earning their next degree are able to do so.

Why embark on an online bridge program?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), by 2022, more than 526,000 more nurses will be needed than there were in 2012. The shortage is for entry-level nurses as well as those with management and coordination skills. Emphasis is changing from caring for the sick to preventative healthcare measures with a goal on keeping people healthy.

The BLS notes that nurses with a BSN or MSN will have greater job opportunities than those without degrees. Employers also are generally impressed with the commitment they know it takes to earn an advanced degree and like the maturity and dedication students who have completed such programs bring to the healthcare provider arena.

Other important considerations

Choosing a program that advances you from RN to MSN without obtaining a BSN may seem great at the time. But, sometimes, life gets in the way, and if you are unable to complete the program, you will have invested a lot of time and money and will not have a BSN. Your credits may not transfer to another school at a later time. One expert on developing nursing curriculum strongly urges students to complete a BSN before entering a program for a MSN.