Answer: Yes – Many schools offer online RN to APRN programs for registered nurses (RNs) interested in earning a graduate degree in an advanced clinical specialty. In order to be eligible for national APRN certification, RNs must earn at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in their desired specialization. One way to do this is through an online RN to MSN program, sometimes referred to as an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) to MSN program. There are also RN to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs available online, for nurses who want to pursue their doctorate in an APRN specialty without first completing a separate Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or MSN program.
Online RN to MSN programs generally fall into one of three categories based on their admission requirements. This includes two different types of Traditional RN to MSN programs: those that require an ADN for admission, and those that accept either an ADN or a diploma in nursing. The third category is commonly referred to as Bridge RN to MSN programs, which require RNs to possess both an ADN and a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. These may also be called RN BA/BS to MSN programs or Bachelor’s to MSN programs at some schools. While they do exist, online RN to DNP programs are relatively rare compared to RN to MSN programs, and some require an ADN plus a non-nursing bachelors for admission. To qualify for any of the degree tracks mentioned above, students must have a current RN license in their state of practice.
For more information about online RN to APRN programs, including how long these degree tracks typically take to complete and the different nursing specialties available to students, check out the sections below.
Online RN to APRN Program Requirements
While exact program requirements will vary, Traditional RN to MSN programs generally entail the completion of 120 to 150 course credits. The curriculum in these programs is typically comprised of undergraduate general education courses, BSN-level nursing courses, and graduate-level coursework, which includes both MSN core courses and courses specific to the particular specialization being pursued. For some programs, students may be able to transfer credits from their past undergraduate education.
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Bridge RN to MSN programs usually consist of around 45 to 70 credits, as they omit certain baccalaureate-level courses students will have already completed in their bachelor’s degree program. In lieu of the full BSN curriculum, bridge students often must complete a sequence of nursing courses to help prepare them for MSN instruction. These bridge courses typically cover fundamental nursing topics, such as health assessment, leadership in nursing, human physiology, pharmacology, and evidence-based nursing practice.
Along with the required coursework, online RN to MSN students must fulfill a certain number of clinical practice hours during their program. This number varies by school and specialty; however, most programs require somewhere between 500 and 1,000 clinical hours in order to graduate. Online students typically complete these practicum hours at a hospital or medical facility near their place of residence, under the supervision of a trained preceptor. Some schools help match RNs with clinical placement sites in their area, while others require students to find their own sites and preceptors. These clinical rotations generally take place during the MSN portion of the program, and often correspond with the topics being covered in coursework at the time.
RN to DNP programs can be structured in several different ways. Some award students a BSN, MSN, and DNP as they progress through the program, while others may award just an MSN and a DNP, or simply culminate in a DNP degree. In addition to the coursework found in an RN to MSN program, RN to DNP students must take doctoral-level courses meant to prepare them in the eight core competencies outlined by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice. Topics covered in these courses include interprofessional collaboration, systems leadership, health care policy, patient care technology, and analytical methods for evidence-based practice. Depending on the particular program, students may be required to complete several prerequisite courses prior to enrolling, or take certain bridge courses before starting the MSN curriculum. In total, RN to DNP students must fulfill at least 1000 clinical practice hours in order to earn their doctorate.
Online RN to APRN Degree Specializations: RN to Nurse Practitioner (NP)
Students can find online RN to MSN and DNP programs in most of the major APRN specialties. Upon completing a graduate degree program in any of these specializations, RNs will qualify to sit for a national certification exam in that particular patient focus. Admission and program requirements may vary by specialty, so students should be sure to carefully review all program information before applying.
Online RN to APRN programs are available in the following advanced clinical concentrations:
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP)
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
- Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
- Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
- Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP)
- Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP)
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
To learn more about the different APRN specializations, and read interviews with practicing APRNs, check out our Guide to Advanced Practice Nursing.
Length of an Online RN to APRN Program
The amount of time it takes RNs to complete an online APRN program will depend on the degree path, specialty, and school they enroll in. In most cases, Traditional RN to MSN programs require around three years (30 to 36 months) of full-time study. Part-time students can typically earn their MSN in three to four years, or 36 to 48 months. As mentioned above, Bridge RN to MSN programs take slightly less time to finish, as students will have already completed the required general education courses as part of their previous bachelor’s program. Bridge students pursuing their MSN on a full-time basis can expect to graduate in roughly two years, or 20 to 25 months. A part-time Bridge RN to MSN program might take anywhere from two to four years (25 to 40 months) to complete.
Since online RN to DNP programs can be structured in several different ways, the time it takes to complete one will vary by school. For example, some require RNs to possess a non-nursing bachelor’s degree in addition to their ADN. In these particular programs, students typically do not earn a BSN, and instead complete a bridge year before beginning MSN coursework. During this time, students take nursing courses intended to bridge the gap between their ADN education and the MSN curriculum. Overall, it generally takes RN to DNP students over four years of full-time study to earn their doctorate. Those enrolled part time may need as many as six years to complete their program.