FAQ: Are there any online RN to MSN PMHNP programs?

Answer: Yes – There are online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs in the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) specialty designed for registered nurses (RNs) who possess an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or, in some cases, a nursing diploma. These programs are for licensed RNs who want to pursue an MSN without first completing a separate Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. Typically, online RN to MSN PMHNP programs consist of around 120 to 150 course credits. Full-time students can expect to complete the program and earn their MSN in approximately two and a half to three years. Some online RN to MSN programs grant students both a BSN and MSN as they progress through their studies, while others simply culminate in an MSN.

RN to MSN programs can be structured in several different ways, and go by different names at different schools. However, they generally fall into one of two categories based on their admission requirements:

  • Traditional RN to MSN Programs (ADN or Diploma in Nursing Accepted): These are commonly referred to ADN to MSN or Diploma to MSN programs, and require an ADN or diploma in nursing for admission. While certain programs are open to RNs with either an ADN or a nursing diploma, others only accept an ADN, so students should be sure to carefully review all admission requirements before applying.
  • Bridge RN to MSN Programs (Non-Nursing Bachelor’s Degree Required): These programs require students to hold both an ADN and a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. Some schools may refer to them as Bachelor’s to MSN programs or RN BA/BS to MSN programs. In certain cases, a nursing diploma coupled with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree may also be accepted.

Completing an accredited online RN to MSN PMHNP program through either of these pathways will qualify graduates to sit for the national certification exam administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Once they are nationally certified in the specialty, nurses can apply for state-level licensure through their state’s board of nursing.

To learn more about online RN to MSN PMHNP programs, including the standard admission and curriculum requirements, read through the sections below.

Admission Requirements for Online RN to MSN PMHNP Programs

In order to qualify for any online RN to MSN program, students must possess an active and unrestricted RN license in their state of practice. Additionally, most programs require an ADN from an institution accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Some RN to MSN programs may also accept a diploma in nursing in lieu of an ADN. It is important that students examine the specific admission requirements for any RN to MSN program before applying, as they can often be difficult to discern based on program title alone.

As mentioned earlier, some RN to MSN programs may even require students to possess a non-nursing bachelor’s degree in addition to their ADN. The difference between these “bridge” programs and Traditional RN to MSN programs is the number of baccalaureate-level courses included in the program. Bridge RN to MSN programs typically allow students to waive certain undergraduate general education courses they already completed in their bachelor’s degree program. Instead of taking the full BSN course load found in a Traditional RN to MSN program, bridge students often just take one to three BSN-level nursing courses before beginning the MSN curriculum. This coursework is meant to “bridge” the gap between their current education and graduate-level nursing instruction, and usually covers topics such as health assessment, leadership in nursing, evidence-based nursing practice, population health, and nursing research. Most Traditional RN to MSN programs will also accept RNs who have earned a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and allow them to transfer certain credits from their bachelor’s program.

Along with an RN license and an ADN or diploma in nursing, some online RN to MSN programs require that students complete undergraduate prerequisite courses before they can begin the program. This may be because the program does not offer these general education classes online, as they are outside the school/department of nursing. Therefore, students must complete them at a local college or online through a different institution. RN to MSN programs that require students to complete prerequisites before starting the program typically require less credits to graduate.

In general, students interested in pursuing an online RN to MSN PMHNP program should talk with an admissions advisor to see how their previous coursework might transfer towards their degree program. This way, students can get a better idea of the number of credits they need to graduate, and how long it will take to earn those credits.

Online RN to MSN PMHNP Program Requirements

RN to MSN PMHNP programs typically require the completion of between 120 and 150 course credits. This number varies both by school and the level of education students possess when entering the program. The RN to MSN curriculum is comprised of undergraduate general education courses, BSN-level nursing courses, and MSN-level coursework, which includes both MSN core courses and PMHNP specialization courses. As discussed above, RN to MSN programs often allow bachelor’s-trained students to waive certain undergraduate courses they completed as part of their bachelor’s program. In most cases, this means these students can complete their MSN in less time than it would take a traditional RN to MSN student, who only holds an ADN or nursing diploma.

While online RN to MSN students can expect to complete the majority of their coursework remotely, they still must fulfill a set number of clinical practice hours at a local health care facility. The exact number of clinical hours needed to graduate will vary; however, RN to MSN PMHNP students are typically required to complete between 500 and 1000 hours in order to earn their master’s. Online students generally perform these clinical practice hours at a hospital or clinic near their place of residence, under the guidance of a preceptor. While some schools help match students to practicum sites and preceptors in their area, others leave it up to students to find their own clinical placements.

In addition to clinical practicum requirements, some online RN to MSN PMHNP programs include one or more mandatory on-campus intensives, in which students must visit campus for orientation events or training sessions that can last several days at time. On OnlineFNPPrograms.com, in order for a program to be classified as “online,” it must require three or fewer campus visits per year.

Length of an Online RN to MSN PMHNP Program

There are several factors that determine how long it will take students to complete an online RN to MSN PMHNP program. These programs can be structured differently at each school, so some may require a larger time commitment than others. Additionally, students can choose to pursue an online RN to MSN PMHNP program on either a full- or part-time basis. Both enrollment options are available at some schools, while others simply offer one or the other. Full-time programs generally take fewer terms overall to complete; however, they require a larger commitment from students on a weekly basis. In a part-time program, students take fewer courses each term, spreading their studies out over a longer period of time.

A full-time online RN to MSN PMHNP program generally takes around 28 to 36 months to complete. Students pursuing their MSN on a part-time basis might finish the program in anywhere from 36 to 48 months, depending on the number of courses they take each term. In order for students to have enough time to devote to their studies, schools typically recommend that those intending to work full-time while pursuing their MSN enroll in a part-time program. As mentioned earlier, bachelor’s-trained students, who will have already completed certain undergraduate course requirements in their bachelor’s degree program, can typically earn their MSN in slightly less time than those entering an RN to MSN program with just an ADN or nursing diploma.

RN to MSN PMHNP Curriculum and Sample Courses

The curriculum in an online RN to MSN PMHNP program consists of both undergraduate and graduate coursework. Students can expect to take a combination of undergraduate general education courses and BSN-level nursing courses, as well as MSN core courses and specialized graduate coursework meant to prepare them in the PMHNP specialty. In most cases, RN to MSN students end up taking less courses overall than they would if they pursued their BSN and MSN separately. This is because BSN and MSN programs often include overlapping coursework. RN to MSN programs offer a more streamlined curriculum, eliminating these redundancies to save students time.

While exact course titles will vary by program, most online RN to MSN PMHNP programs contain a similar curriculum, covering both fundamental and advanced nursing topics. Here are some examples of undergraduate courses students can expect to take:

Undergraduate General Education Courses:

  • English Composition
  • Statistics
  • Psychology
  • Microbiology
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology

BSN-Level Nursing Courses:

  • Foundations of Nursing Practice
  • Health Assessment
  • Clinical Diagnosis and Decision-Making
  • Human Physiology and Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology

The MSN portion of the curriculum is comprised of both core courses typically found in all nurse practitioner and advanced practice registered nursing degree programs, and PMHNP specialization courses that cover topics unique to this particular APRN concentration. Some examples of graduate-level coursework typically found in an RN to MSN PMHNP program include:

MSN Core Courses:

  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Advanced Physiology/Pathophysiology
  • Nursing Research
  • Health Promotion and Clinical Prevention
  • Health Care Systems and Policy

PMHNP Specialization Courses:

  • Psychopharmacology Across the Lifespan
  • Mental Disorders: Pathogenesis and Development
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Clinical Settings
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health
  • Mental Health Care for the Aging and Elderly

For more information about online PMHNP programs, including descriptions of many of the courses listed above, check out our main Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Programs page.