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

Answer: Yes – There are online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs designed for registered nurses (RNs) who possess an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and want to specialize as a women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP). Some programs also accept licensed RNs with a diploma in nursing. Others may require both an ADN and a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. In any case, these programs are for RNs interested in pursuing an MSN and WHNP certification without first completing a separate Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. An online RN to MSN WHNP program typically consists of around 120 to 150 course credits, requiring approximately two and a half to three years of full-time study to complete.

There are a number of different ways that online RN to MSN WHNP programs can be structured. Some may grant students both a BSN and an MSN as they progress through the program, while others only culminate in the MSN degree. Additionally, these programs can go by several different names depending on the school and their exact program structure. In general, RN to MSN programs can be categorized in one of two ways, based on their admission requirements:

  • Traditional RN to MSN Programs (ADN or Diploma in Nursing Accepted): These programs are open to licensed RNs who possess an ADN or diploma in nursing. They may be referred to as ADN to MSN or Diploma to MSN programs at some schools. While certain programs accept RNs with either an ADN or a nursing diploma, others explicitly require an ADN for admission.
  • Bridge RN to MSN Programs (Non-Nursing Bachelor’s Degree Required): These require applicants to hold both an ADN and a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. While some schools refer to them as RN to MSN programs, others call them Bachelors to MSN or RN BA/BS to MSN programs.

The primary difference between these programs, aside from their admission criteria, is the number of undergraduate courses students need to take. As bachelor’s-prepared nurses will have already completed many of the required general education courses, they are often allowed to waive them in their RN to MSN program. Earning an MSN through either pathway will qualify graduates to sit for the national WHNP certification exam administered by the National Certification Corporation (NCC). Once they have obtained national certification, they are eligible to apply for state-level licensure through their state’s board of nursing.

To learn more about online RN to MSN WHNP programs, including a more detailed breakdown of their admission requirements and standard program structure, check out the sections below.

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Admission Requirements for Online RN to MSN WHNP Programs

Online RN to MSN programs require applicants to hold an active and unrestricted RN license in their state of practice. In the majority of cases, students will also need an ADN from an institution accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Some programs may accept either an ADN or a diploma in nursing; however, most require an ADN for admission. Prospective students should be sure to carefully review the admission criteria for any online RN to MSN program before applying. As mentioned earlier, there are no standard naming conventions for these programs, so their particular structure and requirements can often be difficult to discern based on program name alone.

There are some RN to MSN WHNP programs that actually require both an ADN and a non-nursing bachelor’s degree for admission. While these may be called RN to MSN programs at some schools, on OnlineFNPPrograms.com, we refer to them as Bachelor’s to MSN programs or Bridge RN to MSN programs. The difference between these programs and Traditional RN to MSN programs is the number of baccalaureate-level courses included in the curriculum. Students who have earned a bachelor’s degree will have already completed undergraduate general education courses typically required in an RN to MSN program. As such, most programs allow students to waive these courses, and instead just take one to three BSN-level bridge courses before starting the MSN curriculum.

The bridge coursework usually focuses on fundamental nursing topics such as health assessment, leadership in nursing, population health, or nursing research methods, and is meant to “bridge” the gap between their current education and advanced nursing instruction. Most Traditional RN to MSN programs also accept RNs with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, and will allow them to transfer credits from their bachelor’s program.

Some online RN to MSN programs require students to complete certain prerequisite coursework before they can enroll. Often, these are general education courses that the school does not offer online. As such, prospective students must take them at another institution, either online or on campus. For any RN to MSN program, it is best to speak with admissions staff before applying to see how previous coursework might transfer towards the RN to MSN program requirements.

Online RN to MSN WHNP Program Requirements

While their structure will vary by school, most online RN to MSN WHNP programs are comprised of 120 to 150 course credits. This number is typically lower for bachelor’s-trained students, as they are usually allowed to waive certain undergraduate courses they completed in their bachelor’s program. The curriculum in an RN to MSN WHNP program consists of baccalaureate general education courses, BSN-level nursing courses, MSN core courses, and graduate-level WHNP specialization courses. As discussed earlier, students may need to complete prerequisite courses in areas such as statistics or human biology before they can begin this course of study.

In most cases, online RN to MSN WHNP students will complete the majority of their coursework remotely, viewing lectures and participating in classroom discussions over the web. However, they are still required to fulfill a set number of clinical practice hours in order to graduate and qualify for national APRN certification. The exact number will vary by program, but the typical requirement is between 500 and 1000 clinical hours. Generally, online students complete these practicum hours at a health care facility near their place of residence, under the supervision of a trained preceptor. Some schools help match online students with sites and preceptors in their area, while others require students to find their own clinical placements.

Many online RN to MSN programs also include one or more mandatory on-campus sessions, in which students must travel to campus for orientation events or hands-on clinical training intensives. These sessions often coincide with topics students are studying in the curriculum, and can span several days at a time. The number of required campus visits varies by program, with some requiring none at all. In an effort to help prospective online students better understand these travel requirements, OnlineFNPPrograms.com only categorizes a degree program as “online” if it requires three or fewer campus visits per year.

Length of an Online RN to MSN WHNP Program

The amount of time it takes to complete an online RN to MSN WHNP program will depend on several factors. Since these programs can be structured in several different ways, they may take longer to finish at some schools than others. In addition to this, students who already possess a non-nursing bachelor’s degree can typically complete their MSN in less time than those entering a program with just an ADN or nursing diploma.

Students can choose to enroll in an online RN to MSN WHNP program on either a full- or part-time basis. Some schools offer both enrollment options, while others only have one or the other, which students should keep in mind when researching programs. In general, a full-time program will take fewer terms overall; however, they require a larger time commitment from students on a weekly basis. Part-time programs, on the other hand, typically take longer to complete, but include fewer courses each term. Full-time RN to MSN WHNP students can expect to earn their master’s in around 28 to 36 months of study. A part-time program might take anywhere from 36 to 48 months, depending on its particular structure. Most schools recommend that WHNP students enroll in a part-time program if they intend to work full-time while pursuing their studies. These programs can be intense, and students will need to devote a substantial amount of their time to coursework and clinical practice hours.

RN to MSN WHNP Curriculum and Sample Courses

As mentioned earlier, the curriculum in an online RN to MSN WHNP program includes both BSN- and MSN-level coursework. Students will need to complete undergraduate general education courses, BSN nursing courses, MSN core courses, and graduate-level WHNP specialization courses. In many cases, however, RN to MSN students end up taking less courses overall than they would if they pursued a BSN and MSN through separate programs. This is due to the fact that BSN and MSN programs often contain overlapping coursework, such as general education or foundational nursing courses. RN to MSN programs eliminate these redundancies, offering a more streamlined curriculum to save students time.

Exact courses titles will vary, but most RN to MSN WHNP programs follow a similar curriculum comprised of fundamental and advanced nursing coursework. The following are some examples of undergraduate courses RNs can expect to take while pursuing this particular pathway:

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

Graduate-level coursework in an RN to MSN WHNP programs consists of both MSN core courses and WHNP specialization courses. The core courses are similar throughout all APRN degree programs, and cover topics fundamental to advanced practice nursing. The specialization courses and corresponding practicum sessions are meant to train students in topics pertaining to women’s health nursing, and are typically unique to this APRN concentration. Here are some examples of both types of courses:

MSN Core Courses:

  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Advanced Physiology/Pathophysiology
  • Nursing Research Methods
  • Health Promotion and Clinical Prevention
  • Leadership in Advanced Practice Nursing

WHNP Specialization Courses:

  • Primary Care of Childbearing Women
  • Postpartum Care
  • Contemporary Issues in Women’s Health
  • Primary Care of Adolescents and Adult Patients
  • Primary Care of Elderly Women

For more information about online WHNP programs, including descriptions of many of the courses listed above, check out our Online Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Programs page.