Nursing schools across the country are actively exploring ways to increase student capacity and attract new students in an effort to relieve the nursing shortage in the coming years. One of the more innovative approaches to nursing education is the direct-entry Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, an entry-level degree designed specifically for students with a bachelor’s degree in an area other than nursing.
The direct-entry MSN option – also referred to as an “accelerated” or “entry-level” MSN –has been gaining momentum nationwide according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). These programs build upon a student’s previous learning experiences in such a way that they can seamlessly transition to a master’s degree in nursing and go on to enjoy a career in an advanced practice nursing, clinical education, or leadership position, among others.
The AACN also reports that employers value graduates of accelerated MSN programs because of the skills and education they bring to the workplace. Employers report these graduates are more mature, possess strong clinical skills, and are quick studies on the job, likely because they are career changers with a comprehensive professional resume.
Choosing a Direct-Entry MSN Program Based on a Specialization of Interest
A direct-entry MSN opens up the door to a wide array of exciting nursing positions for career changers with aspirations of working in healthcare. Depending on each program’s offerings, students may focus their MSN program on one of the following clinical or non-clinical nursing roles:
Clinical (Direct Care) MSN Nursing Specializations:
- Clinical Nurse Leader
- Nurse Educator
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
- Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
- Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)
- Nurse Practitioner (CNP)
While all CNM students focus their course of study on women’s health and neonatal care and CRNA students focus their course of study on the lifespan, CNP and CNS students must focus their MSN degree on at least one population focus:
- Family Across the Lifespan
- Acute Care
- Primary Care
- Women’s Health-Gender Related
Upon graduation from an MSN program in an APRN role and population focus, students must take and pass a national certification examination recognized by their state Board of Nursing and earn state licensure to practice as an APRN.
APRN students may also choose to further focus their MSN program on a specific area of nursing by taking additional coursework in an area such as:
Non-Clinical MSN Nursing Specializations:
- Public Health Nurse
- Informatics Nurse
- Clinical Research Coordinator
- Nurse Administrator
- Clinical Nurse Educator
Admission and Curriculum Requirements for Entry-Level Master of Science in Nursing Programs
Master of Science in Nursing programs, including the direct-entry MSN, receive accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
The direct-entry MSN consists of about three years of full-time study. Students of these programs usually complete baccalaureate-level nursing courses in their first year, followed by two years of graduate study. Direct-entry MSN programs allow students to apply many of the general education and science credits from their bachelor’s degree program, thereby allowing them to quickly begin working on the components of their MSN.
These programs may go by a number of names, such as:
- Entry Level Master of Science in Nursing (ELMSN)
- Master’s Entry Clinical Nurse (MECN)
- Alternate Entry Master of Science in Nursing (AE-MSN)
- Master of Science for Entry to the Profession of Nursing (MEPN)
- Direct Entry MSN
- Entry-Level Master’s (ELM)
Similar to traditional MSN programs, institutions offer direct-entry MSN programs in a variety of formats, including part-time, accelerated, and online. Online delivery has become a popular option among students of direct-entry MSN programs in recent years. Colleges and universities throughout the U.S. have ramped up their efforts to provide these programs, as they allow aspiring nurses to complete a competitive program that meets their professional goals, regardless of its geographic location.
Institutions offering online MSN programs partner with clinical sites throughout the U.S., which allows students to satisfy their clinical requirements at sites close to home.
To qualify for admission into a direct-entry MSN program, students must possess:
- A bachelor’s degree in an area other than nursing from an accredited college or university
- A competitive undergraduate GPA (usually a 3.0 or higher)
- Letters of recommendation (academic and professional)
- Application essay
- Current resume or CV
- GRE scores
In addition to a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, applicants must transfer or complete a number of prerequisite coursework, such as:
- Human growth and development throughout the lifespan
Students in the first year of a direct-entry MSN program complete baccalaureate-level nursing courses in topics such as:
- Nursing science
- Foundations of nursing practice
- Nursing practice and public health
At the same time, students begin their clinical study. Upon the successful completion of specific didactic and clinical requirements, students of these programs sit for the NCLEX-RN and earn their registered nurse (RN) license.
Upon earning their RN, students enter the graduate-level portion of their MSN program, where they gain the competencies required to earn their MSN in their chosen specialty through coursework and clinical placements.
The didactic requirements of an MSN include a core, coursework related to the chosen nursing specialization, and clinical rotations.
The MSN core includes study in:
- Clinical prevention/population health
- Evidence-based practice
- Interprofessional collaboration
- Organizational and systems leadership
- Policy and advocacy
- Program evaluation for improving patient and population outcomes
- Quality and safety
An APRN core includes study in:
- Health promotion and disease prevention
- Healthcare financing
- Healthcare policy
- Human diversity and social issues
- Organization of the healthcare delivery system
- Policy, organization, and financing of healthcare
- Professional role development
- Theoretical foundations of nursing practice
The APRN core also includes three, separate, graduate-level courses in:
- Advanced physiology/pathophysiology, including general principles that apply across the lifespan
- Advanced health assessment, including the assessment of all human systems, concepts and approaches, and advanced assessment techniques
- Advanced pharmacology, including:
- Pharmacotherapeutics of all broad categories of agents
Students of MSN programs must complete advanced clinical educational activities, which include at least 500 hours of supervised clinical experiences related to their chosen nursing specialty.