Picture this: you’ve earned your ADN, and you’ve been able to find work as an RN. You work at a hospital as an RN for a few years, and you become comfortable enough in your career that you decide it’s time to move up. However, in order to move up, you’ll need to earn a BSN. You look at the programs — they’re four years long, and for the first two years, they’re going to go over all the basics of nursing that you already know. That’s a huge time and money investment when you only need half the program. What can you do? Thankfully, there’s an answer: bridge programs.

Continue reading to learn about different types of bridge programs and how they work. Readers can find information on the requirements schools may have for admission into a bridge program, the coursework students may take, and the types of jobs graduates may be eligible for after they have completed the program.

What Are Bridge Programs?

Bridge programs are accelerated nursing degree programs for students who already have some knowledge or experience in the field of nursing. They are designed so students don’t have to repeat coursework they’ve already completed, nor relearn skills they already use at their jobs every day. Instead, bridge programs build on existing knowledge and skills in order to help nurses learn the advanced abilities needed to provide the next level of patient care.

Whether students want to build on a professional certificate, a bachelor’s degree, or even graduate-level work, bridge programs can present a path to advanced education. Completing a bridge program can help nurses to earn higher-level jobs, command larger salaries, and/or position themselves to train other nurses. In addition, bridge programs are often extremely flexible, allowing nurses to continue working as they further their education.

Undergraduate Bridge Programs

People who are already licensed health care professionals — such as LVNs/ LPNs or paramedics — can leverage their skills and knowledge to become a registered nurse by enrolling in an undergraduate bridge program. Although these programs provide a way for students to cut down on the time to earn a degree, that doesn’t mean they take shortcuts when it comes to educational quality. Future RNs enrolled in these programs are still required to participate in labs and clinical activities to learn how to apply classroom material to real-world patient care.

Bridges to RN


Paramedics are no stranger to patient care. However, they may be interested in expanding their horizons by applying their abilities to the nursing field. Paramedic work can be hectic and chaotic — the more structured environment of nursing can make a career change attractive.

In order to be admitted into a paramedic-to-RN program, prospective students must have certification and 1,000 hours of employment after earning their paramedic credentials. In addition, some schools may require that applicants have at least a 2.0 grade point average, as well as completed coursework in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, or general education. These programs generally take 12 to 18 months to complete.

When students enroll in paramedic-to-RN bridge programs, they may take courses in nursing role transition, pharmacology, mental health nursing, patient communication and acute care. In addition, these programs also offer students hands-on experience. Students usually start by “treating” simulated patients in the lab, and then work their way up to clinical experiences with real patients. In order to graduate, students may be required to maintain a minimum GPA, depending on the program.


As the demand for registered nurses increases around the country, licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses may want to upgrade their skills in order to fill these positions. LPN/LVN-to-RN programs allow professionals to do this with what is usually just a 15- to 18-month commitment.

In order to be admitted into these programs, LPNs and LVNs must provide proof that they hold a current license and have completed specified prerequisite classes, such as microbiology, anatomy, or physiology. Also, depending on the program, students may be expected to have a minimum GPA in their LPN or LVN programs.

In these bridge programs, students are expected to learn practical and theoretical concepts that can help them to provide an advanced level of care. In order to prepare for a more demanding position, students may be required to take courses in medical-surgical nursing concepts, complex issues in adult health, public health nursing, patient assessment, and advanced pediatrics. Students are also likely to participate in practical training in order to earn hands-on experience for their future nursing role.

Bridges to BSN


Like LPN/LVN-to-RN programs, an LPN/LVN-to-BSN bridge program exists to help students advance in their careers, whether they choose to work at hospitals, home health agencies, doctor’s offices, or nursing homes. However, BSN degree programs can serve as a stepping stone to more advanced knowledge and careers beyond just the skills needed to become an RN. As a result, the curriculum of LPN/LVN-to-BSN programs is typically more challenging than that for LPN/LVN-to-RN programs, and they usually take three years to complete.

Coursework in these programs builds on the classes applicants may be required to complete to gain admission into the program, such as microbiology, psychology, public speaking and biostatistics. Examples of courses that frequently appear in these programs include nursing informatics, community health nursing, nursing leadership, and advanced assessment. Different programs may also have additional components, such as:

  • Clinical experiences, which are almost always required in order to solidify the concepts learned in class.
  • Licensure preparatory courses, which can help students prepare for the NCLEX-RN® exam.
  • Career-related clinicals, in subjects such as mental health, pediatrics, women’s health or critical care nursing.


Those who have completed an associate’s degree in nursing can move forward with their education by enrolling in an ADN-to-BSN bridge program. In order to be admitted, nurses should have completed the specific program’s prerequisite courses — which may include chemistry, physiology, anatomy, and psychology — as well as have a current nursing license. These programs, which can usually be completed in two to three years, are built around two goals:

  1. Deepening nurses’ understanding of the art and science of nursing.
  2. Exposing nurses to general education classes to learn additional skills — like written and verbal communication — that can be applied to a nursing practice

In some cases, ADN-to-BSN programs may be based on a cohort model. This means that when a class is admitted into the program, the students take all of their courses together as a group until they graduate. There are several benefits to this kind of program — including the ability for nurses to form close ties with each other, which can provide much-needed emotional and educational support as they navigate their way through the program. This camaraderie can continue long after students have completed their degrees, so a cohort may also double as a networking opportunity.


Professionals who have earned a nursing certificate can strengthen their career skills — including patient assessment and diagnostic testing abilities — in an RN-to-BSN bridge program. Since many employers give preference to job candidates who have earned bachelor’s degrees, completing such a program can go a long way toward accessing additional career paths, including school, charge, emergency room, addiction and public health nursing positions.

To reap these benefits, prospective students must meet programs’ admissions requirements. These can vary, but may include being currently licensed to practice nursing, as well as the completion of prerequisite courses like chemistry, microbiology, and human anatomy. Some schools may also expect RN-to-BSN applicants to have maintained a minimum 2.5 GPA during their RN program.

RN-to-BSN programs can make it possible for students to complete their BSN degrees in four semesters thanks to the credits they transfer from their RN programs, as well as classes that may be waived because of nurses’ work experience. In addition, students may be able to take their classes in eight- or sixteen-week sessions, which helps them balance their education around their work and personal responsibilities. The curriculum for these programs is typically based around developing competencies such as professional and social responsibility, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

Graduate Bridge Programs

Once nurses have built a solid foundation in their careers, they may want to help shape the field by developing new theories and nursing techniques, or by teaching the next generation of professionals, either as an instructor or as a manager. Alternately, nurses may decide to specialize their career, focusing on learning a particular aspect of nursing inside and out, i.e. forensic, public health, midwifery, or pediatric nursing. And as a general rule, delving into these advanced careers requires earning an advanced degree.

The process of earning an advanced degree is often rigid, but in some cases, nurses are able to learn so much through their careers and other sources that the usual graduate degree paths just aren’t right for them. In these situations, a graduate bridge program can help an experienced nurse connect right to the level of education that is challenging and informative for them, rather than getting bogged down in a lot of unnecessary work for skills they already know.

Bridges to MSN


RN-to-MSN programs are built to take working RNs directly into the coursework for an MSN degree program regardless of previous education, which means they can be quite challenging. Because of the difficulty, schools have high standards for admission into these programs: In addition to having a nursing license, those who apply may be expected to have a certain number of years of professional experience, a minimum GPA of 3.0, and a CPR certification. Prerequisite classes may include nutrition, nursing ethics, microbiology and human biology. Generally, students are also expected to have completed a certain number of liberal arts credits during their undergraduate studies.

Once they have been admitted into an RN-to-MSN program, students can expect to take a deep dive into the concepts and skills utilized in advanced practice nursing. To that end, programs may allow students to choose a concentration to focus their studies on, while still requiring general coursework to round out the expertise they gain from their specialization. By the time students graduate, they should have learned not only specialized knowledge of the type of nursing they want to practice, but also understanding of the legal and ethical principles that guide the field, advanced assessment techniques, and the various challenges that NPs are expected to face.

MSN without BSN

Although many people who are interested in an MSN degree are those who already have a nursing background, sometimes a person who has earned their education and work experience in another field decides they want to change careers and become a nurse. Direct-entry MSN programs allow students to earn a nursing education without any prior experience in the field, as long as they have earned a bachelor’s degree in another discipline. Completing these degree programs usually takes 18 to 21 months, and afterwards, students may be able to earn positions as legal nursing consultants, certified dialysis nurses, clinical nursing specialists, or nurse anesthetists.

Like students who enroll in RN-to-MSN programs, prospective direct-entry MSN students must meet the requirements set by their specific program. These may include a minimum 3.0 grade point average, a certain minimum score on the GRE® General Test, and a minimum C average in prerequisite courses such as psychology, nutrition, biochemistry, statistics, anatomy and physiology.

Students who are admitted to MSN-without-BSN programs are expected to have the general education requirements of an undergraduate education firmly under their belt, so they can devote their bridge program entirely to learning about nursing, from the basics all the way up to advanced theory, lab work, and clinical rotations. Specific coursework can vary greatly, and may include classes in health care policy, nursing informatics, nursing research, community health nursing, and/or patient safety practices.

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