If you are considering becoming a registered nurse, you might be wondering about the structure and requirements of an accelerated nursing program, such as an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) or a direct entry Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Becoming a nurse represents a significant commitment of time, but for most, the rewards of pursuing a passion for nursing make it worthwhile. If you are thinking about changing from a non-nursing career to nursing, it helps to have a roadmap outlining the steps you’ll need to take and the environment you’ll be entering.
People who have a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing and are looking to switch careers have several educational options:
- If you have the time, you can enroll in a traditional four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. One downside to this approach is that you might have to repeat some general education requirements that you already completed during your first bachelor’s degree.
- A second option is to enter an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, which requires you to have already earned a bachelor’s degree in any discipline, as well as complete prerequisite science courses. This type of program, which is frequently offered online, focuses all of its coursework on nursing practice, theory, and clinical education, so there is no need to spend any credit hours on non-nursing courses. It is “accelerated” because completion of this type of BSN program generally takes less than two years, instead of the four years needed for a traditional bachelor’s degree.
- The third option for a fast-track nursing program is a Master’s Entry in Nursing Practice (MENP) program, another program designed for those who already have a bachelor’s degree. Graduates of this program earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and are prepared to take the NCLEX-RN exam and become a registered nurse. This type of program can also be completed in under two years.
In the 1990s, nursing schools developed accelerated nursing programs to attract people who wanted to enter nursing with a bachelor’s degree. Initially, there were about 30 such second-degree nursing programs in the United States. As of 2018, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) counted 282 accelerated BSN programs in the U.S. and Guam, with 30 more about to be launched. The AACN currently has 63 master’s-level accelerated programs for entry into nursing on their membership list.
Student enrollment in these programs has grown steadily. An AACN survey in 2017 showed that there were 19,541 students enrolled in accelerated baccalaureate programs. That number jumped to 23,354 students in 2018. Master’s-entry programs have seen similar increases: In 2017, there were 7,303 students enrolled and by 2018, the count had grown to 7,493 students.
Is an Online Accelerated Nursing Program Right for You?
When choosing an online accelerated program, you should look closely at what the program will require from you and if a particular program will suit your needs. Understanding how online programs work will help you see if your lifestyle and learning style are suited to this learning format.
1. Accelerated nursing programs are a full-time commitment.
Most online accelerated BSN programs are academically very rigorous and require a commitment of 8–12 hours per day to go over lectures and study materials and 1-2 days per week of clinical rotation. This compressed time frame allows you to get through the program and get into your nursing career more quickly. However, this means you should not work even part-time as the program requires your full attention. High-quality online programs have been specially designed to provide a supportive learning environment so you can enter the field in under two years.
2. Study at a pace that works for you.
If you are organized and self-directed, you can review lectures and materials on a schedule that you set for yourself. There will be established weekly deadlines for assignments, so having good time management skills will be crucial.
David Schultz, a student from Elmhurst University’s online ABSN program, describes his reasons for choosing an online program. “It gave me the options to pick and choose how to break up my own day. It was nice to have the option of, ‘Okay, I can work on this homework all morning, and then I can take a break, and then I can do some personal stuff to break my day up, and still have that school-life balance,’ if you will. That was one of the biggest things for me.”
Hear David Schultz’ full student testimonial below:
3. Build peer relationships in new ways.
While not as easy as meeting after a class you attend in person, you will have time to work with and get to know your fellow students through videoconferencing and online projects, and study sessions. In fact, because student enrollment isn’t limited by location, you’ll be able to tap into a geographically wider network.
4. Communicate with dedicated, responsive faculty.
Your strongest learning relationship will be with the faculty, many of whom are working nurses themselves. Outside of the lectures, online students can contact professors via email or videoconference. Because they understand that students are working remotely, professors are very attuned to the fact that online communication forms the main point of contact and therefore, they are very responsive.
5. Navigate online learning with built-in support systems.
Good online ABSN programs will have support systems in place for online students to take advantage of. Dedicated student advisors can help you navigate the university services and help keep you on track.
Your Path Through the Program
Once you are accepted into an online program, your work will fall into two broad categories: didactic coursework (lectures, homework, peer projects, etc.) and clinical competencies (skills needed for direct patient care). Overall, there are four major components to completing your education and becoming a registered nurse:
- Mastering competencies addressed throughout the curriculum
- Practicing skills hands-on during the campus residency
- Completing clinical rotations
- Preparing for the NCLEX-RN board examination
1. Mastering the curriculum
In courses that cover such varied topics as pathophysiology, nursing theory, and population health, students preparing for a second career as a registered nurse (RN) will expect to find the following themes addressed in their program:
- Concepts and theories of nursing. Essential theories and knowledge of nursing explain the role of a nurse as a leader, ethical practitioner, and professional. Using principles of evidence-based practice, you will learn how to apply frameworks for critical thinking and decision-making in caring for and addressing the healthcare needs of individual patients as well as populations.
- Communities and vulnerable populations. Study the principles of population health to understand health factors as they relate to epidemiology, environment, and social determinants of health.
- Health care systems and leadership. You will learn about organizational systems and leadership, health care policies, and advocacy as it relates to professional nursing practice.
- For master’s candidates, there is often additional coursework on clinical nurse leadership. Education on nursing concepts and theories from a systems perspective, plus leadership training in communication, management, and social responsibility prepares you to take the Clinical Nurse Leader certification exam.
- Direct patient care. You will develop clinical judgment and decision-making skills through laboratory experiences and supervised clinical experiences. Build competencies for the care of patients of all ages and diverse populations with acute or chronic illnesses.
2. Practicing skills hands-on during the campus residency
RNs play a critical role in health care delivery and need to understand patient-care skills, care prioritization, and the variety of settings in which patients receive care. Through your online coursework you will learn the principles behind these skills but having an opportunity to learn in a hands-on environment will cement your knowledge.
Hands-on learning will take place under two different frameworks. First, you will engage in one or more on-campus residencies where you will participate in simulation labs. These last about a week and allow you to master skills by working with medical mannequins and your classmates. You will learn basic skills, such as taking vital signs and blood draws, as well as increase your familiarity with typical hospital equipment. In a simulation environment, you will get to witness the outcomes of your decision-making and receive valuable feedback to improve your critical thinking and patient care.
Another Elmhurst ABSN student, Elysa Katz, discusses her residency experience. “Something that made Elmhurst really exciting to me was the residency program and the sim lab before going to clinicals. That hands-on experience prior to it being with a patient and getting to have a teacher, an instructor right there explaining every step of the way, really drew me towards Elmhurst. Because I thought that was going to be really helpful for me as someone who always did better in labs versus lecture classes. The hands-on experience is how I learn best, so I really valued that.”
Hear Elysa Katz’s full student testimonial below:
3. Completing clinical rotations
Clinical rotations are the second framework for mastering your clinical skills and learning how to work with other health care professionals. Each rotation is a brief assignment to a clinical setting where you learn how to care for real patients.
These assignments are called “rotations” because you will cycle through a variety of settings. The benefit of visiting multiple settings throughout the program of study is that you learn how to provide care to patient populations in several different kinds of circumstances, which gives you a broad range of clinical experiences.
You will work under the supervision of a registered nurse preceptor, who will give you patient assignments and monitor your performance. You will also be evaluated by a clinical faculty member—an experienced nursing professional who will evaluate the feedback from your preceptor and give you guidance about your performance. The clinical faculty will also prepare performance reports to be included in your academic record.
4. Preparing for the licensing exam
To be licensed as a registered nurse, BSN and prelicensure MSN graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN examination. Again, a good online program will include test prep classes as part of the curriculum. These classes will give you a chance to take practice exams, and familiarize yourself with the types of questions that will be on the NCLEX-RN exam.
Once the paperwork is filed with your state board of nursing, and you successfully pass the NCLEX exam, you will be informed when your license has been granted.
Career Considerations for RNs
Besides being a great profession in itself, being a registered nurse puts you in a career field whose job opportunities are growing. Experts who evaluate the healthcare industry have been worried that there aren’t enough nurses to fill vacancies left by retiring nurses and to meet the need to care for a growing number of older adult patients who have multiple health problems.
As a result, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the number of nursing jobs will grow by 9% for the ten-year period between 2020 and 2030. That’s an increase of more than 276,000 jobs.
Some students may be concerned that potential employers will not value a fast-track program as much as they would a degree from a traditional program. The AACN reports that broadly speaking, employers value graduates who have earned a second bachelor’s through accelerated programs more highly because they see these RNs as highly motivated and mature. They value these nurses’ prior work experiences, appreciating that they know how to work in organizations and are quick learners.
Elmhurst University Offers Rigorous Online Programs to Become RNs
If you have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing discipline and are ready to become a registered nurse, look at the program offerings from Elmhurst University. Our accelerated nursing programs are:
- Academically strong and ethically driven
- A fast-track way to enter professional nursing
- Supportive of students with clinical placement services and NCLEX-RN test prep
Consider your options—would the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing or the Master’s Entry in Nursing Practice be a better fit for your career plans? Through either program, you will be prepared for a successful nursing career that allows you to provide quality nursing care to individuals in your community.
Both programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), and Elmhurst University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Elmhurst University is highly ranked among schools in its region by U.S. News & World Report:
- #12 in Best Undergraduate Teaching
- #17 in Regional Universities Midwest
- #22 in Best Colleges for Veterans
- #17 in Best Value Schools
- #19 in Top Performers for Social Mobility
Visit our program page to learn how you can take the next step toward a career in nursing.