10 Great Nursing Bridge Programs to Consider

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Written by Marie Hasty, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Nursing students in a bridge program

If you’re a high school graduate or have your GED and you want to get into the nursing profession, you can choose from traditional nursing education tracks, like:

But what if you’ve already been working in one of those roles and you’re ready to move to the next level of nursing? You’re certainly not expected to start your education from scratch. That’s where nursing bridge programs come in.

What Is a Nursing Bridge Program?

Nursing bridge programs expedite nursing education for people who have already entered the healthcare workforce and want to expand their scope of practice. Many nursing schools provide these options along with their traditional programs, and many exist in hybrid and fully online formats.

Bridge programs for nursing are not the same as accelerated nursing programs or direct-entry programs. If a person already has a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing subject, they can enroll in an accelerated or direct-entry nursing program and complete the prerequisites. These students may have prior work experience, or they could start right after college graduation, but they won’t have a nursing background.

Bridge programs, on the other hand, target people who already have healthcare experience and are often already working as RNs, LPNs, CNAs, or paramedics.

Why Enroll in a Nursing Bridge Program?

Bridge programs offer a pathway for nurses to advance their credentials and education. They’re designed to bridge the gap between different levels of nursing education, allowing for a smoother transition and expanded opportunities. Here are some reasons why a bridge program could be a good fit for you:

You’re looking for a new role with a wider scope of practice. For example, LPNs can do some of the same skills as an RN, but they must practice under the supervision of one. Going from LPN to RN opens up opportunities to advance your skills, and practice more autonomously. On the other hand, going from RN to DNP means you can practice at an advanced level, and the role is closer to that of a physician’s assistant.

You’re seeking ways to increase your nursing income. Gaining a new credential is one of the best ways to broaden your skill set and leverage a higher salary. For example, RNs with BSNs make more money in many facilities, so earning a bachelor’s can open the doors for higher pay and career mobility. BSN nurses have more opportunities for certification and advanced education, which can also increase your income.

You’re seeking to specialize in a certain area of nursing. Advanced degrees make it easier to enter into specialty roles in post-acute and acute care. For example, if you’re a BSN-prepared nurse working in labor and delivery, earning your DNP in a bridge program will allow you to specialize further as a nurse midwife.

Your employer requires you to complete a higher level of education. This is most commonly required in hospital environments where employers may hire ADN-prepared nurses with the contingency that they must complete a BSN bridge program within a year of hire. Having more BSN-prepared nurses helps hospitals qualify for Magnet status, and they’re linked with higher patient safety.

You want to grow professionally, learn new skills, and boost your confidence. Bridge programs offer a way to advance your nursing career, have more impact on patients, and deepen your clinical and professional knowledge. If you’ve been feeling tired of your current role or static in your job, a bridge program can help revitalize your career.

Nursing bridge programs example.

Top 10 Nursing Bridge Programs

The program that’s best for you will depend on the credentials you already have and your goals for the next phase of your career. Here are 10 nursing bridge programs to know about.

1. CMA to LPN

Certified medical assistants who are looking for a way to advance their careers may consider becoming an LPN. These programs can take as little as a year, qualifying you to take the NCLEX-PN in your state. Since LPN programs rely heavily on practical skills, most are in-person. Once you’re an LPN you can practice in a variety of settings, working under the supervision of an RN.

Average MA salary: $43,350

Average LPN salary: $60,790

2. LPN to ADN/RN

LPNs who want to earn more income, practice independently, and work in a wider variety of settings should consider becoming RNs. There are two ways to do this: LPN-to-ADN programs and LPN-to-BSN programs. The ADN track is offered at technical and community colleges, and can take as little as a year and a half.

Average LPN salary: $60,790

Average RN salary: $94,480

3. Paramedic to RN

Paramedics may choose to pursue a nursing degree to work in a wider range of settings, increasing their income and opportunities for advancement. An RN with a paramedic background is well-positioned to work in the emergency department, urgent care, or another acute care setting. You might pursue either an ADN or BSN degree: the ADN will likely take around two years, and the BSN can take as little as 28 months.

Average paramedic salary: $57,450

Average RN salary: $94,480

4. ADN/RN to BSN

These nursing bridge programs are some of the most common, and are regularly offered online for students who plan to continue working during their degree. Earning a BSN is a common requirement for new nurses in the acute hospital setting, and can lead to more opportunities for career advancement, certification, and higher income. ADN-to-BSN programs can take as little as 16 months.

Average RN salary: $94,480. Some facilities offer higher pay for BSN-prepared nurses. Check with your facility to see if they offer raises for RNs who have completed a BSN degree.

5. LPN to BSN

LPNs may want to acquire their BSN, because RNs with bachelor’s degrees are licensed to work in a wider variety of settings than LPNs, and tend to make a higher wage. If you’re okay with a degree that takes a little longer and costs more, a BSN will qualify you for more career opportunities down the line. LPN-to-BSN programs can take as little as four years.

Average LPN salary: $60,790

Average RN salary: $94,480

6. ADN/RN to MSN

ADN-prepared RNs who are looking to practice as a nurse practitioner (NP) or another advanced practice role should consider an RN-to-MSN bridge program. These master’s programs are offered in several tracks, including family medicine, nursing leadership, education, and others, and they can take as little as two years.

Average RN salary: $94,480

Average NP salary: $128,490

7. BSN to MSN/MBA

BSN nurses who are looking to advance their education in nursing and another area should consider a hybrid degree, such as a combined MSN/MBA. Another example is a combined MSN/MPH degree, which prepares you for leadership in public health nursing. Programs like this vary in length and may position you to work in a wider variety of settings.

Average RN salary: $94,480

Average nurse administrator salary: $86,620

8. BSN to PhD

BSN-to-PhD programs offer nurses the opportunity to jump-start their academic career. If you’re wanting to pursue research, nursing education, policy development, and academic advancement, a PhD will help you with any of these goals. Program lengths are as little as five years.

Average RN salary: $94,480

Average nursing instructor salary: $86,530

9. BSN to DNP

RNs with BSNs may attend BSN-to-DNP bridge programs, acquiring their doctorate degree in less time than it would take otherwise. Some DNPs, such as nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives, can earn upwards of six figures. Programs like this take as little as three years of full-time study and practicum.

Average RN salary: $94,480

Average nurse practitioner salary: $128,490

10. DNP to PhD

A DNP-to-PhD bridge program allows nurses to transition from a practice-focused terminal degree (DNP) to a research-focused terminal degree (PhD). These programs help nurses strengthen their capacity to bridge the gap between clinical practice and research, becoming versatile professionals capable of addressing complex healthcare challenges through a dual lens of advanced clinical knowledge and research excellence.

Average nurse practitioner salary: $128,490

Average nursing professor salary: $86,530

How Much Do Nursing Bridge Programs Cost, and Are They Worthwhile?

If you’re trying to calculate whether the cost of a bridge program could be worth it for you, do some research on potential programs and their tuition. The cost of a nursing bridge program will depend on several factors:

  • Type of program
  • School you attend
  • Online/hybrid/in-person formats
  • How long the program is
  • Scholarships/financial aid available to you

Once you’ve calculated what you’ll pay in tuition, it’s worth thinking about the potential gains of earning a more advanced education. Whether or not a degree is worthwhile for you will depend on your unique situation and goals. Answer these questions to help you discern whether a program is worth your valuable time and money:

  • How much more income could I make with a new credential?
  • Would I enjoy working with a wider scope of practice?
  • What types of opportunities could this degree open up for me?
  • What do I want my life to look like after this degree, and will it reasonably get me there?
  • What kinds of scholarships or student loans would I need to make this degree financially feasible?

Pros and Cons of Nursing Bridge Programs

Pros:

  1. Cost-efficient: Bridge programs can be more affordable than the cost of traditional nursing programs, regardless of pace or whether they’re completed online or in person. This is because many bridge programs are condensing two academic degrees into one. For example, if you attend a BSN-to-DNP program, you’ll likely pay less than if you got a separate MSN degree, then a DNP.
  2. Flexible schedules: Some bridge programs are self-paced, and there are often more options for class dates and times. Many bridge programs for nursing allow students to choose healthcare facilities for their clinical rotations.
  3. Wide variety: There’s a bridge program for a vast array of experience and education levels. Paramedic-to-nurse or CNA-to-nurse bridge programs and BSN-to-MSN programs are common examples. Students don’t need to fulfill experience requirements to complete accelerated nursing programs if they have a bachelor’s degree and have the prerequisites.

Cons:

  1. Fast-paced: For some nursing bridge programs, you must be a quick learner and know how to cope with the anxiety attached to processing a lot of information in a small amount of time.
  2. Extra responsibility: Self-paced bridge programs are helpful as long as you’re disciplined. These programs are geared towards professionals who are organized, competent, and self-motivated — it’s up to you to ensure you follow through with your goals.
  3. Fewer connections: Since many of these programs are partially or fully online, students may find that they don’t gain as many friendships or peer relationships. You may need to advocate for yourself with your instructors to get the academic support you need.

Looking for a Job While You Go Back to School?

Nursing bridge programs are often structured for working professionals. If you’re a CNA, LPN, RN, or NP, find out how IntelyCare can support your career path by matching you with the right nurse jobs that accommodate you.