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Fast Track RN-to-BSN Programs

The Institute of Medicine has set a goal for 80 percent of all nurses to earn a bachelor’s degree by 2020. The reason is that extensive research has shown patient outcomes improve when a larger proportion of nurses have a bachelor’s degree, which prepares nurses to better provide for patients. This is good news for patients, but a concern for working registered nurses who have the necessary experience and expertise, but lack the formal education expected of tomorrow’s nurses.

Luckily, the education and healthcare industries have been quick to recognize that the ideal education option for these nurses is missing from the market. As a result, fast track online RN-to-BSN programs have been developed to fill the gap. For working nurses eager to keep their career on an upward trajectory, this is a degree program that puts their needs front and center.

What Does Fast Track Mean?

The dilemma that many working nurses face is they have some education, just not a four-year degree. However, in order to make up the difference, they have to invest a ton of time or money into a BSN just to duplicate much of the training and education they already have. That puts a huge burden on nurses and makes it much harder to achieve the national 80 percent goal.

“Fast track” is a blanket term used to describe programs that let working nurses focus only on the curriculum they are lacking. These programs are sometimes also called accelerated or bridge programs because they build on the education nurses already have while offering a faster and easier way to make up the difference. In short, these programs are designed specifically for nurses who need a BSN credential but can’t invest in a full four-year BSN program.

How Long Does a Program Take?

The exact duration of a fast track online RN-to-BSN program varies by institution, but most are designed to take a year or less for students who choose to attend full-time. Each institution sets its own standards for admission, but typically these programs are open to licensed nurses with either an associate’s degree or diploma in nursing.

If attending full-time is not an option, there are variations on the program that do not have the fast track emphasis. These may take two years or longer to complete, but they accommodate students who need to work full-time or meet family obligations, and they offer the same kind of consolidated approach to learning that makes a BSN easier to achieve.

What to Expect from a Program?

Since these programs are accelerated, the demand placed on students is high. The goal is to teach important concepts and materials in depth, but also to cover a lot of material in a short amount of time. That means students are expected to spend a lot of time outside of structured class settings reading, studying and pursuing further instruction, which also most likely includes clinical hours.

Since the bulk of the curriculum is delivered online, these programs accommodate students who cannot commit to the strict schedule or lengthy commute of in-person classes. Typically, online learning is supplemented by face-to-face instruction in a medical or laboratory setting. The location and frequency of these meetings will vary by program.

Is a Fast Track Online RN-to-BSN Program Right for You?

The first question to ask is whether a having a BSN is going to be a requirement for working RNs or just a preference? It’s true that having a BSN has not been made a formal requirement for RNs. But when the vast majority of nurses have one, any job seeker without one will be at a distinct disadvantage. Keeping pace with standards and expectations in the industry ensures that a nursing career does not stall unnecessarily or eliminate opportunities for advancement.

Understanding that a BSN is a priority, a fast track online RN-to-BSN program is an appealing option for a lot of nurses. It cuts the cost of continuing education, condenses the material for quick consumption, and provides a level of education and instruction designed specifically to expand and improve a nurse’s skills. In some cases, an employer may even offer incentives or assistance. The only drawback is the pace. Students who cannot make a concentrated commitment to schooling may be better served by a program not designated as fast track.

How Do You Identify a Quality Program?

Like all education options, the best ones fit into your budget, accommodate your schedule, respect your learning needs, and provide the specific coursework/instruction you require. However, the one feature that any potential program must have is accreditation from The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN). For the purposes of licensing, nurses must possess degrees from programs that have been audited for quality. The online nature of many fast track programs has brought a wave of new education options into the market, but only those awarded accreditation should be considered.


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