Considering an Accelerated Nursing Program? Here’s What You Should Know

Considering an Accelerated Nursing Program? Here’s What You Should Know

Higher institutions of learning are responding to the demands of society in the need for additional Registered Nurses (RNs) by offering accelerated degrees in nursing. These programs are designed for those who hold a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in areas other than nursing. Many schools offer an accelerated, or direct entry, program for a BA/BS to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN); fewer schools offer a BA/BS to Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or BA/BS to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

There has been a steady increase in the number of RNs with a bachelor’s degree over the past several years. One reason for this increase could be attributed to the fact that nurses with a bachelor’s degree report earning an average of $10,000 more per year than those nurses with a diploma or Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN). Additionally, many institutions are requiring their staff nurses to hold a minimum of a BSN even for direct patient care or charge nurse positions. In turn, these facilities are paying higher wages to attract and retain the bachelor’s-prepared nurse.

Accelerated nursing programs require a rigorous commitment to the program, which can run anywhere from 12 to 24 months, depending on the institution. Most schools offer traditional or hybrid tracks where courses are delivered on-campus with a few courses completed online. Those schools with traditional (weekday courses on the campus) tracks discourage their students from working during the accelerated program to foster an environment of less distractions and to aid in the overall success of completing the demanding coursework and clinical requirements.

Tuition for accelerated programs may vary from school to school. Public institutions, such as California State University, Fullerton, run close to $23,000 for tuition and fees. Private schools like Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, charge over $80,000 for their 15-month program. These tuitions and fees do not include other necessary items such as books, lab fees, uniforms, transportation to clinical sites, etc. Students must plan for several more thousand dollars to cover these additional items.

Prerequisites for accelerated programs also vary according to the school. For example, Samford University in Alabama requires those applying for the accelerated BSN program to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in the past 10 years with a minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) of 2.5. Additionally, the program requires the applicant to have completed a number of science courses including anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and chemistry. Most nursing programs also required students to complete the TEAS test and/or Critical Thinking tests prior to admission.

Coursework for the accelerated programs remains fairly stable as set forth by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and the requirements for accreditation through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Courses may include:

  • Adult Health I, II, III
  • Pharmacology
  • Health Assessment and Promotion
  • Pathophysiology
  • Women’s Health Nursing
  • Child and Adolescent Health Nursing
  • Evidenced-Based Practice
  • Epidemiology for Population-Based Care
  • Inter-Professional Health Care Practices
  • Leadership in Nursing
  • Public Health Nursing
  • Psychiatric Nursing
  • Role Transition

In addition to the coursework, nursing students will also complete over 1,035 hours in clinical rotations through a variety of medical settings such as critical care, medical/surgical, emergency rooms, labor and delivery, pediatrics, psychiatry, and community health.

For those students who have completed a bachelor’s degree in another field, and now see the value that nursing has to offer, options such as accelerated nursing programs allow them to pursue that career at any stage in their life path. Accelerated nursing programs are an excellent way to complete a degree in nursing, in a short period of time, for a lifetime of reward and benefit.

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On the Fast Track

Are you one of the growing number of minority students who are entering nursing school later in life, or returning to school mid-career to continue your education by earning a baccalaureate or post-graduate degree? If so, you may be wishing there was a way to make up for lost time, a way to somehow earn your advanced degree just a little more quickly than usual so that you can put it to work for you as soon as possible.

Happily, fulfilling this desire is not impossible at all. Enrolling in a so-called “fast-track” nursing program—i.e., a program that allows students to earn two degrees concurrently or even bypass one degree level altogether—could be the perfect solution for your needs.

The fast-track approach to advancing your education means that you don’t have to follow the traditional route of first gaining basic registered nurse (RN) preparation in hospital-based (diploma), associate (AA/AD/AS) or baccalaureate (BSN) programs and then sequentially attaining master’s and doctoral degrees. Fast-track programs are a more customized alternative in which, to cite just two examples, a student with an AD degree can go directly to a master’s degree without having to separately earn a baccalaureate, or a nurse with a BSN can go directly to a PhD, bypassing the MSN.

If this approach sounds appealing to you, one of the first and most important decisions you will need to make is choosing the nursing program that will best facilitate your career goals within a fast-track context. With at least 600 nursing programs available throughout the United States, you will find many that offer contemporary options that are far more flexible and non-linear than traditional nursing programs.

When perusing a program’s literature, look for phrases like “individualize your program,” “may be required” and “flexible options.” These phrases signal that the traditional degree sequence may be circumvented or combined, depending upon the student’s needs.

Which Lane is Right for You?

For a closer look at how fast-track degree programs work, and to give you an introduction to the many different possibilities available, here are just a few examples of successful programs from around the country.

Non-Nurse with BS or BA to RN with Master’s Degree. Even if you are not a registered nurse, it is possible to graduate as an RN with a master’s degree in nursing. For example, the University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing offers the Masters Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN), a three-year program leading to an MS degree for persons without previous nursing preparation but with a baccalaureate degree (BS/BA) in another field. For more information, see the university’s Web site (

About 60 students are admitted to the MEPN program each year. The first year of study, which spans four quarters, provides a general foundation in nursing and qualifies the student to take the California Board of Registered Nursing licensure examination. The final two years of the program are more individually paced.


RN with Diploma or Associate Degree to RN with Master’s Degree. Several universities offer accelerated coursework for RNs with two-year degrees who wish to earn a master’s degree in nursing, bypassing the BSN. The Department of Nursing at California State University, Los Angeles (, currently offers two different fast-track MS degree options. The first program is for RNs with non-nursing baccalaureate degrees; the other is for RNs without a baccalaureate degree. The admission requirements, program length and coursework vary depending on the educational track entered. Both programs offer basic and advanced nursing study.

The University of Michigan School of Nursing ( is another school that offers an RN-to-MS degree program; however, this option is available at the Ann Arbor campus only. You can complete the RN-to-MS pathway as a part-time student in three to four years, depending on your master’s specialty. The program integrates your prior education and experience into the curriculum by using your transfer credits and by allowing you to earn credit through examinations.

RN with BSN to RN with PhD. If you are an RN with a baccalaureate degree, you can earn a PhD in Nursing Science without having a master’s degree. For instance, at the University of Washington School of Nursing, Seattle (, an RN with an bachelor’s degree can either earn a master’s degree while also pursuing a PhD degree, or graduate with a PhD without going for the master’s.


Other schools, such as Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore ( have programs where an RN with a BSN can earn a combined MSN/PhD concurrently. Both the Seattle and Johns Hopkins programs are highly selective, have an integrated course of study and allow students to develop their own research programs with faculty guidance.

Can You Handle the Speed?

Fast-track educational options have both benefits and limitations. Because these positives and negatives are interrelated, it’s important to consider them carefully within the context of your career goals. The benefit of completing the required coursework for two degrees in an accelerated format, for instance, is coupled with the fact that the coursework is more intense and time-consuming. The shorter length of fast-track programs requires you to learn more information in less time than a student enrolled in a traditional program in which each degree is earned sequentially.

There are also financial considerations. If you are enrolled in a fast-track option, you may find it impossible to work part-time because of your heavier academic schedule. Therefore, your need for ongoing financial aid is more critical and substantial.

In a fast-track program, you may have fewer opportunities to benefit from educational diversity. For instance, a student earning two separate degrees at two different universities may experience different curricula and teaching styles, while a student earning a fast-track or combination degree will more than likely learn in similar environments with a select group of faculty. On the other hand, students in a fast-track program may be able to form more substantial relationships with their professors over time, building stronger collegial networks which may be beneficial in the future.

One major limitation of earning a PhD without a master’s degree in nursing is that many state boards of nursing, as well as schools of nursing, recognize the master’s degree as qualification for undergraduate- and graduate-level clinical teaching, while the PhD is seen as a research-focused degree. Thus, without the master’s degree, you may not be technically prepared to teach clinical-level coursework—a significant drawback if your desired career plan involves becoming a faculty member.

Getting On the Road


If you are interested in entering nursing with an advanced degree, or are an RN seeking to increase your career potential by continuing your professional education, now is an excellent time to learn more about fast-track degree programs. Use the Internet as a resource to explore the flexible educational options available to you. Many of these programs are tailored to recognize your abilities and talents while capitalizing on your prior educational and clinical experience.

Earning advanced degrees helps you hone your critical thinking and decision-making skills while introducing you to emerging, innovative areas of nursing. Your career options as an RN will multiply as you discover exciting new areas for professional growth and advanced competency.

Baccalaureate Nursing in Rural Oklahoma: Strategies for Success

Baccalaureate Nursing in Rural Oklahoma: Strategies for Success

ECU@SOSU nursing students Karen Holiday, Dana Danderson, Sabrina Durant and Brandie GrayECU@SOSU nursing students Karen Holiday, Dana Danderson, Sabrina Durant and Brandie Gray participate in a clinical day at the Choctaw Nation Health Care Center in Talihina, Oklahoma.

Providing baccalaureate nursing education in a culturally diverse rural setting affords unique opportunities and challenges for faculty, administration and students–especially when that education is delivered via interactive television. This article will describe how East Central University (ECU) and Southeast Oklahoma State University (SOSU) joined resources to offer a distance learning extension of ECU’s baccalaureate nursing program at SOSU.


For more than 30 years, ECU has been the only baccalaureate nursing program serving southeastern Oklahoma and north Texas. Both ECU and SOSU are situated in southeast Oklahoma, which is home to the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations’ tribal headquarters. ECU’s service area consists of 22 counties, 20 of which are federally designated as medically underserved. Approximately 35% of the university’s nursing majors self-identify as American Indian and a high percentage of nursing majors are first-generation college attendees. There is a higher percentage of American Indian students enrolled in nursing compared to the average percentage of American Indian students enrolled on both the ECU and SOSU campuses in other academic majors.

In the mid 1990s the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education urged academic institutions to work collaboratively to preclude program duplication. The presidents of both ECU and SOSU enthusiastically supported this concept and directed their respective vice presidents of Academic Affairs to proceed with establishing the ECU baccalaureate nursing program at SOSU. The goal of our joint project has been to provide a quality baccalaureate nursing educational experience to students enrolled on both campuses. Another major goal has been to enhance cultural experiences for our nursing students, with an emphasis on American Indian culture.

First of Its Kind

This project was unique in that there were no similar collaborative programs in Oklahoma at the time. Prior to this, a number of academic institutions in the state had delivered courses and programs electronically to other institutions. However, the difference between our project and other existing collaborative programs is that ECU placed a program coordinator from its faculty, Dr. Deborah Flowers, on-site at the SOSU campus. Other unique aspects of the collaboration were signing an articulation agreement with SOSU to accept its general education and science support courses in ECU’s program, agreeing to financial aid arrangements and having ECU award the degree.

Establishing the nursing program extension was technically challenging, because the ECU courses needed to be reformatted for live electronic delivery over the State Regents’ One-Net system of two-way interactive digital television (ITV) and enhanced with WebCT. Since the nursing faculty had no previous experience in distance education, ECU administration supported their efforts to attend conferences in order to learn these skills. In addition, laboratory space and equipment and clinical experiences had to be planned.

To fund the project, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education provided ECU with a continuing special appropriation of $250,000 (now reduced by budget cuts to about $225,000) and provided SOSU with a one-time $100,000 allocation to build and equip an ITV classroom and office space. Additional funding was achieved through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration grant funded through the Division of Nursing’s Basic Nursing Education and Practice program (BNEP). The grant, Extending Baccalaureate Nursing Education to Rural Oklahoma, was funded in 2000 for approximately $800,000 over three years. A second grant, Nursing Education with Enhanced Retention Activities (NEW ERA), is now in progress.

Community support to establish and retain the cooperative program has been outstanding. Local health care employers seek our nursing graduates and have actively supported our program. Clinical facilities and the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations have funded professorial chairs to assist with faculty salaries. Two clinical facilities assist with part-time clinical faculty salaries. In addition, the Chickasaw Nation donates two textbooks to each entering sophomore student: R.E. Spector’s Cultural Diversity in Health & Illness (Sixth Edition) and Twiname & Boyd’s Student Nurse Handbook: Difficult Concepts Made Easy (Second Edition).

Setting the Stage

Once the full-time on-site program coordinator was designated, we needed to create a name for the distance education nursing program that would be acceptable to both schools. This required some political sensitivity, because for many years a rivalry had existed between the two institutions. After a certain amount of discussion, the name chosen for the program was ECU @ Southeastern Department of Nursing (ECU@SOSU).

The next step was the development of the distance education site. Specific activities we needed to accomplish included:

1. Developing a liaison between ECU and SOSU and establishing relations with key persons and departments at SOSU.

2. Designating space for the new department, staffing it, and equipping it.

3. Developing policies and procedures relating to requirements for general education, nursing prerequisites, course substitutions, transference of financial aid, student registration and enrollment, and student transfers between campuses, as well as adapting existing ECU Department of Nursing policies and procedures for ECU @ Southeastern nursing students.

4. Developing and implementing a media plan for recruitment of a qualified student applicant pool.

5. Establishing clinical sites in the surrounding area and hiring clinical instructors.

6. Ensuring equal access to quality nursing education for students at both schools, including access to campus resources, student support services, student nursing organizations and faculty advisement.

The ECU @ Southeastern Department of Nursing was placed under the auspices of the SOSU Department of Biology, a division of the SOSU School of Arts and Sciences, with the chain of command beginning with the chair of the Biology Department. We held meetings with the various department personnel with whom the ECU@SOSU program coordinator would be working. Qualified Department of Nursing office personnel were hired and the department’s computer, basic skills and physical assessment laboratories were fully equipped to replicate ECU’s laboratories. The SOSU Telecommunications Department oversaw the installation of two state-of-the-art ITV classrooms.

To ensure adequate numbers of qualified prospective students from which to select a nursing class, the ECU @ Southeastern Department of Nursing advertised to the SOSU catchment area, using a recruitment/media plan developed with input from an American Indian consultant and the ECU public relations director. The program coordinator, Dr. Flowers, met with nursing administrators to select qualified clinical sites; contracts were signed as per ECU protocols. Locating qualified clinical faculty in this rural setting was a challenge, but having available ECU graduates in the area has been an asset.

An articulation agreement between ECU and SOSU was developed, delineating the specific responsibilities each university would assume in the education of the ECU@SOSU students. Both university presidents signed the agreement.

All of these activities took place over approximately 18 months while the distant site became operational. The first cohort of students to graduate from the ECU @ Southeastern Department of Nursing did so in 2002.

Focusing on Retention

While our first HRSA grant project focused on initiating a baccalaureate nursing program at SOSU, the current project is focused on student retention and successful graduation. Because of concern that the new nursing department’s retention rate was not as high as anticipated, we developed the second project with the goal of increasing retention in order to increase the workforce of culturally competent professional nurses who would be able to serve the area’s diverse communities. Nursing faculty and students in the ECU@SOSU program are involved in a variety of retention activities. Some activities are didactic, others emphasize student orientation and advisement.



From the beginning, students are introduced to retention activities as part of their program acceptance packet. In an effort to communicate college expectations to students and their families, the department holds a “Back to School Night” for students and their significant others. The event is conducted in the first few weeks of the sophomore-level course and is transmitted via ITV with some nursing faculty at each site. The department chair welcomes students and guests, explains the program and underscores the students’ study time expectations. Each faculty member is introduced and the respective department sites are open for tours. This event also provides an opportunity to introduce and explain specific retention activities, particularly the Individual Observational Experience and the department’s friendly “invasive advisement.”


Invasive advisement is a proactive advising approach that the department has adopted. Following each unit exam, the project retention coordinator communicates with each student via the course Web site. Students are sent notes, which vary in content based on their test grades. Students in academic jeopardy are asked to make an appointment with the course coordinator or faculty to discuss issues that may be impacting their performance. The students are asked to identify work hours, study techniques and any other factors that may be affecting their academic success. Then faculty members assist the students in planning interventions, including referrals to university services, such as counseling for test anxiety, support services for study and test-taking skills, and tutoring arranged by ECU’s Native American counselor. The faculty document each advising session.

Individual Observational Experiences (IOEx) are offered to each sophomore-level student enrolled in the first clinical course. Students participate in a four-hour clinical observational experience in their choice of clinical settings. Four local clinical agencies generously pair staff nurses with students, most of whom have never worked in a hospital setting. The goal is to offer a realistic look at nursing from a “real” nurse’s perspective. The project director coordinates IOExs in concert with the Human Resources or nursing office staff at the participating health care facilities.

In addition, faculty have designed in-class activities, called Teaching-Learning Cultural sessions (TLCs), which promote student retention. TLCs are concentrated, lively 10- to 15-minute weekly sessions that cover a multitude of topics, such as health promotion, stress reduction and how to form an effective study group. For example, students may be asked to complete a schedule of their week, evaluate quality study time and determine realistic study goals. The schedules become the basis for TLC class discussion about time management. TLCs can also incorporate cultural or pathophysiologic topics relevant to the class lecture material.

Plus, clinical cultural sessions are held monthly during post-conference in most major clinical junior- and senior-level courses. Students from both the ECU and SOSU campuses attend these sessions to discuss cultural aspects of nursing care. Clinical faculty develop the sessions and facilitate discussion, which is held via ITV. For example: Students assess their assigned patient’s traditional health beliefs or home health practices, then share this information with their student colleagues. As part of the discussion, students also share their own family’s traditions. Additional clinical topics include beliefs related to the dying process, diabetic care and cultural or ethnic assessment findings. The textbooks by Spector and Twiname & Boyd serve as a springboard for both TLCs and clinical cultural sessions.

A culminating senior-level cultural experience occurs in the Community Health course. Students plan, implement and evaluate health career fairs and health assessments at local elementary and secondary schools that have a high percentage of American Indian students.

Bridging Boundaries

Developing and implementing this technologically complex collaborative project was often challenging, but the results we have achieved together have been more than worth it. Our first grant project’s goal of bringing baccalaureate nursing to rural southeastern Oklahoma has been successfully met: We have a vibrant extended nursing department which is flourishing in the distance education environment.

NCLEX-RN® pass rates are consistent across the two campuses and exceed the national average. This fall semester, the senior class will be the largest we have ever had, with 60 students. This represents a two-year average increase of over 10 students. The junior class has retained 71 of the original 74 students. Preparation of a new ITV classroom is in progress to accommodate the larger ECU campus site class size. We continue to maintain a higher enrollment of Native American students in the nursing program than the overall average percentage on both the ECU and SOSU campuses.

We have bridged many boundaries to build the ECU @ Southeastern Department of Nursing, not the least of which was the longstanding rivalry between the two educational institutions. Initially the two campuses had separate student nurse organizations, but now the two organizations are merging. Most clinical agencies in the area have been eager to accommodate ECU@SOSU nursing students and faculty.

By extending ECU’s program to a sister university with an equally diverse student population, we have increased the accessibility of a baccalaureate nursing program that is well established and fully accredited. We continue to maintain a philosophy of providing quality nursing education to all students regardless of which campus site they attend. Faculty physically travel to ECU@SOSU to originate at least 25% of didactic class sessions. The instructors’ sensitivity to promoting distant students’ class participation has been integral in achieving inclusiveness.

Classroom and clinical activities are designed to enhance student interaction across both campuses and to increase cultural sensitivity. Every junior-level student has at least one clinical day at the Chickasaw Nation’s Carl Albert Indian Health Facility. ECU campus senior students travel to the ECU@SOSU campus for selected class activities. The program’s clinical cultural sessions and TLCs receive positive evaluations from the students.

An important benefit of this project is that we are helping to alleviate minority health care disparities in our area by reaching out to surrounding diverse communities to recruit our nursing students. We also conduct clinical activities in predominantly Native American secondary schools. In one of these schools, our senior Community Health students have conducted physical assessments and health career fairs for six years; the high school students look forward to the nursing students’ activities. Altogether, approximately 200 grade school and high school students per year participate in activities planned by our nursing students. At least one of these pre-college students has indicated that she plans to enroll in our nursing program when she graduates.

Most of the nurses we prepare at ECU and at ECU @ Southeastern remain in the area after graduation. Thus, our project has increased the numbers of culturally diverse professional nurses in the rural Oklahoma health care workforce. As more baccalaureate-prepared American Indian students continue to graduate from our program and embark on nursing careers, they will be able to provide enhanced culturally sensitive care to underserved populations who urgently need it.

Authors’ Note

The authors gratefully acknowledge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Health Professions, Division of Nursing for its financial support of this project. We also wish to express our gratitude to the administrations at ECU and SOSU, and to the ECU Department of Nursing’s faculty, staff and students.