Accelerated Nursing Programs

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With an increasing emphasis on preparing nurses at the baccalaureate and higher degree level, one innovative approach to nursing education that is gaining momentum is the accelerated degree program for non-nursing graduates. These programs build on previous learning experiences and provide a way for individuals with undergraduate degrees in other disciplines to transition into nursing. 

Program Basics

Accelerated baccalaureate programs offer the quickest route to licensure as a registered nurse (RN) for adults who have already completed a bachelor's or graduate degree in a non-nursing discipline. 

Fast-track entry-level baccalaureate programs take between 11 and 18 months to complete, including prerequisites. Fast-track entry-level master's degree programs generally take about 3 years to complete. 

Accelerated entry-level nursing programs are available in 46 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In 2013, there were 293 accelerated entry-level baccalaureate programs and 62 entry-level master’s programs available at nursing schools nationwide. In addition, 13 new accelerated entry-level baccalaureate programs are in the planning stages, and 9 new entry-level master's programs are also taking shape.

Fast-Track Nursing Education

Accelerated entry-level baccalaureate programs accomplish programmatic objectives in a short time by building on previous learning experiences. Instruction is intense with courses offered full-time with no breaks between sessions. Students receive the same number of clinical hours as their counterparts in traditional entry-level nursing programs. 

Admission standards for accelerated entry-level programs are high with programs typically requiring a minimum of a 3.0 GPA and a thorough prescreening process. Identifying students who will flourish in this environment is a priority for administrators. Students enrolled in accelerated programs are encouraged NOT to work given the rigor associated with completing degree requirements. 

Accelerated entry-level baccalaureate and master's programs in nursing are appropriately geared to individuals who have already proven their ability to succeed at a senior college or university. Having already completed a bachelor's degree, many second-degree students are attracted to the fast-track master's program as the natural next step in their higher education.

Accelerated Entry-Level Program Graduates

The typical second-degree nursing student is motivated, older, and has higher academic expectations than traditional entry-level nursing students. Accelerated students excel in class and are eager to gain clinical experiences. Faculty find them to be excellent learners who are not afraid to challenge their instructors. 

Graduates of accelerated entry-level programs are prized by nurse employers who value the many layers of skill and education these graduates bring to the workplace. Employers report that these graduates are more mature, possess strong clinical skills, and are quick studies on the job. 

AACN's 2014 survey found that 16,935 students were enrolled in accelerated baccalaureate programs, which represents only a slight increase from 2013 when 16,921 students were enrolled. The number of program graduates has increased from 10,584 in 2013 to 11,080 in 2014 (up 4.7%). In entry-level master's nursing programs, 6,219 students were enrolled and 2,325 students graduated in 2014. By comparison, in 2013, there were 5,930 students enrolled and 2,162 graduates from these programs. 

Given their experience and level of educational achievement, many graduates of entry-level master's programs are being encouraged to pursue roles as nurse educators to help stem the growing shortage of nurse faculty.

Supporting Accelerated Entry-Level Programs

Financial aid for students enrolled in accelerated entry-level baccalaureate and master's programs in nursing is limited. Many practice settings are partnering with schools and offering tuition repayment to graduates as a mechanism to recruit highly qualified nurses. 

Hospitals, health care systems, and other practice settings are encouraged to form partnerships with schools offering accelerated entry-level programs to remove the student's financial burden in exchange for a steady stream of new nurse recruits. Nurse employers including Tenet Healthcare, Carondelet Health Network, University of Missouri Health Care, North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Duke University Health System, and many others are actively supporting the development and growth of accelerated entry-level baccalaureate programs in nursing.

Legislators on the state and federal levels are encouraged to increase scholarship and grant funding for these programs that produce entry-level nurses faster than any other basic nursing education program. These programs are ideal career transition vehicles for those segments of the labor force impacted by fluctuations in the economy. 

Research on Accelerated Nursing Programs

Bentley, R. (2006, May/June). Comparison of traditional and accelerated baccalaureate nursing graduates. Nurse Educator, 31(2), 79-83). 

Brewer, C.S., Kovner, C.T., Poornima, S., Fairchild, S., Kim, H., & Djukic, M. (2009, January-February). A comparison of second degree baccalaureate and traditional-baccalaureate new graduate RNs: Implications for the workforce. Journal of Professional Nursing, 25 (1), 5–14. 

Kearns, L.E., Shoaf, J.R. & Summey, M.B. (2004, June). Performance and satisfaction of second-degree BSN students in Web-based and traditional course delivery environments. Journal of Nursing Education, 43(6), 280-284. 

Meyer, G.A., Hoover, K.G., Maposa, S. (2006, August). A profile of accelerated BSN graduates, 2004. Journal of Nursing Education, 45(8), 324-327. 

Oermann, M.H., Poole-Dawkins, K., Alvarez, M.T., Foster, B.B., & O’Sullivan, R. (2010, October. Managers’ perspectives of new graduates of accelerated nursing programs: How do they compare with other graduates? Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 41(9), 394-399. 

Ouellet, L.L., MacIntosh, J., Gibson, C.H. & Jefferson, S. (2008, February). Evaluation of selected outcomes of an accelerated nursing degree program. Nursing Education Today, 28(2), 194-201. 

Raines, D.A. & Spies, A. (2007, November/December). One year later: Reflections and work activities of accelerated second-degree Bachelor of Science in Nursing Graduates. Journal of Professional Nursing, 23(6), 329-334. 

Roberts, K., Mason, J. & Wood, P. (2001, December). A comparison of a traditional and an accelerated basic nursing education program. Contemporary Nurse, 11(2/3), 283-287. 

Rouse, S.M. & Rooda, L.A. (2010, June 1). Factors for attrition in an accelerated baccalaureate nursing program. Journal of Nursing Education, 49(6), 359-362. 

Seldomridge, L.A. & DiBartolo, M.C. (2007, November/December). The changing face of accelerated second bachelor’s degree students. Nurse Educator, 32(6), 240-245. 

Seldomridge, L.A. & DiBartolo, M.C. (2005, March-April). A profile of accelerated second bachelor's degree nursing students. Nurse Educator, 30(2), 65-68. 

White, K., Wax, W. & Berrey, A. (2000, September-October). Accelerated second degree advanced practice nurses: how do they fare in the job market? Nursing Outlook, 48(5), 218-222. 

Ziehm, S.R., Uibel, I.C., Fontaine, D.K. & Scherzer, T. (2011, July). Success indicators for an accelerated masters entry nursing program: Staff RN performance. Journal of Nursing Education, 49(7), 395-403.