What are the Differences Between Bridge and Accelerated Nursing Degrees?

Have you recently decided to make the jump into a nursing career? If so, congratulations! Nursing is a fast-paced, vitally important healthcare profession, with high demand for nurses all over the country, and plenty of opportunities for career advancement. But now that you’ve decided you want to work in nursing, you’ve only just begun your journey–you’re going to need a nursing education.

So, what kind of program should you enroll in? Well, for aspiring nurses who want to start working as quickly as possible, you may have been hearing a lot about two different types of nursing programs–”bridge programs,” and “accelerated nursing degrees.” While both of these types of programs are nursing degrees that allow you to earn qualifications at an accelerated pace, they’re very different in terms of both content, and the type of student’s they’re designed for.

So, what’s going on with bridge programs and accelerated nursing degrees? And which one should you start preparing your applications for? Let’s have a look:

What’s a Bridge Program?

If you’re already working in healthcare, either in a nursing-related role like an LPN or LVN, or as a medical assistant, but want to make the jump to an advanced nursing qualification, most often an RN, you may have already heard of bridge programs–and you might be a great candidate for one. Bridge programs earned their name because they’re meant to build off of your existing qualifications, and serve as a “bridge” to a more advanced degree. Bridge programs typically take less time to complete than the traditional program for the qualification in question (RN, BSN, etc) because they begin at a more advanced point in the nursing curriculum, based on the qualifications students have already earned.

There are many different types of bridge programs, including LPN to RN, LPN to BSN, and medical assistant to RN. Some of these programs can even be completed online or in hybrid form, for those who find remote learning more convenient or easier to fit into their schedule.

What’s an Accelerated Nursing Degree?

An accelerated nursing degree is just what it sounds like–a nursing degree that you can earn at a faster, accelerated pace. Accelerated nursing degrees are typically designed with the assumption that you haven’t necessarily had any nursing-related education in the past. However, many accelerated nursing programs are designed for students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in a different subject.

Accelerated nursing degrees will generally be on a 1-2 year timeline, as opposed to the traditional 4 years for a bachelor’s degree. Because of this highly compressed timeline, the program will typically feature exclusively nursing-related courses, without the liberal arts and general education requirements traditionally found in a bachelor’s. As intensive degree programs, accelerated nursing programs will generally require a high time commitment per week from students.

Pros of Bridge Programs–and Potential Cons

Bridge programs are great for working professionals in the nursing and healthcare industry. They’re often significantly less expensive than traditional degree programs, and don’t take four years to complete, even if you’re going for a bridge program to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) through a program like the one at Ball State, which is considered one of the most prestigious types of undergraduate nursing degrees.

Because bridge programs are aimed at students who have already been working in the healthcare field in some capacity or another, they allow you to bypass many of the introductory healthcare courses you would in a traditional program. Further, they’re typically designed to allow you to keep your job while you study–meaning that they’re likely to have flexible night or weekend classes, or even be offered fully or partially online.

However, bridge programs are designed for a specific type of student–one who has already earned at least some healthcare qualifications. This means that if you’re new to nursing and healthcare more generally, you likely won’t qualify to begin a bridge program. Further, you should know how a bridge program’s pacing, and, if applicable, online/distance learning, will mesh with your personal study style before making the jump to enrollment.

Pros of Accelerated Nursing Degrees–and Potential Cons

A great thing about an accelerated nursing degree is that, like the name suggests, it moves fast–some accelerated nursing degrees can even be completed in as little as one year. Unlike bridge programs, accelerated nursing degrees don’t assume any previous healthcare education or qualifications–this means that they’re great options if you’re looking for a career change. And accelerated nursing degrees are intended to give you high-intensity immersion in the nursing field, which will likely help you get an accurate picture of what working in a fast-paced field like nursing will be like after graduation.

However, many accelerated nursing programs require you to already hold a bachelor’s degree to apply–unlike bridge programs, many of which are intended for students with an associate’s degree or a professional certificate. Further, accelerated degrees require highly intensive study and a major time commitment during the program, meaning juggling a paid job while you study can be very challenging.

Decision Time…

So, which is best? Bridge program or accelerated nursing degree? Well, when it comes to which type of nursing program to choose, there is no such thing as “best”–there’s only what’s best for you, and that will depend on your personal circumstances, your educational and professional background, and your goals for your nursing career. That can mean the best fit for you is an accelerated nursing degree, a bridge program, or neither–perhaps you’ll thrive most in a traditional nursing degree program, or a different kind of nursing or healthcare program altogether.

While typically, a bridge program is best for those who are already working in nursing and/or healthcare, and an accelerated nursing degree is best for career changers who already hold a college degree, there are major differences from student to student and program to program. That’s why you should be sure to do your own research as you’re making your applications and before you pick a school. Good luck, and happy nursing!