Paramedic to RN Bridge Program Guide
Paramedics and Registered Nurses are both essential healthcare professionals. Both professions provide a large degree of autonomy and decision-making, with paramedics providing emergency medical care in the pre-hospital environment while registered nurses provide care in a wide range of settings.
If you are a paramedic, the idea of transitioning to a career as a Registered Nurse can be very appealing. Constantly facing emergencies and unpredictable situations can take an emotional and physical toll. While an RN position provides greater predictability, a sense of place and the ability to provide an in-depth level of care, it also allows a greater connection to be made with patients.
RNs earn significantly more money than paramedics and have more opportunities for advancement and long-term job stability. RNs are also exposed to a wider range of options for care settings and are able to work in specialty areas that are of particular interest to them. This educational guide will answer many of your questions about the path from working as a paramedic to earning an RN degree, as well as the benefits that doing so provides.
The Benefits of Getting a Registered Nurse Degree as a Paramedic
There are many benefits to building on your paramedic training and experience and pursuing a degree as a registered nurse. These include:
- Higher earnings potential. According to U.S. News and World Report, the median salary for paramedics in 2017 was $36,700, while registered nurses earned a median salary of $73,550. Though paramedic salaries vary based on geographic region, the national average pay for registered nurse positions is almost double what paramedics get paid.
- Far more options in work setting. As first responders, paramedics’ work settings can vary, but only to a small degree: they work in ambulances, helicopters, ships and other areas where immediate urgent assessment and care is required. Registered nurses are able to work in a much wider range of settings, from physicians’ offices to all areas of hospitals, from schools to nursing homes.
- More choices in both position and specialization. Paramedics work in one specialty area and with one purpose: to quickly assess and evaluate the situation, then take action to provide the medical care needed until the patient can be transferred into the hands of another healthcare professional. Registered nurses are able to choose from a wide range of care areas and to focus on particular areas of interest such as pediatrics, oncology and geriatrics, as well as emergency care.
- More opportunity for patient engagement. While paramedics make essential medical decisions, their interactions with patients are necessarily brief and driven by a sense of urgency. Registered nurses have the ability to work with patients in a more slow-paced and thoughtful manner, establishing an in-depth connection and managing patient wellbeing over an extended period of time.
- Less stress. As a paramedic, your job is perpetually fast-paced and defined by episodes of stress in which you are constantly tasked with making life-or-death decisions. Registered nurses can work in care settings that allow a slower pace, greater predictability, and less job burnout. They also can rely on other team members who also share the responsibilities of a specific patient’s care
- More opportunity for advancement. RNs have more opportunity to advance into supervisory and management positions, as well as to pursue advanced degrees that introduce them to other careers: they can become Nurse Educators or Nurse Practitioners, or earn their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.
What is a Registered Nurse Degree?
There are two types of Registered Nurse degrees that a paramedic can pursue: an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Both programs teach the core competencies of nursing and patient care, but earning an ADN takes much less time and is generally earned within 12-24 months. By contrast, a BSN is a 4-year degree that involves the study of a much wider range of topics. Graduates of BSN programs generally have taken more general education classes, as well as courses that educate them on areas of interest specific to nursing and beyond, including classes on public health and management. The broader scope of information provided by BSN studies prepares graduates for the needs of the profession as well as for future growth into management, administration, education, research and healthcare policy.
Careers and Salaries
Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the demand for paramedics to rise by 7 percent from 2018 to 2028, the need for registered nurses is even higher. There are currently 262,100 paramedic and emergency medical technician positions in the United States, and that number is expected to rise by 18,700. By contrast, there will be more than half a million new registered nurse positions opening in that same time period, and another half a million nurses are expected to leave the field as they approach retirement age. That represents a total of one million registered nurse positions that will need to be filled.
Registered nurses have limitless choices regarding the specialty area they choose to pursue. These include:
- Family medicine
- Home health
- Substance abuse
- Geriatric care
- Labor and Delivery
- Public health
Registered Nurses also work in a wide range of environments, including:
- Physicians’ offices
- Nursing care facilities
- Home healthcare services
- Government agencies
- Educational services
- Support services
- Community centers
- Urgent care centers
- Patients’ homes
Registered nurse salaries vary depending upon geographic area, work setting, specialization and years of experience. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) reports that the average Registered nurse salary in 2019 was $73,300 while Medscape’s RN/LPN Compensation Report, 2018 indicated average earnings for a full time RN of $81,000. Both studies show that RN compensation has risen steadily over the last several years, and that trend is expected to continue.
Types of Programs
Paramedics who want to build on their extensive medical training and experience to pursue an RN degree can do so through a Paramedic-to-RN bridge program. These accelerated programs provide the education and training needed to make the transition from one career to the other while allowing you to continue working.
Paramedic-to-RN bridge programs can lead to an Associate’s Degree in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Both of these degrees provide courses in nursing theory and patient care planning, as well as other pertinent classes and clinical training experience. At the end of either program your final step will be to take the NCLEX-RN exam, which provides certification as a registered nurse, and to apply for your RN license through your state’s Board of Nursing.
- Paramedic-to-ADN. Paramedics who pursue an Associate’s Degree in Nursing can generally complete their bridge program in one to two years either online or in person: upon completion they will be eligible for entry level registered nurse positions. They also have the opportunity to later pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. These programs are frequently available at vocational schools, community colleges, and online.
- Paramedic-to-BSN. Paramedics who pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree generally complete their program in two to four years. These programs can be either full-time or part-time. Registered nurses with a BSN degree may be eligible for a wider range of career opportunities than ADN-degreed nurses, but the program takes longer to complete. The BSN programs involve a more rigorous course of study that provide credit for paramedic training and experience and combine it with a required number of courses in nursing theory and clinical experience supported by requirements for general education coursework.
Online Paramedic-to-RN Programs
Online paramedic-to-RN programs offer tremendous flexibility, giving you the option of continuing to work while advancing your career. These programs recognize and give credit for the training hours, education and certifications that you have already achieved and allow you to earn your RN degree in much less time than a traditional program would. Paramedic-to-RN programs are designed to give you the knowledge you need as quickly as possible so that you can take and pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and apply for your license.
In addition to recognizing and counting your paramedic experience and training towards your degree attainment, many Paramedic-to-RN bridge programs provide the ability to avoid taking otherwise required classes by taking examinations for class credit. This “testing out” expedites the process and gives paramedics a fast track that moves them beyond the basics they already know and directly to lessons specific to nursing care.
Online Paramedic-to-RN bridge programs offer numerous advantages, including:
- Acknowledgment of your existing knowledge, training and clinical experience
- Flexibility, allowing you to learn while you work and accommodating your busy lifestyle
- Eligibility for federal financial aid
- Efficient and economical time management, offering the ability to earn your RN degree faster
- Rolling admissions mean that you can begin whenever you’re ready
- Online accessibility means you can learn wherever you are
- Full and part-time programs available
- Less costly than degrees earned in traditional educational settings
Program Accreditation Matters
When choosing a program, your first requirement should be accreditation. Only an accredited Paramedic-to-RN program assures potential employers that your education has met the evidence-based standards that they require of their registered nurse employees. The two accrediting bodies for RN programs are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), whose certification is specific to those earning Bachelors’ degrees and higher, and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), which accredits all nursing degrees.
Accredited Paramedic-to-RN bridge programs are available all around the country through community college programs as well as at private colleges and state universities. This makes it possible to select a program that meets all of your needs, including geographic convenience, cost and reputation.
Paramedic-to-RN Program Requirements
Each school offering a Paramedic-to-RN program will have its own requirements, but most require at least one year of paramedic experience. Additionally, students who are considering applying will likely be asked to meet the following basic prerequisites for admission:
- Proof of either a high school diploma or GED
- Transcripts indicating the courses taken in high school and beyond, as well as grades earned
- Proof of meeting prerequisite course requirements for relevant classwork
- Proof of a current BLS/CPR certification
- Completion of a program for Emergency Medical Services accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Program (CAAHEP) within the last 3 years
- Proof of holding an unrestricted and current state or National Paramedic Registry Certificate
- References (personal, professional, or both)
- Proof of having up-to-date immunizations
- Proof of having passed the HESI (Health Education Systems Incorporated) exam with a minimum grade
Classes, Curriculum and Clinical Hours
Bridge programs designed to facilitate the transition from paramedic to RN will focus on the additional information that emergency medicine professionals need to expand beyond their current level of education and experience. A good deal of time will be spent on theory of nursing courses and comprehensive care techniques, patient assessment, and the different specialty areas in which a registered nurse is most likely to practice. Clinical training will teach paramedics skills that are significantly different from what they have been exposed to in urgent-care situations, including mental health care, managing chronic illness, and promoting wellness.
Paramedic-to-ADN programs generally take just a few semesters to complete, and most paramedics are able to earn their RN degrees in about a year-and-a-half. Most programs require just 36 credit hour requirements of nursing courses in addition to the credits earned for prerequisite classes, for a total of approximately 72 hours. Students who are pursuing full time studies can usually complete these programs in under 16 months. Prerequisite classes may include physiology and anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, psychology, and composition, while nursing courses will cover the areas that paramedic training did not prepare you for, including clinical assessment, nursing theory, basics of research and exposure to the many areas of care that deal with non-emergent patients.
Your program may also include management and leadership classes. This is especially true if you are pursuing a BSN degree. Examples of classes that may be required in a Paramedic-to-RN program that leads to a BSN may include:
- Introduction to Professional Nursing
- Fundamentals of Nursing Practice (with clinical practice)
- Health Assessment in Nursing (with clinical practice)
- Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing
- Nursing Care of Adults (with clinical practice)
- Contemporary Issues in Professional Nursing
- Nursing Care in Behavioral Health (with clinical practice)
- Nursing Care of Women, Children, and Families (with clinical experience)
- Nursing Care of Adults with Complex Health Care Problems (with clinical practice)
- Health and Illness in the Community (with clinical practice)
- Global Health and Health Policy
- Nursing Research
- Leadership and Management
Programs will also require laboratory hours and clinical rotations in keeping with local nursing requirements, either through established partnerships with healthcare facilities affiliated with the program or through internships that the students arrange for themselves.
Paramedic-to-RN Program Cost
Every Paramedic-to-RN bridge program will have its own costs, and much will depend upon whether the accelerated program leads to an ADN degree or a BSN degree. Geography often plays a significant role in the price of a credit, as well as whether you choose a public or private college or a community college program. Whichever program you pursue, you are likely to find that the cost is significantly lower than attending a 4-year program, as most Paramedic-to-RN bridge programs can be completed in just three semesters. It is also important to remember that whatever the cost, you are likely to see an immediate significant economic advantage in transitioning from a career as a paramedic to a career as an RN.
How to Pay for a Paramedic-to-RN Program
Transitioning from a career as a paramedic to one as a registered nurse will expand your career opportunities and enhance your earning potential, but in order to achieve this goal you need to be able to pay for the Paramedic-to-RN program that you choose to attend. Fortunately, there are many options available to support you in your goal, including grants, scholarships and loans. Here are just a few:
- Scholarships. A number of organizations offer scholarships that are specifically dedicated to encouraging students to pursue degrees in nursing, whether they have never taken a nursing course or are looking to advance in their career. Searching online reveals numerous options. A few notable examples include:
- The AfterCollege/AACN Scholarship Fund, which is available to students who are attending an AACN-accredited school and who are pursuing bridge to BSN programs. The program awards several scholarships each year valued at $2,500.
- Named for the principal organizer of the Red Cross Nursing Service, the Jane Delano Student Nurse Scholarship makes $3,000 available to a limited number of students who have volunteered with the Red Cross. To be considered, applicants are asked to write an essay about both the lessons they learned while volunteering with the organization and what contributions they envision themselves making to the nursing field and patient care.
- The Caroline E. Holt Nursing Scholarship is given to three students each year by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). To qualify, students must be enrolled in an accredited nursing school, must have demonstrated financial need and provide letters of recommendation as well as a statement of their goals. Each student chosen for the award will receive $2,500. The DAR makes other nursing scholarships available to residents of specific localities, including the District of Columbia and Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as to nursing students who are members, descendant of members or eligible for membership in NSDAR.
- The National Student Nurses Association Foundation gives out scholarships ranging from $1,000 up to $7,500 to students taking at least six credits per semester at either an undergraduate nursing program or a BSN bridge program. Students must have demonstrated both financial need and academic achievement, as well as involvement in community health activities or a student nursing program.
- The Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship was created by American Addiction Centers to support students enrolled in degree programs targeting behavioral health and/or substance abuse. Nursing students are eligible to receive one of three scholarships given out each year, which range in value from $5,000 to $2,500. Selection is based on academic achievement and submission of a personal essay.
- The National CPR foundation provides scholarships for students pursuing careers in healthcare. Scholarships are distributed monthly to students who submit 500-to-750-word essays on why they want to pursue a healthcare degree. Each scholarship is valued at $500.
- The Oncology Nursing Foundation created the Bachelor’s in Nursing Degree Scholarship to provide financial assistance to nursing students interested in pursuing a career in oncology nursing. Scholarships are awarded annually and range from $3,000 to $5,000. Candidates must be enrolled in an accredited nursing school.
- Grants. A variety of grants are given out to students who demonstrate financial need. These are offered by the federal government, as well as by states and individual colleges. Like scholarships, grants do not require that you repay them. The selection of students who qualify is based on information submitted on the FAFSA form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Once you’ve filled out the form, you will receive notification of a financial aid award, either with your acceptance letter or at some point thereafter. The amount of these awards varies based on availability of funds and on perceived ability of the student’s family to pay, but the average amount distributed is $5,000 per student. Pell Grants are also available, but generally are limited to students with needs that are considered most urgent based on annual family income.
- Student loans. Though student loans will eventually need to be repaid, students who enroll in Paramedic-to-RN programs do so with the knowledge that once they’ve earned their degree, they are likely to earn significantly more money. The best source of a student loan is the federal government, which provides both greater protection and lower interest rates. Applying for these loans requires filling out the same form that you use to apply for a grant — the FAFSA. Students who have significant need may qualify for loans that do not accrue interest until after they have earned their degree. Private loans are also available through banks, credit unions and other sources. When choosing which of these loans to apply for, be sure that you read all terms carefully: unethical organizations can include misleading terms, hidden fees, and high interest rates.
- Payment plans. If you are going to pay cash for your tuition, the Paramedic-to-RN program that you choose may allow you to set up a payment plan. Many schools also offer financial aid, so contact the school directly once you’ve been accepted to ask what options are available.
- Tuition reimbursement. If you are currently working as a paramedic, the organization that employs you may offer tuition reimbursement. These benefits are offered in a variety of ways and may require that you remain with your employer for a specific amount of time in exchange for the additional compensation represented by your tuition.
Is an RN Degree Right for Me?
Choosing to pursue a registered nurse degree is a big decision that should be based on your own personal goals, dreams and needs. If you’re not certain about whether to move forward, it’s a good idea to consider what your job responsibilities are now and compare them to how having an RN degree will change your role.
- Rather than working in a perpetually high stress and unpredictable environment that takes a physical and emotional toll, you can choose a work setting that is focused on a sustained and predictable level of patient care
- Your patient care will shift from addressing acute and varying situations to making decisions and providing care in whatever area you choose as a specialty
- While still working with autonomy, you become part of a care team
- You can remain in emergency or other acute care settings while using your education and professional judgment to make decisions that go beyond stabilizing patients
- You will have a wider selection of settings in which to work
- You will have a greater connection with the patients you treat
Once you have earned your RN degree, you will have greatly expanded your knowledge and clinical skills, while boosting your earning power and your opportunity to move into patient care areas that are of interest to you. While the job market for paramedics is expanding, there are significantly more opportunities available to RNs, as well as the chance to continue to grow within the field and pursue more advanced degrees.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Registered Nurse Salary: US News and World Report
- Paramedic Salary: US News and World Report
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing
- Johnson & Johnson Nursing
- Medscape RN/LPN Compensation Report, 2018
- National League for Nursing
- Journal of Emergency Medical Services
- National EMS Management Association
- American Addiction Centers
- American Red Cross
- Daughters of the American Revolution
- National Student Nurses Association
- National CPR Foundation
- Federal Student Aid
- CNN Money