Online RN to MSN Programs in Montana
MSU has stepped up to the plate to offer one online Montana RN to MSN program—and it’s for the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL). We dig into the details in our school listings, but here are some important things to know about the distance learning elements:
- Montana State University: MSU’s online ADRN to MSN pathway is a combination of elements. The two Bridge courses and all of the graduate courses are offered online (talk to the program coordinator about how you will fulfill your CORE 2.0 requirements). But the program also includes short face-to-face intensives on the Bozeman campus at the beginning of each fall semester. Most of the time, the online coursework will be asynchronous (i.e. no mandatory log-in times); there may be a few synchronous intensive classes (e.g. video conferences on a monthly basis).
As we note in the program profile, MSU’s CNL program is significantly cheaper for in-state residents. If you’re out-of-state, and would like to explore more options, check out the state listings in our pages on Online RN to MSN Programs and Clinical Nurse Leader RN to MSN Programs.
Montana’s Healthcare Landscape
This predominantly rural state has a reputation for the outdoor life—low obesity rates, relatively low drug deaths, and some of the best scenery around. In fact, the 2018 U.S. Rural Health Report Card noted that the age-adjusted mortality rate in MT rural counties is actually 3% lower than the rate in urban counties. But Montana has faced two major challenges in recent years: mental health and access to care.
Mental health is a big one. According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Montana often has the highest suicide rate in the country. In indigenous populations, the rate is even worse. A high prevalence of excessive drinking and easy access to guns has led to a high rate of firearm deaths, and troublesome mortality rates from chronic liver disease/cirrhosis. Dark winters, few mental health providers, and a culture of silent endurance are compounding the problem.
Residents are also facing long drives and waiting times. The state is looking at a shortage of healthcare providers, especially primary care physicians and mental health professionals who are willing to work in rural areas. Some counties have no doctors at all. You can see this starkly outlined in the MT Primary Care Office’s maps of Shortage Designations (e.g. HPSAs and MUA/Ps). “Access & Affordability” is usually the state’s worst ranking in the Commonwealth Fund’s Scorecard on State Health System Performance.
Montana Nursing Challenges & Opportunities
Montana healthcare experts and lawmakers are not blind to the issues. The state government was widely criticized in 2017 for drastic budget cuts to mental health funding, but it’s agreed to Medicaid expansion and it’s been working on bills that address core issues (e.g. mobile crisis units to treat people with mental illness, lowering insurance premiums, grants for suicide prevention programs, etc.). Whether they succeed or not will depend on consistent funding.
That’s where Montana APRNs and nurse leaders come in. You’ve been on the ground, you’ve talked to patients, you know their stories. This puts you in an ideal place to push for legislative changes and advocate for more state & federal dollars. Telemedicine, travel nursing, community-based action projects, hospital-sponsored residencies, hospital-led mental healthcare initiatives—all of these (and more) can make a difference.
You may also be called upon to fill the gaps in physicians and psychiatrists. NPs in Montana have full practice authority, which opens up the way to better primary care in rural areas and nurse-managed clinics. The trick is finding enough people to meet demand. For example, nurse educators in Montana universities could find ways to promote student recruitment & placement programs (e.g. loan forgiveness for service) and place students with mentors.
Jobs for Montana RN to MSN Graduates
Career Outlook for RN to MSN Graduates
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does a bang-up job of tracking career & wage data for Nurse Practitioners and Nursing Instructors & Teachers, Postsecondary. Hover over sections of the state & regional maps to see how each city or non-metropolitan area is faring.
As you might expect, major job centers are clustered around cities with hospitals—~28% of Montana NPs work in Southwest Montana (think Bozeman) and around 15-16% work in Billings or Missoula (e.g. 100 NPs). In contrast, Great Falls might have 50. Ironically, the best wages can often be in the north & east, where nurse practitioners are more on their own.
- Hospital Jobs: Start with U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of Best Hospitals in Montana and the ANCC’s list of Magnet Facilities. St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula and the Billings Clinic are highly regarded by nurses, but you could also ask current Montana APRNs about what it’s like to work in St. Vincent Healthcare-Billings, Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital, Kalispell Regional Healthcare, or the Benefis Health System and Great Falls Clinic in Great Falls.
- University Jobs: Montana doesn’t employ a great deal of nursing instructors (e.g. 140), but there are some jobs out there. The MSU College of Nursing is big enough to offer a DNP and it has various campuses around the state. You could also try community colleges, Montana Technological University in Butte, and the University of Providence in Great Falls (which offers an MSN as well as BSN). The Montana Board of Nursing has a list of Approved Nursing Programs within Montana.
- Rural Jobs: Current RNs will already know about the value of networking! Montana is one of the most sparsely populated states in the country, and almost everybody knows everybody, so it helps to connect. MSU’s Montana Office of Rural Health and Area Health Education Center may able to lend advice. It also has details on events & training opportunities.
Career Resources for Future APRNs
Montana Nursing Job Boards
- MNA Career Center: Job listings for Montana nurses
- MTHospitalJobs.com: Openings for healthcare professionals in Montana hospitals
- MPHA Job Openings: Listings for Montana public health professionals (e.g. public health nurses)
Montana APRN Salary & Wage Data
- Annual Mean Wages for Montana Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations: Categories can include “Nurse Practitioners,” “Nurse Midwives,” and “Nurse Anesthetists”
- Annual Mean Wages for Montana Nursing Instructors & Teachers, Postsecondary
- AANP National Compensation Survey: Available to AANP members
Montana Nursing Organizations
State Board of Nursing
Montana Nursing Associations & Coalitions
Montana Nursing Specialty Organizations
- Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses – Montana (AWHONN Montana)
- Montana Association of Nurse Anesthetists (MTANA)
- Montana Association of School Nurses (MASN)
- Montana Emergency Nurses Association (MT ENA)
- Montana Student Nurses’ Association (MSNA)
- Northwest PeriAnesthesia Nurses Association (NPANA)
Nursing School Overview
MSU is a public land-grant research university in Bozeman and it's responsible for the state's main College of Nursing. The college is the largest supplier of baccalaureate-prepared nurses in Montana and it has developed rurally-focused DNP programs in the FNP and PMHNP. Faculty interests are wide-ranging and MSU is a well-known name around the state. The college also runs the Montana Office of Rural Health and Area Health Education Center, which is dedicated to connecting students to opportunities. You'll usually find MSU's online offerings lurking in the top 170 of U.S. News & World Report rankings for Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs. Rankings data will tell you that acceptance rates for the online graduate programs tend to be high (e.g. 100%), enrollment is modest, and courses are intimate (e.g. 12 faculty and an average class size of 6 students). But according to MSU, the online CNL program has close to a 100% pass rate for certification and 100% employment. MSU is a strong pick for Montana residents (or those who are willing to establish residency in the state) - the in-state graduate tuition rate is very low. Just be aware that the out-of-state rate can rival prestigious private universities.
RN to MSN Admissions & Curriculum
MSU's accelerated & online ADRN to MSN program is open to RNs with an associate degree in nursing from a nationally accredited institution - that degree should have included supervised clinical practice in a variety of nursing settings. In addition, all candidates must have a current & unencumbered RN license (if clinicals are to be completed in the state, a Montana RN license is needed), a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.75, and at least 2 years of clinical experience as an RN with demonstrated leadership skills. The entire ADRN to MSN program is 46 credits. First you'll be required to complete the undergraduate portion - 12 credits in MSU's CORE 2.0 courses and 6 credits in BSN Bridge courses, including labs, with a GPA of 3.0 or better. This might take 1 year (2 semesters), but transfer credits may be available for the CORE. You can then finish off the MSN. The graduate portion might take 2.5 years (5 semesters), with 405 practice hours; the last semester is devoted to a Clinical Leadership Practicum/Professional Project. Although Bridge and MSN courses are delivered in an online format, travel to Bozeman is required at the beginning of each fall semester. An overall GPA of 3.0 is required for graduation.