Montana State University

MSU offers new associate’s-to-master’s degree program in nursing

March 14, 2016 -- By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

Montana State University’s College of Nursing now offers an associate’s-to-master’s degree program in nursing, which takes five semesters to complete. All courses are taught by College of Nursing faculty, and they are offered using teleconference and video conference so that students may continue to live and work in their home communities. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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BOZEMAN – Cody Bartholomew began working as a nurse’s aide at Kalispell Regional Medical Center in 2002, soon after graduating from high school. After a couple of years in the position, the Flathead Valley native realized that additional education would create more opportunities, and so she earned a certificate in licensed practical nursing at Flathead Valley Community College. She later went on to earn an associate’s degree in nursing and become a registered nurse via an out-of-state distance education program.

But Bartholomew, now 32, knew she wanted to continue to advance her education.

“I realized a few years ago, as I saw opportunities passing me by, that I needed to go back to school,” she said.

When she heard about a new program offered through Montana State University’s College of Nursing that allows registered nurses with an associate’s degree and at least two years of nursing experience to earn a master’s degree in nursing – all while continuing to live and work in their home communities – Bartholomew wanted to enroll.

“I think having (a master’s degree in nursing) will open any door that I want to go through,” Bartholomew said.

The master’s portion of the program takes five semesters to complete, plus students may need to complete prerequisite courses before entering, plus two baccalaureate transition courses. All nursing courses are taught by faculty in the MSU College of Nursing, and they are offered using teleconference and video conference so that students enrolled in the program may continue to live and work in their home communities. Travel to the MSU campus in Bozeman is required each fall semester the student is in the program for a two-day intensive class session.

The first group of students in the program began taking classes this spring semester. They hail from communities across Montana, including Jordan, Floweree, Kalispell and Bozeman.

The program is the only one of its kind in the state and is designed to prepare nurses for leadership positions, according to Helen Melland, dean of the MSU College of Nursing. It should also lead to higher paying jobs, Melland said.

That the program is delivered via distance methods was one of its main selling points for Bartholomew, who has three sons ages 15, 5, and 2.

“Moving somewhere else for school wasn’t an option for me with my family,” said Bartholomew, who has continued to work full-time while in the program.

She noted that adding classes to her already busy schedule has been a transition – “I just have to create 12 more hours in my week that didn’t exist,” she said – but it’s going well so far, and she’s glad to be working toward an advanced degree.

“I think with this degree I’ll be educationally prepared for whatever opportunities present themselves to me,” she said.

Programs like MSU’s, which help nurses advance from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, ultimately help improve patient outcomes, according to Lu Byrd, vice president of operations and chief nursing officer for Billings Clinic.

“Bringing individuals who went through two-year programs back into an academic environment where they are challenged to continue with their lifelong learning is incredibly important as the world of healthcare continues to evolve,” Byrd said. “The needs of patients are not stagnant, and the nursing profession needs to continue to evolve, as well,” she said.

Rexanne Wieferich, 50, has been a nurse for about 18 years. She said she chose the profession because it would be a way to support her family, it would provide independence, it would be challenging and she would have the opportunity to do something different every day.

Wieferich, who is a native of Kalispell, decided to enroll in the MSU program because she, too, believes in the importance of additional education.

“We, as nursing staff, need to grow and be educated with new procedures so we’re able to better care for our patients,” said Wieferich, who works as a cardiovascular nurse in Kalispell.

The spring 2016 application deadline for the MSU College of Nursing’s associate’s to master’s in nursing program is Friday, April 1, with classes beginning in the fall. For more information about the curriculum and the application process, visit

Contact: Helen Melland, dean, MSU College of Nursing, (406) 994-3784 or