A nurse's career trajectory can be long and winding, with roles available at every education level. While licensed practical nurses (LPNs) need only a certificate or diploma, those working in the discipline's highest echelons as nurse practitioners (NPs) and nurse educators typically hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
Nurses aspiring to leadership roles typically pursue an MSN, which confers the advanced training employers want. That's not the only reason to earn a master's of science in nursing, however. The article below lists ten more.
Whether your aim is to earn more money, take on leadership roles, focus on a specialty area, or transition to academia, an MSN can help you accomplish your goals. Students come to MSN degrees from varied backgrounds and a spectrum of objectives. Their reasons for taking this next academic step are varied and numerous.
Whether you previously held the title of licensed practical nurse, registered nurse, travel nurse, or one of the many other titles available to graduates of associate and/or bachelor's degrees, you know what it's like to work directly with patients on a day-to-day basis.
While some nurses who pursue an MSN want to continue working at the bedside, others aspire to educational or administrative positions. Completing an advanced nursing degree qualifies graduates to take on roles as nurse educators in teaching hospitals or universities, as administrators in myriad clinical settings, or even as nurse researchers or nurse ethicists.
In 2021, licensed practical nurses earned median annual incomes of $48,070, while registered nurses took home a median wage of $77,600. Meanwhile, professionals working as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners received median pay of $123,780. Those in the top 10 percent of earners commanded incomes of more than $200,000. An MSN typically delivers a substantial return on investment in increased earning potential.
Associate and bachelor's degrees in nursing provide the foundational knowledge needed to offer supervised direct care to patients across the lifespan, but these programs don't offer the advanced knowledge needed to take on more leadership and specialized positions. Students who complete an MSN degree program acquire expertise in areas such as nurse midwifery, research, nurse education, and specialized care for varied populations across the lifespan, qualifying them for advanced practice roles.
MSN programs also emphasize leadership and practice development, providing the skills needed to work in higher-paying managerial positions.
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, 27 states and two U.S. territories currently allow licensed NPs to work independently to evaluate patients, make diagnoses, review test results, and prescribe medication without the supervision of a medical doctor. If you plan to work in one of these states, your authority derives directly from your state's board of nursing.
Conversely, 11 states currently restrict practice. This means NPs must be supervised or managed by healthcare providers across their entire careers. States with reduced practice occupy the middle ground. In these states, NPs are limited in the types of services they provide independently; they must also maintain a collaborative agreement with a licensed physician.
Regardless of the state, all NPs exercise considerably more autonomy than do RNs.
Whether you decide to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP), nurse administrator, clinical nurse specialist, or generalist advanced practice registered nurse, enrolling in a nursing graduate degree provides access to peers and professors with interests in advanced education and competencies. Getting to learn alongside and from these individuals offers important networking opportunities that can help you find clinical experiences as well as positions after graduation.
It's also possible to network outside a nursing degree, but these programs provide career opportunities rarely found with such ease or abundance. Many colleges also bring in specialized speakers to help students learn about career options. Getting to know these professionals provides additional opportunities to establish valuable connections.
Even if you see yourself working in clinical or managerial roles for the majority of your career, it's nice to know that you can transition out of the hospital and into the classroom in the future. Completing coursework from an accredited MSN program provides the qualifications colleges, universities, and teaching hospitals want when hiring nurse educators. Your time at patients' bedside also provides experience hiring managers look for when selecting faculty.
Whether you decide to transfer your career to full-time teaching or pick up a few courses as an adjunct, an MSN provides the flexibility to try your hand at educating the next generation of nurses.
Jobs for registered nurses are projected to grow by six percent between 2021 and 2031, creating nearly 200,000 openings over the next decade within healthcare systems. Jobs for APRNs and others with MSN qualifications are projected to grow by an astonishing 40 percent during the same timeframe. Because APRNs can perform many of the same tasks as doctors, their specialized services will be in high demand to care for the large, aging baby boomer population.
Registered nurses will play critical roles as well, but they cannot offer the same level of specialty services as nursing professionals with advanced proficiencies.
If you've spent years already working 12-hour shifts, you know the toll these long hours can take over time. While some folks with an MSN degree still have long days, you have much more room to negotiate shorter work days during standard working hours. Many MSN graduates decide to work in physician's offices, in private practice, or in university and/or clinical research settings with hours that look more like a standard 9 to 5 shift. Even if you want to continue working in a hospital, you can negotiate your shifts more easily with advanced credentials.
That said, if you enjoy 12-hour shifts that allow for fewer days of work each week, you can still find plenty of these roles.
Let's say you currently hold an associate degree but want to earn a Master of Science in Nursing. Under normal circumstances, this requires two years of full-time study to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and an additional two years to earn an advanced degree. Nursing schools offering bridge programs make it possible to combine learning requirements and shorten the time spent in school. Most RN-to-MSN bridge programs require three to three-and-a-half years, cutting between six and 12 months off your requirements.
Many schools offer 100-percent-online bridge programs, making it easier for working LPNs or RNs to earn their MSN credentials during hours best suited to their schedules.
ADN and BSN programs ensure graduates possess generalist knowledge needed to care for varied populations across the lifespan. MSN programs offer the opportunity to focus studies in specialized nursing fields. These vary from school to school; offerings include nurse midwifery, nurse administration, nursing anesthesia, nursing informatics, and clinical nurse specialist. Within the world of nurse practitioners, common specialty areas include family, acute, adult-gerontology primary care, psychiatric mental health, and pediatric care.
Note that while some schools may offer all of the specializations highlighted above, not all of them exist online. Carefully review in-person and online MSN offerings to get a sense of what works for your needs.
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