In recent years, evidence has continued to mount of the benefits higher nursing education can bring to patients and health organizations alike. In response, nurses have sought to increase their own knowledge and skills, often at the urging of leaders in the nursing profession. The Institute of Medicine published a report recommending that 80% of nurses working in U.S. hospitals have at least a BSN by 2020. And many nurses have moved beyond these recommendations to obtain masters degrees.
Michael Zychowicz, DNP, ANP, ONP, FAAN, FAANP, associate professor and director of the MSN program at Duke Universitys School of Nursing in Durham, N.C., oversees a program helping more than 500 enrolled students every year work toward achieving advanced education. He has worked in higher education for more than 15 years at Mount St. Mary College, Newburgh, N.Y., and Duke, the latest steps in a professional journey that since 1990 has carried him from service in his hometown as an EMT through a variety of hospitals and roles, including a medical clinic on an island in the Pacific Ocean, EDs and ICUs in the U.S., and in ORs assisting orthopedic surgeons in Syracuse, N.Y.
Q: What benefits can nurses expect from taking that next step from a BSN to an MSN?
A: For many nurses who take the next step from BSN to MSN, there is a significant career change. Most, not all, of the BSN-prepared nurses who enter graduate school are bedside nurses. They tend to enter graduate school for a substantial change in career trajectory. They are interested in becoming advanced practice nurses with the authority to evaluate, diagnose and prescribe for patients. They are interested in becoming nurse educators, informaticists or even nurse administrators.
Q: Are there certain kinds of nurses for whom a MSN is more important to obtain?
A: Advanced practice nurses. Nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists and nurse midwives all must have at least a masters degree to practice in their given fields. Some of these advanced practice nurses are choosing to continue their education and obtain a doctorate degree.
Q: What factors should nurses take into consideration when pondering taking that step toward an MSN?
A: There are some areas I think a nurse should consider when pondering taking the next step toward a masters degree. First, [nurses] should have a full understanding of why they are doing this. Is it to expand their professional opportunities? Is their decision purely financially driven? Do they believe they will have greater autonomy in their new role? Do they want to serve society in an expanded role? I think nurses should spend a substantial amount of time reflecting on why they want to obtain a masters degree, as they will spend a substantial amount of money and sacrifice a great deal of time and energy. It is those nurses who do the work of self-reflection who tend to stand out during admission interviews.
Q: When do you believe the timing is best or most ideal for a nurse to begin pursuing a MSN?
A: There is never an ideal time for people to enter into education. There are always family obligations, career obligations and personal obligations. I believe [nurses] must find the best time for them to add graduate education to their life. I dont think we know as a profession if there is a best time. Anecdotally, I have taught nurses in graduate school who have just completed their bachelors degree and have no clinical experience, only to find them excel and become outstanding advanced practice nurses. Conversely, I have taught nurses who have had decades of experience, only to find extreme difficulty in breaking bad habits and encouraging professional growth.