Although the bachelor’s in nursing has become the standard requirement for many positions, other jobs require a master’s in nursing. Nurses considering taking the leap from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree have a lot to consider.
Graduate schools can be quite expensive. Earning an online master’s in nursing can cost between $35,000 and $60,000, according to an article in U.S. News & World Report.
Nurses should check with their employers to see if they offer a tuition reimbursement program.
The academic work can be demanding and can take from 16 months to 2.5 years to complete, said Deborah Adell, PhD, MSN, RN, APN-C, academic chairwoman for graduate programs at Kaplan University. However, there can be considerable advantages to having a master’s in nursing, including the ways it can help a nurse with career advancement.
“I always like to say every additional degree you get opens doors for you, and it increases your marketability for job selection,” Adell said. “That is a no-brainer for any master’s degree.”
There also is a considerable difference in salary for those with MSN degrees compared to those with BSNs.
According to a 2016 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the average salary for a nurse practitioner is $104,610 and it is $164,030 for a nurse anesthetist, both specialties which require a master’s degree or another higher degree.
By contrast, the average salary for a bachelor’s educated nurse was about $68,450, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
A master’s in nursing is not a one-size-fits-all degree. Students in master’s in nursing programs typically have several options, depending on the type of career path they are considering.
At Kaplan, for example, once students in the master’s program have completed their core courses, they must decide whether they want to pursue an NP or a non-NP track.
The NP track allows nurses to “function after graduation as an independent care provider,” Adell said. This might include working in an outpatient setting, such as a private family practice office or a public medical clinic. It also can include working in an inpatient setting in acute care as a medical provider.
Among the NP specialties are acute care, adult medicine, family practice and pediatric primary care.
The non-NP track is for nurses looking to earn a degree in nurse executive leadership or nursing education. Such nurses typically work within a hospital system educating staff, educating patients or managing nursing departments.
“In the NP track, students are working directly with patients providing medical care,” Adell said. “In the non-NP track, they’re working more in systems providing either education or leadership to groups of people.”
For practicing nurses already working busy schedules, online programs offer a more flexible option for advancing their degrees, according to a 2016 U.S. News & World Report article.
However, even a program such as Kaplan’s, which describes itself as “100% online,” has an element of hands-on work. For clinical work, Adell said, the student must find a site, with guidance from Kaplan, that typically is within a short driving distance from home that meets the needs and course objectives of the program.
Earning a master’s in nursing opens doors to a variety of careers. With more demands being placed on nurses as a result of advancements in technology, and the expected retirements of many older nurses in the near future, those with master’s degrees may be best positioned for what’s to come.
“As our roles in the healthcare system continue to evolve and as our responsibilities continue to increase, more and more nurses need that higher level of education to reach the higher expectations of nurses in the healthcare system,” Adell said.
Freelance writer Tom Clegg contributed to the writing and research for this article.
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