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Nursing Graduate Degree or Law Degree: Which Should You Choose?

Nancy Brent

I often get questions from readers about whether they should pursue a graduate degree in nursing or obtain a law degree. This question is a difficult one to respond to because the choice is very much a personal one and depends on many factors. One point that should be taken into account, though, is which educational path will lead to happiness and satisfaction. Whether one can count on a career in one's choice is also an essential issue. As you know, the nursing profession is already facing a critical shortage of nurses. The shortage is not just one of numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Projections for 2012-2022 indicate that there will be a need for more than 525,000 replacements in the nursing workforce. The bureau also predicts that job opportunities in nursing due to replacements and growth will rise to 1.05 million by 2022. In addition to quantity, the shortage carries with it a quality component. With many older, experienced nurses retiring or facing retirement in the near future, their expertise and sage guidance will not exist to help lead those with less experience, less acumen and less self-confidence. The shortage, along with its quantity and quality features, affects clinical practice and impacts the education of students who want to become a nurse at any level of educational preparation. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing's 2012-2013 report on enrollment and graduations in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs showed that U.S. schools turned down 79,659 qualified applicants in 2012, which is attributed to insufficient numbers of faculty, among other reasons. In contrast, BLS projections show roughly 157,000 more job opportunities for lawyers due to replacements and growth from 2014-2024. One article specified that there are currently 1.3 million lawyers in the U.S. and that the American culture is "overlawyered." These statistics should not be relied upon alone in making a choice between nursing or the law. Indeed, many nurses who decide to take a career path to combine nursing and law have been successful in combining the two professions. A nursing background is extremely helpful in working in legal practice areas such as family law, elder law, representing nurses in professional negligence cases, and representing nurses in professional disciplinary cases. Nursing is a noble, trusted and well-respected profession. The legal profession appears to be less so in the minds of the public, but it is an indispensable profession whose purpose is to protect our freedoms, whatever they may be, seek justice for all and provide quality legal services to those who need them. So, facing your future in terms of continuing your professional life in nursing, changing direction and selecting the law, or combining both professions as a nurse attorney, you have some soul-searching to do. From experience, I can tell you that the journey is not an easy one. Consider your strengths, your weaknesses and what you have accomplished prior to making this decision. Based on those answers, consider how you can you best serve the public in the future and, at the same time, meet your personal and professional goals. Godspeed. NOTE: Nancy Brent's posts are designed for educational purposes and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice.  

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