Advanced degrees are always an interesting option to explore. At the end of earning an undergraduate degree, some people are already filling out applications for grad school while others are throwing their caps in the air and vowing to be done with school for good this time. With nurses, it’s often a mixture of the two.
To be a nurse is to be a lifelong learner. Healthcare is getting more complex every day, and as vital new technology and information become available, new practices are put into place that nurses need to master. Maybe you had every intention of pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree right out of high school. Maybe you wanted to return after gaining work experience. Or perhaps this is your first time even looking into it.
No matter how your career path has unfolded so far, an MSN is worth considering. If you are interested in advancing your nursing career, gaining specialized knowledge and skills or even just increasing your earning potential, an MSN could be exactly what you are looking for.
But how do you know if it’s the right decision for you? Read on to see some of the signs you might be an ideal MSN candidate.
You should consider earning an MSN if …
1. Your dream job requires it
The opportunities for Registered Nurses (RNs) with an Associate's or Bachelor's degree are numerous and varied, but some jobs require additional education. Carol S. Thelen, CRNP, FNP-BC, at Mercy Medical Center knew she wanted to become a primary care family nurse practitioner even before she began her nursing career. This meant earning a graduate Nursing degree.
“Be sure the degree suits your goals,” Thelen says. “And be sure your university has the resources to support your goals, too.”
Other job titles nurses may need a graduate degree for are: nurse educator, research nurse, nurse midwife, nurse consultant, nurse administrator and nurse manager. If your dream job requires an MSN, or if your dream job would be a lot easier to break into with an MSN, you should definitely look into the degree.*
“Most colleges require a minimum of an MSN for nurse educators,” says Joan Rich, vice president of the School of Nursing at Rasmussen College. “Nurses educate all the time, at the bedside or in the community. An MSN provides one with an additional skill set that gives them the knowledge behind quality teaching.”
Rich sees many nurses weaving different seasons of school into their working careers. “I believe in lifelong learning, and I think it can happen at any time in life, when it fits your journey.”
2. You’re a leader at work and you love it
Nurses who find themselves working a little beyond the standard job duties, love training new recruits and want to influence their healthcare institution are ideally suited for the increased authority an MSN degree usually provides.
“Most of our MSN students come from the field because they want to advance,” Rich says, adding that the most common motivation for students in the MSN program is the longing to be more involved and more influential in nursing. “They desire to manage a floor, or they desire more leadership responsibilities in their careers.”
3. You want to influence change
The healthcare industry is full of professionals who want to make a difference—and it’s also full of complexity. Policies, conflicting budget restraints and a myriad of other factors can make it hard for nurses to do their jobs the way they know is best. But so often, attempting to change things is an uphill battle. It’s a little easier when managing, directing or sitting on a board is part of your job.
When Elizabeth Scala, MSN, MBA, RN and author, decided to return for more school, she’d observed some issues.
“There were things on my nursing unit that I did not like or agree with,” Scala says. “So instead of complaining about it, I thought, ‘Why not advance my education and find answers to these issues?’”
Scala first intended to become a nurse manager to influence that change, although her goals eventually shifted. “I wanted to be part of the solution.”
If you are sick of seeing shortsighted changes made in the name of budget constraints, consider a Nursing Leadership and Administration track.
“We need more nurses in the business side of nursing,” Rich says. “Budget is such a huge part of healthcare, and we need nurses who understand it and can work with it to drive innovation.”
4. You want to pass on what you’ve learned
You’ve learned a lot of tricks of the trade during your years of working as a nurse. It’s perfectly natural to want to pass on some of that valuable know-how on to the next generation of nurses. An MSN degree can open the door for you to help fill the void and work as a nurse educator in both clinical and academic settings.
With an emphasis in nursing education, you’ll learn how to best develop the skills of young nurses as they tackle tricky subjects. Working as a nurse educator would allow you to use your natural knack for helping others in a different, but undoubtedly beneficial, setting.
5. You see where healthcare is going
You are interested in nursing on an industry-wide level, and you follow big changes in healthcare. Sometimes you think the problems that need solving are so complicated, you don’t even know what to think. Other times, you have a few solid ideas on how to improve efficiency and safety.
This vision for the future is a key aspect of taking your nursing career to the next level.
“The state of healthcare today is complex,” Rich says. “Many nurses realize the more knowledge they have to prepare for the future, the better off they will be. This is a reason many return for an MSN.”
Rich says nurses who’ve been in the system a while can feel like they’ve hit the maximum of their influence without a higher degree.
“They see better opportunities for those who’ve advanced, and they see how valuable a broader base of knowledge would be.” Rich adds that when students enroll in an MSN program, they have many motivations. “A better salary is always a factor, but it’s also about the satisfaction of personal growth,” Rich says.
Does this sound like you?
If these signs strike home in making you consider an MSN degree, you should think about gathering some more information. Earning a Master’s degree is definitely not easy, but Scala says the process might surprise you.
“It is going to be fun. Work, but fun work," Scala says. “You get to meet interesting people who are doing different things from you. I think the best parts were the group dynamics in my classes. I enjoyed all of the experiential learning and hands-on activities.”
But of course, you wouldn’t enroll in a program without an end goal in mind. An MSN degree can open the door to many different job titles you’ve never considered. Find out more by reading our article, “What’s Next? 7 Impressive Careers You Can Land with a Master’s Degree in Nursing.”