How to Pick the Right Graduate Degree in Nursing

In addition to conducting physical examinations, giving prescriptions, and assisting in the management of a team of medical specialists, registered nurses are essential to patient care.

However, a generation of retiring nurses, lack of training, and staff burnout have contributed to an increasing nursing shortage in states across the US. Many experts concur that there is a greater demand than ever for nurses, especially those with advanced degrees, due to a combination of factors including a declining number of primary care physicians, an aging patient population that is living longer while frequently dealing with chronic diseases, and other factors.

It takes a lot of time and money to earn a postgraduate degree in nursing, so students must select their program carefully to ensure that their choice will be profitable in the long run.

The Advanced Nursing Degree  

Generally, advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs, have a Doctor of Nursing Practice or Master of Science in Nursing degree. Both emphasize the clinical aspect of healthcare. A Ph.D. program is an option for nurses who want to pursue careers in academia or research.

Some might like to work as professors. A few could decide to work as research scientists. According to Beth Ann Swan, interim assistant dean for education and associate dean and vice president for academic practice partnerships at Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing in Georgia, some people aspire to run health care organizations. “It really depends, but if they’re interested in making that move, graduate training is necessary.”

Swan, a Ph.D.-holding registered nurse, claims to have had DNP students go on to become chief nursing officers of hospitals, vice presidents of big health systems, and federal policy advisers.

MSN nurses will still enjoy career improvements with prospects for new and advanced responsibilities, including teaching, as well as increased compensation potential. This is especially true for nurses who want to remain closer to their patients or who aren’t sure if a doctoral degree is suitable for them.

Master of Science in Nursing 

Those who choose to pursue an MSN at the master’s level can specialize in clinical nurse specialist, nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or certified nurse midwife. Nurses that specialize in pediatrics and adult-gerontology work with certain patient populations.

While accelerated programs can be completed in as little as 15 months, an MSN degree typically takes two to three years to finish full time. An accelerated nursing curriculum allows students without prior nursing experience to complete their bachelor’s, licensure, and graduate degrees in three years.

A master’s degree-holding nurse will be more accountable for their patients, writing care plans, ordering diagnostic tests, and writing prescriptions.

Susan Renz, Ph.D., director of the primary care program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, and geriatric nurse practitioner, argues that there are numerous benefits to being a primary care provider, including the ability to positively influence a patient’s health. “You typically work side by side with physicians and are at essentially the same level.”

New challenges accompany the greater duty.

Alexander Menard, an acute care nurse practitioner at UMass Memorial Medical Center, describes his normal 12-hour workday in the intensive care unit as “a lot of time with patients” while juggling a heavy workload. “I dedicate my entire day to providing care to patients and their families, collaborating with an interdisciplinary team, collaborating closely with nurses, seeking advice from professionals such as social workers or physical therapists, organizing the patient’s care, and ensuring that all relevant disciplines are contributing to the patient’s optimal results. There is a lot of care coordination involved.

better expectations usually translate into better pay. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives was $125,900 in 2022, while the annual salary for registered nurses was $81,220.

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