Advanced degrees for RN’s: options to consider

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Students meeting with senior hospital staff in Tanzania. Once you graduate from an accredited registered nursing school and pass the NCLEX exam, you are ready to apply for your first job as a nurse; however, becoming a registered nurse is only the first step for some people interested in pursuing certain jobs in nursing. There are advanced degrees which may allow you to further your nursing career. Before deciding which advanced degree is best, there are a few things to take into consideration. Determine what your career goals are and how much time you are willing to spend in training.

Bachelor of Science Degree (BSN): A bachelor of science nursing degree is a four-year degree which can be earned a few different ways. Students may apply directly into a four-year BSN nursing program from high school. In other instances, students may first earn their associate degree in nursing and then transfer to a four-year BSN program. There are also many schools which offer part-time BSN programs for students who are already licensed as registered nurses.

Nurses who want to go into certain areas, such as case management, discharge planning and public health nursing will benefit from earning their BSN degree. In addition, there may be more opportunities for those who want to move into supervisory positions if they have a BSN degree.   

Master’s Degree: A master’s of science in nursing is a graduate degree which usually takes between two and three years to complete. Although program admission requirements may vary, a bachelor’s degree is needed along with a registered nursing license. Clinical experience, grade point average and graduate admissions test score requirements vary by program.

Those in a master’s degree in nursing program usually select a career path focusing on a clinical pathway or an administrative path. Some master’s degree programs focus on advanced clinical practice. For example, master’s degree programs are available for those who want to become certified nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists. Nurses will complete both classroom work and clinical rotations as part of their master’s degree program.

Non-clinical master’s degree programs are also available for those who want a different career path. Students earn a joint master’s degree in nursing and an additional area of focus, such as business administration, public health or healthcare administration. 

Doctorate in Nursing:  A doctorate in nursing degree is the highest level of education for nurses. It can take anywhere from three to five years or more to complete. There are different types of doctorate programs including a doctorate of nursing practice for those who are in clinical practice, such as nurse anesthetists. A doctorate of nursing science is also an option for nurses interested in focusing on research. For nurses who want to become professors, a doctor of nursing philosophy (Ph.D.) is an option.

Although many advanced jobs in nursing do not require a doctorate degree, it is helpful for those who wish to become upper management, hospital administration, university professors or researchers.

Earning an advanced degree in nursing can be challenging, especially if you are also working. That said, the additional training and degree will provide you with more opportunities and higher earning potential.

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