Registered nurses take different educational paths toward the profession. Whether they graduate from a hospital-run nursing program, an associate’s degree program or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program, RNs are finding that advancing in their careers, or even keeping their current positions, may require additional education.
Nursing specialties such as critical care nursing, hospice care and neonatal critical care, as well as leadership positions in administration or management typically require at least a BSN degree, and may require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. In addition, more healthcare systems are requiring their RNs to have a BSN degree. Some healthcare experts are recommending that all nurses be trained at the bachelor’s level and earn a master’s degree within 10 years of licensure.
What is the difference between a BSN and an MSN degree? What can nurses expect when they return to school to earn one or both of these degrees?
BSN degree programs are typically four years in duration, although accelerated programs are often available, based on previous education and experience. These programs feature flexible course schedules to assist working nurses in continuing their education without interrupting their careers.
BSN degree programs are designed to provide a broad base of knowledge and experience for entry-level nursing positions and to position graduates to move on to advanced studies. Covering all of the coursework typically found in associate’s degree programs, BSN programs also include in-depth physical and social sciences courses, as well as courses in research, nursing management, the humanities and public health.
A focus on critical thinking and professional development provides students with the ability to make informed decisions about patient care, as well as to serve as integral members of an interdisciplinary care team with physicians, masters-level therapists and other highly educated colleagues.
MSN degree programs are typically two years in duration and open to holders of BSN degrees. Some MSN programs will also offer entry to students with health-related bachelor’s degrees. It is also possible to enter MSN programs that accept all bachelor’s degree holders. Participants first cover basic nursing curriculum and become licensed RNs, and then proceed to earn a master’s degree, which typically takes three years.
MSN programs focus on a particular area, such as nursing administration, clinical nurse leader, nurse practitioner or clinical nurse educator. Coursework includes advanced nursing theory, research, management issues, nursing informatics, social and physical sciences and clinical practice.
Baby Boomers are retiring in large numbers every year – and plenty of RNs are among them. As more RNs reach retirement age, opportunities are being created for experienced RNs, as well as recent nursing program graduates. In addition, many areas of the country are experiencing nurse shortages.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that employment rate for nurses will increase 16% by 2024. The BLS further states that registered nurses with at least a BSN are expected to have the best opportunities.
Across the nation and throughout the industry, employers are increasingly requiring at least a BSN degree for nursing positions. Many who do not yet require the BSN are establishing hiring policies that show preference to BSN degree holders. As healthcare becomes more complex, baccalaureate and master’s-level nursing degrees will be the benchmarks by which RNs are evaluated.
According to data published by the BLS in May 2014, registered nurses earned an average salary of $67,490. Reported salaries ranged from $46,360 for those in the lowest 10% to over $101,630 for RNs in the highest 90% of earners.
The future of healthcare will require more of nurses as they step into primary care roles and expanded duties. The healthcare industry will continue its rapid rate of change, and hospitals, outpatient centers and specialty providers will need more highly skilled nurses. Those with the advanced technical and leadership skills required to coordinate and deliver high quality patient care can have a definite advantage in the job market.
If you’re a registered nurse, earning either the BSN or the MSN degree will open more doors and expand your career possibilities. With in-demand skills comes the ability to choose where you live and work, and whether you focus on specialty patient care, research, education, administration or the many other fields in which nurses with advanced degrees may serve.
Prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research to determine actual salary potential, job growth rates and availability, which vary according to location, education and experience.