As you consider your options for a career in nursing, you might wonder how extensive an education you will realistically need to get a good job – not just an entry-level job. Nursing isn’t an easy career by any means, and even if you have a true calling to care for patients, you want to know that the work you’re putting in to prepare for the career will be worthwhile. While you can prepare for basic nursing roles in as little as one year or for entry-level professional nursing roles in two years, your options for career advancement will be limited unless you go back to school. If you really want a “good” job in nursing, with a high salary and the potential to move up in the career field, then you will want to earn a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree or a doctoral degree.
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree
A bachelor’s degree in nursing is a four-year undergraduate degree that prepares you for the work of a registered nurse (RN). While you can become an RN more quickly with an associate’s degree or a diploma in nursing, these programs might not be enough for long-term success in a nursing career.
Increasingly, employers like hospitals are requiring RNs to have their BSN degree, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Since hospitals employ more than 60 percent of all RNs and offer some of the highest rates of pay, not having a bachelor’s degree can mean you are missing out on a lot of good job opportunities. Additionally, it might not be long before RNs are required to attain their BSN degrees. The American Nurses Association has pushed for a bachelor’s degree to be the minimum education requirement for more than 50 years. Some states are now instituting laws that require RNs to earn a bachelor’s degree in a set amount of time in order to keep their licenses, like New York’s “BSN in 10” law. Finally, a BSN is required for most leadership and supervisory roles in the field of nursing, so without this degree, your potential for moving up would be limited.
Registered nurses provide direct patient care in facilities such as hospitals, physicians’ offices, ambulatory care facilities and nursing homes. They can work in many specialties, including critical care, rehabilitation, genetics, addiction and geriatrics. For RNs, performing health assessments, observing patients and noting their symptoms, administering medication and treatment, educating patients and handling medical equipment is all in a day’s work. With experience and a BSN degree, RNs can move into more lucrative supervisory roles like nursing director.
RNs earn a median wage of $70,000 and can expect a faster than average 15 percent growth in job opportunities over a decade, according to the BLS.
The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree and Beyond
The next step up from professional nursing (what an RN does) is advanced nursing. Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) provide advanced nursing care, often including services usually reserved for physicians such as diagnosing and treating medical conditions and writing prescriptions. APRNs work as nurse anesthetists, who administer anesthesia; nurse midwives, who deliver babies; and clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners, who deliver patient care in a variety of specialties.
Currently, the Master of Science in Nursing graduate degree is the most prevalent education path among APRNs, the BLS reported. Yet some schools are in the process of phasing out MSN degree programs and instead offering doctoral programs in nursing. There are two kinds of doctoral degrees for nurses. The Ph.D. in Nursing is generally considered more of a research degree, while the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is instead considered a clinical-focused degree.
If you choose an advanced nursing degree path, you will complete advanced coursework in your chosen nursing specialty as well as pharmacology, physiology and anatomy. You will also need to complete a clinical practicum or internship to put your new knowledge into practice. After you graduate from your MSN, DNP or other advanced nursing degree program, you can attain your APRN license.
Advanced practice registered nurses earn a median wage of $110,930 per year. The BLS expects job opportunities to increase by an astonishing 31 percent.
Whether you choose to go for a more extensive education like a BSN from the start or you go back to school after earning a quicker degree, you have the power to influence your career prospects. There are many ways you can get a good job with a nursing degree.