If you already hold a RN license, perhaps because you have a BSN, you may question whether going back to school to obtain your MSN degree is a good idea. After all, it is an expensive enterprise and you already have a good job that you enjoy and love. This means that you have to wonder whether there is any added value of a having a MSN degree. The reality is that it offers a number of benefits, but you do have to be able to afford it in order to enjoy them.
What Is a MSN Degree?
In a MSN program, you will be educated to become an advanced practice nurse. This includes nursing education and nursing administration. It can take up to six years to complete a MSN program, depending on whether you study full time or part time. There are also some accelerated programs, which are highly intensive but can be completed in as little as 18 months. During the program, you will enhance the knowledge you have already gained during your BSN program and during your own clinical experience.
It is also possible to choose a more specialized MSN program, such as one that combines an MBA, or one that looks at health administration (MHA) or public health (MPH). These are joint degree programs and they can be highly beneficial if your wish is to work in senior management, health insurance or hospital administration.
Factors of Influence
Deciding on whether or not an MSN has added value is a personal decision and there are numerous factors of influence. For instance, how much the degree will cost is important, but also the amount of years you will still be able to work once you have completed the degree. Perhaps you intend to pursue a Ph.D. or doctorate degree, which is also an important factor.
Unfortunately, master’s degrees tend to be very expensive, mainly because you cannot go to a community college to complete them. The most expensive courses are provided by private, for profit institutions, but these are also often the ones that win the most awards and that deliver the most sought after professionals.
You will need to calculate how long you will have to work at MSN level in order to earn back your degree. This is why it is so important that you know how many more working years you have to look forward to. If you are only some five or six years away from retirement, going for a MSN degree will not give you much added value. On the other hand, if it is just a stepping stone towards achieving your Ph.D., then the payout suddenly has the potential to become huge.
Liz Pulliam Weston recently published a study on MSN Money. According to her, the incremental earnings that someone can expect after they have achieved their MSN currently stand at around $136,873. This is an impressive number, but it is important to understand that not everyone with a MSN degree will earn as much as that. It all depends on the transition you make. For instance, if you were to hold an associate’s degree and move on to a BSN, you can expect incremental earnings of $283,286. Do bear in mind that these are lifetime earnings. Interestingly, those who go from a MSN to a Ph.D. can expect an incremental increase of $299,190, which is more than twice Weston’s value.
What can really add value if you have a MSN degree are the opportunities that become available. Once you hold such a degree, you can look at leadership positions, such as department head, director of nursing and more. For these positions, you will be expected to also have significant RN experience, but they will also require you to have board certification, which can only be achieved if you hold a MSN.
In most states, there is a requirement for advanced nursing education for those who wish to work as Nurse Practitioners. The requirements for this are fully met by those who hold a MSN. This means that, with the degree, you are better able to take all state and national examinations, allowing for far greater working opportunities.
If you wish to become a nurse educator, you will also have to hold a MSN degree. This is the most basic of qualifications for this field of work. Most of those who pursue a career as a nurse educator will study on towards a Ph.D., which will also require them to already hold a MSN degree. Generally speaking, full professorships are only available for those who hold a doctorate, which means they must have achieved their MSN degree first.
Then, there is the field of health administration. A lot of nurses become interested in this because they are less and less physically able to work shifts and to spend long hours on their feet. By working in health administration, they continue to work as a nurse but focus on the administrative side of clinics and hospitals. These positions do require you to have a MSN degree as well, preferably one that is combined with public health or health administration in particular.
Holding a MSN degree can really make a lot of difference in your career options and in your salary expectations as well. You can expect to earn a six figure salary once you work at senior level, but even at lower levels average earnings are around $75,000. These salaries are reasonably similar across all areas of specialization, although slightly lower in nurse education, but they end up earning more over the course of their lifetime as they will generally pursue the doctorate degree. This means that the added value of holding a MSN is the same in all specializations.
Of course, there are many RNs who love the fact that they work with patients and they worry that holding a MSN will take them away from that direct contact. However, we now see that more and more hospitals want increasingly well-educated professionals to work on the floor as well.
You can build a good and interesting career holding a BSN or even an ADN. However, your options are greatly increased if you have a MSN degree, even if you continue to work on the wards. This is because basic patient care is being switched to lower skilled workers and the rest to those with the highest qualifications. Some are even suggesting that it will soon no longer be possible to get to work with a BSN degree, because that degree is too much in the middle of the two ends of the spectrum. Whether or not this will become true remains to be seen, but it is certainly clear that holding a MSN can benefit you even if you want to continue to work as an RN.
More and more nurses are being seen as primary care providers. This means that certain areas of nursing will require advanced education, license and certification. For instance, those who work as an RN with a MSN are often able to order tests and even prescribe medication.
It is interesting to see that demand for master’s degrees has declined tremendously in most professionals. Indeed, those who offer MBA programs and other master’s degrees have noted that enrollment figures are down significantly. This is due to the economic downturn and the fact that these degrees are costly. But an exception is found in nursing education as there is a huge demand for those who hold these degrees. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects this demand to continue to grow over the coming years. Additionally, educational establishments are noticing a rise in enrollments, which is unique in the sector.
Whether or not a MSN degree has added value for you will always remain a personal decision. It is very important that you weigh up all the factors that are at play, your desires, your age, your fields of interest, the schools that are available to you, your finances and so on. Only you are able to decide where your passion lies and how you are best able to achieve that. However, it cannot be denied that a MSN degree will have significant added value in most cases.