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RN to BSN or RN to MSN: How to Choose

by NurseJournal Staff
• 2 min read

Deciding between getting a BSN or an MSN? Consult our complete overview on how to choose the right degree path for you.

In order to provide quality patient care, the nursing workforce must be highly educated. Scientific research has shown that if nurses hold a BSN as a minimum, medication errors and mortality rates are reduced. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the career ladder concept is fully supported for nursing. Higher education equates to better care and clinical competency.

The field of nursing continues to develop and, with it, so do the opportunities for education. Generally speaking, healthcare employers prefer those who have at least a BSN degree, and more and more now look specifically for MSN degree holders. A nurse with an MSN degree is able to deliver high quality care in all health care settings. Additionally, they can provide better health promotion, case management and disease prevention.

So, if you hold an associate’s degree in nursing and you are a registered nurse (RN), should you then choose to further your career by pursing an RN to BSN, or an RN to MSN?

RN to BSN Overview

More and more RNs are trying to obtain their BSN. The RN to BSN program is a bridge program for those who want to have better analytical and clinical reasoning skills. The program builds on the original degree and enhances existing knowledge, looking at political, cultural, social and economic issues that all influence the delivery of care.

An RN to BSN program takes around two years to complete, although this varies depending on the school and on previous experience. There are 633 RN to BSN programs available across the country. 400 of these are delivered either fully or partially online.

RN to MSN Overview

These programs usually take three years to complete. They are often offered online, or at least partially so. They start by offering the baccalaureate studies and then move on to the graduate level. Some 159 RN to MSN programs currently exist. They focus on specific areas of nursing, such as research, teaching, administration or management. Those with an MSN are in high demand and work in a huge variety of fields within healthcare. The number of RN to MSN programs has actually more than doubled over the past decade and a half. Additionally, some 29 new programs are currently being developed.

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Benefits and Drawbacks of RN to BSN or RN to MSN

Both programs are designed to give nurses a broader scope of knowledge. However, the MSN program is far more comprehensive and opens a lot more job opportunities. Unfortunately, it does take longer to complete and it is generally more expensive. On the other hand, many employers now support nurses who want to obtain their MSN and provide funding to cover tuition costs and more.

The RN to MSN program is based on research. This means students gain more knowledge and better leadership and interpersonal skills. RN to BSN programs, on the other hand, focus more on clinical experience and front line delivery.

The RN to MSN programs are specialized degrees. RN to BSN programs, on the other hand, look at nursing as a whole. Hence, if you already know that you want to go into a specific field of nursing, the MSN program may be more suitable. On the other hand, if you choose a direction and then find you have different interests, you would have to start all over again.

Because both programs are generally offered partially or fully online, they both allow you to continue to work during your studies. However, by choosing the RN to MSN program, you will have more opportunities for growth, even during your studies. It is likely that you will be moved to a department where you can immediately begin to implement your new found skills and knowledge.

The Bottom Line

Whether you choose the RN to BSN program or the RN to MSN program is a personal decision. Both have pros and cons and only you can decide which elements are most important to you. The RN to MSN program delivers better results in terms of job opportunities and salary, but they are also more incredibly intense and costly.

References: is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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