What Nursing Degree Is Right for Me?

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Someone may want to pursue a nursing degree for many reasons. Some are driven by a desire to help others. Some are interested in medicine and want to devote their lives to this interesting, ever-developing field. Still others are attracted to the job security nursing can provide ― the demand for nursing jobs is expected to rise by 12% from 2018 to 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Whatever their reasons may be, those who choose to study nursing will have to consider many questions about their career aspirations. In what kind of environment would they like to work? Do they want to work in a specific field, like pediatrics or psychiatry? Finally, every nursing student will have to address the most important question of all: “What nursing degree is right for me?”

Because nursing is such a broad, complicated field, many students opt for specialized degrees. These specific programs can help nursing students to zero in on the kind of work that most interests them and gain the skills and knowledge necessary to advance their careers. In this way, a specialized nursing degree — such as Maryville University’s Master of Science in Nursing — can ultimately lead to a more fulfilling, satisfying career.

A nurse presses buttons on a machine in a hospital.

Nursing Degree Options

Nurses play a vital role in healthcare systems around the world. In fact, a 2015 report from the International Journal of Community Based Nursing and Midwifery stated that nurses are the foundation of any successful social healthcare program and instrumental in implementing any private or government-funded universal health plan.

Having a staff of qualified, adept professional nurses is essential to keeping medical facilities running smoothly. Therefore, it should be no surprise that there are many different kinds of nurses — with different degrees and responsibilities — working in any given facility. Some nursing degree options students may find in a hospital or clinic are licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse (RN), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Licensed Practical Nurse

LPNs are trained and licensed to provide their patients with a basic level of care. These professionals often work in hospitals and clinics as assistants to doctors and RNs, which means they often check vitals, change dressings, and generally provide enough care to keep their patients comfortable.

Becoming an LPN is a popular nursing degree option for two reasons. First, an LPN license doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree, which means a student can begin working as a nurse after a 12-month certification program. Second, the Encyclopedia of Health Economics reports that LPNs are in high demand at many hospitals, making this degree a great way to start a career.

Registered Nurse

RNs make up the largest group of nurses in the medical profession today. Over 3.8 million RNs are currently working in the U.S. alone, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. RNs are qualified to care for their patients by administering medication, monitoring progress, and educating patients on treatment and at-home healthcare.

A student who wants to become an RN doesn’t need to earn a bachelor’s degree. However, this nursing degree option often requires a two-year degree, such as an associate degree.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

While an associate degree is sufficient to become an RN, many nursing students choose to continue their education and receive a BSN. This nursing degree option typically takes four years, though some nursing programs, including Maryville University’s online RN to BSN program, can significantly reduce that time for those who already have their RN.

Nurses who have earned a BSN are more likely to be considered for supervisory roles in the workplace, as well as other specialized careers in the nursing realm. Some of these professions include nurse manager, clinical research nurse, and nurse educator.

Master of Science in Nursing

The next nursing degree option available to students who already have a BSN is an MSN. This advanced degree helps experienced nurses to prepare for more specialized careers in the medical field.

A nurse with an MSN may work as a hospital administrator; a nurse practitioner (an NP is a nurse who’s qualified to diagnose illness, prescribe medications, and formulate treatment plans for their patients); or even a systems analyst, combining medical and technical knowledge to create better information systems for healthcare facilities.

Any of these nursing degrees will open doors to exciting, stimulating careers in the medical field. However, advanced degrees, like a BSN or MSN, offer many more opportunities to nursing professionals over the course of their careers. By choosing to pursue higher education and a more advanced skill set, nurses can enhance their own working lives and provide an even greater benefit to their patients.

From RN to BSN Online

RN to BSN programs provide a special curriculum for working RNs, which helps them to learn the skills necessary for success as BSNs. These skills include current healthcare technologies ― for example, accurately using electronic health records, effective nurse-patient communication, and the leadership skills required to manage nursing staffs. These programs also focus on research skills and health promotion, which are an asset for nursing education careers.

Nursing can be an exhausting job that takes a lot of time; nearly half of all nurses work at least three hours of overtime each week, in addition to their full-time schedules, according to Medical Xpress. To accommodate these difficult schedules, some universities offer RN to BSN online programs, which enable nurses to further their education on their own time.

At Maryville University, the online RN-BSN program is designed to both accommodate nurses’ unique schedules and help them to earn their degrees faster. The university’s accelerated program enables registered nurses to earn a BSN in only one year.

Most RN-BSN programs require nurses to complete around 129 credit hours of instruction, including both general education and nursing-specific courses. At Maryville, however, a valid RN license serves as an equivalent to 40 credits, which enables students to earn their degrees faster. The remaining program is made up of 64 credits from general education courses like anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and psychology, as well as 25 credits from courses that focus specifically on nursing.

During their time as RN-BSN students, these nurses will learn vital skills that can serve them in their nursing careers. They’ll study the nursing practice in-depth, developing skills in nursing research, individual and family assessment, and even topics like genetics and end-of-life care. In addition to the valuable knowledge students receive, all the coursework is 100% online. This enables working nurses to plan around their existing schedules, family commitments, and any other obligations. Through the program, a nurse can both improve an existing skill set and continue to provide the best care possible to existing patients.

Earning an MSN

For some nurses, a BSN is enough education for the type of work they want to do. However, if nurses want to take on more responsibilities in their careers, they may want to consider the next step in their education.

As nurses progress in their careers, many of them follow a similar educational pathway: RN to BSN to MSN. After receiving a BSN, the next degree option a nurse can work toward is an MSN  — and this degree can open up a great many doors (and possibly provide a higher salary) to nursing professionals.

Nurses with an MSN typically have greater responsibilities than RNs and BSNs. They may work as nursing supervisors, recruiting new personnel and making sure that their staffs and facilities run as smoothly as possible. They may also work as NPs, diagnosing and treating patients without a doctor’s assistance. In fact, NPs in 23 states can establish their own practices, which enables them to set their own schedules. They can also work as clinical research specialists in laboratory settings to create new treatment procedures and administer trials to test subjects. With an MSN, nurses can expand their career opportunities to help even more people than before.

At Maryville University, MSN students have the opportunity to do their coursework 100% online on their own time, and complete their clinicals locally in their preferred setting. Similar to the RN-BSN program, this online-based model enables busy nursing professionals to work at their own pace, so they can give their full attention to both their studies and their work. Additionally, Maryville’s MSN program gives students the opportunity to specialize their degrees, further enhancing their specific knowledge and skills in their desired fields. Students can tailor their degrees for careers in the following areas:

  • Adult-gerontology primary care
  • Adult-gerontology acute care
  • Family nursing
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatric mental health
  • Nursing leadership

These specialized degrees offer MSN students the actionable knowledge they need to succeed in their desired fields immediately upon graduation — and with an MSN, students may have a better chance of finding a lucrative, successful career.

Post-Master’s Nurse Practitioner Certification

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recently reported that the U.S. is suffering from a physician shortage. The AAMC reported that due to the aging population, the demand for physicians is growing much faster than the current supply of doctors across the nation; by 2032, the U.S. is expected to see a shortage of nearly 122,000 physicians nationwide. Because of this growing shortage, the demand for NPs is greater than ever.

An NP career can also provide a great many benefits. In 23 states, NPs can establish their own practices, which enables them to set their own schedules and make more time for themselves and their families. Working as an NP may also lead to a higher salary; the BLS reports that NPs earned a median annual wage of $113,930 in 2018, while RNs earned $71,730. For these reasons, many nurses are attracted to this specialized career.

However, if nurses are interested in expanding their knowledge and earning an additional NP specialty, they’ll have to continue their education a bit more, even after earning their BSN or MSN online. One way to gain the knowledge and skills required to work as an NP is to enroll in a post-master’s nurse practitioner certification program.

Maryville University’s post-master’s program, known as the MSN Cert program, enables MSN graduates to specialize in a particular nursing field, such as family medicine, gerontology, pediatrics, or psychiatry. The program is for students who already have an MSN and are looking to gain an additional NP certification. For example if they already work in pediatrics and would like to expand their knowledge of mental health, they could do the MSN Cert program to earn their PMHNP. In each case, nurses can learn more about their field of choice and gain the skills necessary to provide the best medical care possible to their patients.

MSN to DNP: Doctor of Nursing Practice

For some nurses, the next logical step in their education is to move from MSN to DNP, or Doctor of Nursing Practice. A DNP is a prestigious, sophisticated degree in the medical field. According to the AACN, a DNP is considered the “ideal pathway for professionals looking for education at the highest level of nursing practice.”

Nurses who earn a DNP can go on to work in various fields. They can work as NPs, providing a superior standard of care to their patients. They can also work as chief nursing officers, helping to manage hospital nursing staff and developing patient care strategies to improve services at their facilities. Some DNPs even leave hospital settings altogether, choosing instead to work as professors to teach the next generation of nurses.

At Maryville, nursing professionals can pursue a DNP through two specific programs: the DNP and DNP-NP programs. Nurses who want to work in hospital administration or academia can benefit from a DNP, which focuses primarily on leadership skills, healthcare policy, patient rights, and clinical scholarship. Maryville’s courses provide DNP students with the skills they need to be successful at the top levels of their fields.

Nurses who want to enhance their breadth of knowledge and earn certification as NPs can enroll in Maryville’s DNP-NP program. This advanced curriculum offers students all the knowledge and skills they need to earn a DNP, while also giving them the opportunity to learn more about health assessment and pharmacotherapeutics (the study of the uses and effects of drugs).

Maryville University’s Online Nursing Programs

Whether students want to work as RNs, open their own offices as NPs, or join universities as nursing professors, the education they receive must be of the highest quality. Any student pursuing a nursing degree from BSN to DNP can benefit from studying online at Maryville.

All of Maryville’s online degree programs use a 24/7 learning model: Students can access their coursework at any time. This is particularly useful for nursing professionals, as they can earn their degrees on their own time without needing to adjust their demanding work schedules. In this way, students can gain new knowledge in the digital classroom and see this knowledge in practice every day in their working lives.

Maryville also understands that nurses need to learn from professors who intimately understand the medical field. The university works with experienced faculty whose hands-on knowledge of the subjects they teach helps to bring the nursing profession to life, even in the classroom setting. These professors teach from their own experience, providing students with real-life examples to help them to better understand the curriculum.

Finally, Maryville’s online degrees provide students with actionable knowledge that they can take straight into the workplace. The university strives to bring the most up-to-date information into the digital classrooms and clinicals, so all nursing students have the essential information to earn their nursing degrees and become successful healthcare professionals.

Take the Next Step in Your Nursing Career

Today’s healthcare industry is about to see much change. An aging population, new medical developments in technology and treatment procedures, and an impending surge in demand will make nursing more than just a rewarding career, but also one that is exciting and quite lucrative.

If you’re a nurse who wants to attain new heights in your career, you can benefit from Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Nursing. This program can help you master the foundations of nursing practice and provide you with an advanced understanding of the healthcare industry.

Whether you choose to become an NP, nursing supervisor, research specialist, or any other nursing professional, the university’s online programs will help you to gain new medical knowledge and develop new skills so you can achieve your career dreams. Take the next step in your education by contacting Maryville today.

Recommended Readings

What Nursing Concentration Is Right For Me?
The Future of Nursing: Leading Change in the 21st Century
The Future of Telehealth: An Inside Look at the Merger of Tech & Healthcare
Transformational Leadership in Nursing

Sources

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Fact Sheet
Association of American Medical Colleges, New Findings Confirm Predictions on Physician Shortage
National Center for Biotechnology Information, “The Role of Nurses in Community Awareness and Preventive Health”
Medical Xpress, “New Nurses Work Overtime, Long Shifts, and Sometimes a Second Job”
ScienceDirect, “Licensed Practical Nurse”
ScienceDirect, “Registered Nurse”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Registered Nurses”
U.S. News & World Report, “Pick the Right Graduate Degree in Nursing”