Why pursue an advanced degree

Nursing is one of the most honorable professions. It's an area where you can be a leader, help people, and give back to the community.
Bettye Davis-Lewis, Ed.D, R.N., president of the National Black Nurses Association

Increasing numbers of nurses think of their RN degree as a stepping-stone, not a stop sign. In today's healthcare marketplace, there's a huge demand for nurses with their BSN or more in advanced nursing or leadership education.

More education adds up to big career advantages.

After working in the field for a while, many working nurses decide to go back to school and upgrade their degrees. While each nurse has personal reasons for choosing more education, here are the reasons many nurses cite as the biggest motivators influencing their decisions:

  • Greater employability . While many nurses in the field today have a hospital diploma or two-year associate's degree, they're realizing that being a career nurse means they have to upgrade their skills as a provider, designer, manager and coordinator of care. With additional credentials, more doors open to the jobs they'd really like

  • Higher salaries . With advanced training, nurses with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or advanced degrees are in greater demand by the best employers, and the jobs pay better.

  • New challenges . While few people would call nursing a predictable profession, many nurses find that they need additional training in order to move into a new area of nursing that interests them and provides new paths to personal satisfaction and growth.

  • More freedom . In nursing today, you can combine previous life and career experience and credentials with your nursing expertise to create a unique niche for yourself and work as a healthcare consultant in a variety of fields.

Advanced clinical skills are in high demand

Advanced practice nurses (APNs) can expect annual salaries of $60,000-$90,000, depending on their geographic location and previous experience, according to the Nursing Programs 2005 10 th Edition. Certified nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives can command first-year salaries as high as $90,000, especially in heavily populated metropolitan areas.

The first step: your BSN degree

The American Association of College of Nursing (AACN) and other leading nursing organizations now recognize the BSN degree as the minimum education requirement for professional nursing practice. The BSN, with a curriculum that features a broad spectrum of scientific, critical-thinking, humanistic, communication and leadership skills, is essential for nurses who want to work at the case-manager or supervisory level, or move across employment settings. Accelerated programs allow you to fast-track your RN into a BSN degree and into new levels of employment.

Move into management with your MSN

Many upper-level management, clinical and education positions require a master's degree. These typically feature different tracks that allow you to focus on management or clinical specialties, and more programs offer an education track that prepares you to teach nursing courses. There's a critical need for nursing professors in the U.S. , so consider teaching as a way to enhance your career and help shape the future of nursing.

Use your BSN to get into APN

If you already have your BSN and want to pursue a master's degree, but also want to take your career in a different direction, one of four advanced practice nursing (APN) careers may interest you. In the age of managed care, disease prevention and cost-efficiency, there's growing nationwide demand for:

  • Nurse practitioners (NPs)
  • Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs)
  • Certified nurse-midwives (CNMs)
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs)

Teach or do research with a Ph.D.

Maybe you see yourself in academia or as a clinical researcher in a healthcare setting, and want to help improve the health of people around the world. A doctoral degree allows you to achieve these goals. Becoming a leader in clinical research is often enhanced by a post-doctoral degree. Each of these areas also allows you to serve as a mentor in nursing.

Lead in a healthcare-related field

Alternatively, if your interest is in fields such as disaster response, emergency preparedness, health promotion or other leadership areas, you can be a catalyst for change. Many leadership education programs do not require you to be a nurse. They do, however, help you refine your executive communications skills, learn the fundamentals of health care economics, know how to identify and harness resources and, in general, solve problems.