RN to BSN or RN to MSN: Which Is Best for Your Goals?

So you want to be a nurse. Will a BSN be enough to help you reach your career goals, or will an MSN propel you to the next level?

According to Maryville University, 56% of registered nurses in the United States possess a bachelor's degree or higher, up 5% in the past decade. Two in five nurses between 19–39 years old plan to obtain a master’s degree in nursing or pursue an even higher educational goal. These statistics show some great growth in the field, as nurses with advanced degrees can help fill current work force demands, but with the world we live in, it still may not be enough.

With legislative reform, the aging population, and unhealthy lifestyle habits leading to a rise in chronic illness, the need for experienced and well-educated nurses is escalating. To answer the call, employers and health care facilities are seeking nurses with not only a higher level of education but a more specialty-focused degree. They want to employ those who can deliver an elevated standard of care across several platforms.

When considering your future in nursing, it’s important to choose the educational track that best matches your personal goals. If you already have or are thinking about getting an RN degree, you can preview your possible educational path ahead below.

The leap from RN to BSN

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is designed to help nurses prepare to take on a broader role. BSN programs are created with the intent of enhancing professional development. They encourage students to be prepared for a comprehensive span of practice and contribute more in-depth understanding of cultural, political, economic, and social issues that patients are currently dealing with that influence the delivery of care.  

Furthermore, many nurse executives who are currently hiring say they would prefer for the majority of their staff to be at the BSN level to meet the additional complex demands of patient care. Today there is a noticeable increase of the phrase “BSN preferred” in advertisements for nursing positions.

RN to BSN programs can differ in their timelines, typically ranging from one to two years for completion. Upon finishing the program, nurses can expect to be eligible for a variety of management-level positions, such as head or assistant head nurse. There is also potential opportunity for director or assistant director positions, as well as additional options in fields such as research, consulting, or teaching. 

The next level: RN to MSN

The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) gives further expands upon the possibilities that a BSN offers. This degree builds on the experience of registered nurses and includes a strong curriculum in community health, leadership, and management.

While it often takes two or three years to complete an RN to MSN program, timelines can also vary. Career paths differ as well but are widely varied. At this level of education, nurses can become a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse-midwife, nurse anesthetist, and many other nursing-related positions that require a master’s degree. An MSN degree can also open doors into specialty practice options such as informatics, anesthesiology, midwifery, or administration.

Making the choice

Another factor to consider is the difference between a traditional classroom setting and the convenience of an online program. Some programs even offer a blended mixture of classroom and online options. 

While assessing your individual strengths and occupational aspirations, keep in mind that there are multiple paths to meeting your educational goals. The better informed nurses and students are about critical details—including types of programs, admission requirements, and the time involved—the better prepared they will be to make the best decision for their future.

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