What’s Your Journey? Deciding Between the BSN and MSN

Choosing between online nursing degree programs is an important step in advancing your nursing career. Between meeting an employers requirements to staying updated with the ever changing health care industry, deciding which nursing program is a valuable decision. American Sentinel’s degree programs are attuned to the needs of nurses. This is part three of a three part series.

Why RNs need BSN Degrees

It’s a fact of life: if you’re an RN, you’re confronted with industry pressure to advance your nursing education. There is currently a long list of respected agencies that have concluded RNs should be more educated – and a large body of evidence to support this conclusion, by relating a more educated workforce to better patient outcomes. It’s no surprise that many hospitals are taking note and acting on these recommendations.

If your hospital is currently on the Magnet journey, you may soon find yourself on a journey of your own, as you work to meet the requirements of your employer’s new educational policy. But before you enroll in an RN-to-BSN program, take a moment to consider whether you might be better served by choosing an RN-to-MSN degree. It’s true that BSN-prepared nurses are highly sought after by employers who recognize that health care is becoming increasingly more complex. Yet, the MSN degree can prepare an already experienced nurse to move into nursing leadership positions.

So how do you decide between a bachelor’s and master’s degree program? If you’re not sure that nursing will be your career for your entire working life, then an RN-to-BSN program may be the best choice for you. Unless you’re completely committed to specific career goals, you may want to earn a BSN first and then work in the field for a while, in order to assess your skills and interests. Then, as you learn where your strengths lie, you can choose the ideal MSN program to prepare you for your future.

However, if you know you eventually want to earn a master’s degree in nursing, the RN-to-MSN program can accelerate the process, by making your educational progression seamless. You will likely save both time and money by going straight to an MSN. You’ll only have to make the “back to school” transition once, and will more easily be able to maintain the good habits you need to manage your time while juggling work, school and family.

In its 2010 landmark report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that “nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training, through an improved education system that promotes seamless academic progression.” Recently, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) issued a policy brief that examines trends in nursing education and highlights promising strategies for overcoming the barriers to nurses’ academic progression. Here’s what it says about RN-to-MSN programs:

As the pressure mounts for nurses to increase their educational preparation, licensed RNs are looking for academic programs that will respect employer and family demands on their time and recognize the education and experience they have already acquired. RN-to-MSN degree completion programs designed with these preferences in mind have found a receptive market. They number 173 today—double their presence just 15 years ago. As these programs proliferate, more and more nurses are opting to bypass BSNs in favor of graduate degrees that open doors to leadership and specialty roles. Because RN-to-MSN programs eliminate redundant coursework and deliver many or all courses online, nurses can earn the higher degree for a relatively small additional investment of time, in some cases, as little as one more year.

This trend coincides with the growing demand for master’s-prepared nurses, who can serve as expert clinicians, nurse executives, and clinical educators. RN-to-MSN programs also provide a necessary credential to nurses who desire faculty positions in diploma and ADN programs, clinical non-tenure track positions in university schools of nursing, or staff development jobs within health care organizations.

It’s clear that an MSN degree is becoming more and more valuable for nurses interested in rewarding careers, from specialties like infection control and case management to nursing education and even management and executive leadership. It also correlates with higher salaries.

At American Sentinel University, the RN-to-MSN program is delivered in an online, flexible format. Experienced nurses who hold their RN license (and RNs who hold bachelor’s degrees in other fields) can apply their associate degree toward the MSN without having to first earn a BSN. American Sentinel online RN-to-MSN program students can further define their education by focusing on one of five relevant areas: case management, infection prevention, nursing education, nursing informatics, and nursing management.