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Many of us with advanced degrees struggled with the decision to return to school.  There is literally no perfect time to go back to school after you’ve accomplished the tremendous feat of RN licensure. There are hundreds of reasons not to return to the academic life, yet here you are still reading this article, so this might be the right time for you to plan your next degree. Now the question is, which degree to pursue? There are several considerations on whether you should hop into a BSN program or skip that step entirely and jump directly into the MSN journey.

First, let’s chat about your career aspirations. What kind of “nurse” do you want to be when you grow up (so to speak)? Do you want to remain at the bedside or perhaps be a Charge Nurse where you’re leading operations, supporting the bedside crew, and performing direct-patient care? Does your organization require a BSN to advance through the clinical ladder? Would you like to teach at a nursing assistant or LPN/LVN school? Would you like to be a public health nurse and lead community health events or provide in-home care? While most of these roles require a BSN (depending on the institution and state, of course), having an idea of where you want to go with your career path can lend insight into your next step.

You may have already entered “RN to BSN” into a search engine, become completely overwhelmed with the over 54 million (yes, million) results, closed your eyes with a sigh, and thought, “Not today!” Well, it doesn’t have to be that confusing. If you’ve decided on a BSN program, the next step is to decide on the format. If you’re the I-need-to-work-this-school-thing-around-my-life person, then online programs might be the best option. Or perhaps you know you’ll be more successful with in-class accountability, so narrow your search for those programs. The cost can range widely, such as the $5k at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) in North Carolina to nearly $22k at Ramapo College of New Jersey plus any additional fees for clinical hours, so buyer beware.

Nurses considering the RN to MSN track are typically looking for more of an advanced-practice career such as teaching in nursing schools for ADN or BSN students, leadership roles in organizations, or becoming a nurse practitioner, a nurse-midwife, or clinical nurse specialist (CNS). There are also some newer and exciting (yes, I used the word exciting about education) MSN degrees specializing in informatics and innovation. Once you have decided that the MSN is the route for you, choose your focus and specialty area and then select your school. While the MSN is designed for the working professional, it’s still a considerable investment of time and money, so you want your advanced degree to be in something you’re interested in and will enjoy. As with the BSN programs, the cost can vary greatly from not only from school to school but also by specialty area.

No matter which pathway you choose, I want to reinforce that all nurses, no matter what the title or the pedigree papers state, should always act in a professional manner. As we are the most trusted profession in America, we hold an obligation to our patients, to the communities we serve, and to ourselves to keep the bar very high. Social media is a blessing and a curse in many ways of allowing people a glimpse into our private lives, so whether you are a diploma nurse on up to a DNP, the piece of paper does not make one professional. Make sure you are choosing to represent our profession at all times positively.

Being a nurse is part of our identity. It’s not something that we only recognize when we’re clocked into the corporate payroll. We are nurses first, and we build on those skills as we gain wisdom and knowledge through many pathways such as mentors, colleagues, organizations, and formal education. Choose your next step based on where you see yourself heading within the profession of nursing, yet know that education is an investment in yourself that is earned and can never be taken.

Latest posts by Catherine Burger, BSN, MSOL, RN (see all)
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