What Are the Benefits of a Master’s Degree in Nursing?

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Quick Summary: If you feel called to nursing and already have a bachelor’s degree, you have the option to earn a BSN or MSN degree in just under two years. Keep in mind, though, that an MSN-educated nurse will likely have more career opportunities — and can become an advanced practice nurse (APRN) sooner.

Nurse with patients answering why start you career with an MSN

Today, you’ll find countless programs designed to help non-nursing bachelor’s degree holders earn a nursing degree in far less time than were they to start over completely. With the vast majority of these programs, the end result is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree — fast becoming the minimum requirement for many RN jobs, especially at top hospitals.

Marquette’s Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program is different. Based in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, this second-degree program allows you to put your non-nursing bachelor’s to use to earn an MSN in almost the same time as an Accelerated BSN program — and from a prestigious university like Marquette, no less. That makes this innovative program well worth considering, particularly if you have ambitions to further your career in nursing down the road.

So what are the benefits of a master’s degree in nursing, how does it compare to a BSN degree and where can an MSN degree take you? We’ll be taking an in-depth look at each, as well as other related topics, such as when to begin applying to nursing school. However, before choosing between a BSN or MSN degree, we should first go over the basic process of becoming a registered nurse.

How to Become a Registered Nurse

Though we’ll discuss the reasons to start your nursing career with a master’s degree, it’s important that you first understand the basic process for becoming an RN.

1. Determine Whether a Nursing Program Is Right for You

Before you even think about applying to a nursing program, you need to be sure it’s right for you. Reading up on a program or school is a good start, and it’s never a bad idea to find out what others have to say about the program. Keep in mind that a school with an excellent reputation and distinguished history in nursing, like Marquette, not only ensures you’ll receive a quality education but also that it will look good on your resume when it comes time to apply for nursing jobs.

Nor is it a bad idea to research a program’s NCLEX pass rate, as this will give you an idea of how well a school’s nursing curriculum prepares you to sit for this all-important licensure examination. In 2019, 98% of Marquette University students who took the NCLEX-RN passed.

You’ll also want to talk to an admissions adviser at the school to learn more and to determine whether you’re a good fit for the program — and whether it’s a good fit for you. Your previous education, target timetable, and learning preferences are just a few factors that will be taken into consideration.

2. Fulfill Any Outstanding Eligibility Requirements

Even with a previous bachelor’s degree, it’s possible you are missing a prerequisite course or two that might be needed for nursing school. It really just depends on your degree. For example, a prospective student with a bachelor of arts degree may need to take an anatomy and physiology prerequisite course whereas someone with a bachelor of science degree does not.

Don’t get discouraged if you are required to take prerequisite courses, though. It does not mean you won’t make a great nurse or that you aren’t a good fit; it just means you have an opportunity to come in better prepared for your core nursing coursework. It’s also possible that you have taken all of the required prerequisite coursework but took one of the needed science courses longer than five years ago and will have to take it again. This is fairly typical of many nursing programs.

Also typical of the nursing school admissions process? Being asked to take a test like the GRE General Test (in the case of a master’s level program) or, the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) in the case of a BSN program. However, some schools may waive these tests depending on your grade point average (GPA). Prospective students of Marquette’s Direct Entry MSN program who hold a 3.2 GPA or higher are not required to take the GRE.

The process for meeting the eligibility requirements of a nursing program can seem daunting, making it essential that you choose a school that will provide the support and guidance you need. At Marquette, your dedicated admissions adviser will work with you to put together a plan for completing any outstanding prerequisites and meeting any other outstanding program requirements.

3. Complete the Application Process

Once you meet the requirements for a nursing program, you still have to complete the application process. While this process varies from school to school, it’s likely to include requesting and submitting official school transcripts from your previous studies, putting together a detailed resume, collecting professional references, and writing an admissions essay explaining why you feel called to the nursing profession.

As you go through this process, it cannot be stressed enough that meeting all application deadlines is essential, which means allowing ample time for your reference providers to complete their recommendations, as well as for your previous schools to send over official transcripts. From the moment you begin the Direct Entry MSN program admissions process at Marquette, you’ll be assigned an admissions adviser who will keep you updated on any deadlines and address any questions or concerns you may encounter. However, many other nursing programs don’t provide this kind of one-on-one support, making it imperative that you keep a detailed calendar of any application milestones.

4. Earn Your Nursing Degree

Unlike many other professionals, registered nurses must hold a nursing degree to be eligible to practice. When choosing a school, be sure the one you pick is properly accredited. Otherwise, you may not be able to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) or return to school to earn a higher degree in nursing. Of course, if you think you might want to someday pursue an advanced nursing position such as nurse practitioner, which requires a master’s degree and an advanced practice certificate, a Direct Entry MSN program will put you one step closer.

5. Take the NCLEX-RN.

Another way nursing is unlike most jobs is that you can’t begin practicing the moment you graduate. For that, you must sit for the NCLEX-RN. Unlike most tests you’ve taken in your life, this computerized exam consists of anywhere from 75 and 265 questions, and how many you take depends on how many you get right and how many you miss. As a result, the importance of thorough test preparation cannot be stressed enough. This is why you need to make studying a habit while in nursing school, and why Marquette University nursing students take NCLEX-style exams throughout the program.

After passing the NCLEX, you will receive your RN license from the state board of nursing. Residents of Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) states may apply for a multi-state license, which allows them to practice in 34 states (as of March 2020) without securing a new license.

6 Tips for Finding a Nursing Job After Graduation

Here are six helpful tips for finding your first nursing job.

  1. Put together a professional resume. It’s a good idea to have a resume ready to go at all times so that you’re ready the moment opportunities arise. It’s similarly good advice to create a LinkedIn profile, as many hiring departments use the professional social network to scout prospective hires.
  2. Don’t wait until after graduation to start looking for jobs. Just because you don’t have your nursing degree or haven’t passed the NCLEX yet doesn’t mean you should wait to begin your search. Many nursing students secure jobs on the condition that they won’t be able to start working, or that they must work on a temporary license, until they pass the NCLEX.
  3. Use your clinicals to network. Clinicals are a crucial component of your nursing education. They also present many opportunities to network with professional nurses and other healthcare staff. Clinical rotations also allow you to experience a variety of settings, which can help you find your fit in nursing.
  4. Secure recommendations in advance. If you plan on asking an instructor or nurse from your clinicals to write a letter of recommendation, let him or her know well in advance to allow time.
  5. Join a nursing association. Not only do many professional nursing associations provide continuing education resources and (occasionally) discounts on things such as scrubs, they also provide many networking opportunities. Some even have jobs listings.
  6. Realize you may not land your dream job right away. As with any profession, your first nursing job might not be your ideal choice. That’s ok. Go into it with an open mind and be willing to learn. You never know — you might end up loving it.

Why Should I Start My Nursing Career with an MSN vs a BSN Degree?

Regardless of whether you earn a BSN, MSN or even an ADN (Associate Degree of Nursing), you must sit for the NCLEX (and pass) in order to practice as a registered nurse.

However, that is not at all to say that these three degrees provide the same level of professional preparation or value — especially when you take into account opportunities for future growth. That’s where the benefits of a master’s degree in nursing really become obvious. To understand why this is, one need not look further than the fast-changing healthcare landscape.

Americans Are Requiring Ever-Greater Levels of Care

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic stretched the U.S. healthcare system to the limit, a growing prevalence of chronic conditions was putting increased demands on healthcare. Currently, about 60% of adults living in the United States have at least one chronic condition, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Nor is this alarming statistic projected to decline in coming years, as more Baby Boomers — the second largest generation in history after Millennials — move into retirement age.

While it’s undeniable that this presents considerable challenges, nurses have an important role to play in providing the care these patients need. Of course, treating and managing complex diseases requires extensive knowledge, which is why hospitals and healthcare centers are increasingly looking to BSN- and MSN-educated nurses to care for patients.

At the same time, the U.S. faces not only a shortage of nurses but also of physicians, creating opportunities for advanced practice nurses to help bridge the gap. However, there are other reasons the healthcare industry increasingly favors RNs with higher degrees.

A BSN Is Becoming the Minimum Qualification for Many Careers in Nursing

Over the past few decades, a great deal of research has been conducted on the relationship between nursing credentials and patient care outcomes. Unsurprisingly, study after study has found that hospitals and units with a greater percentage of RNs holding a BSN degree or higher, rather than an associate’s degree, yielded lower mortality rates, lower 30-day readmission rates, and lower failure-to-rescue rates. They also found that nurses with higher levels of education are less likely to commit procedural violations or to make medication errors.

So convincing is this body of research that it’s resulted in a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the overall education level of the nursing profession. Most notable among these is the Institute of Medicine’s 80% BSN by 2020 Initiative. Part of the organization’s landmark 2010 report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the goal of this initiative — if not obvious from the name — is for 80% of working RNs to hold a BSN by this year.

While a persistent nationwide shortage of BSN-educated nurses — in part due to the growth in demand and in part due to a large portion of the nursing workforce now retiring — has prevented many hospitals from fully meeting this ambitious goal, the industry has made and will continue to make great strides. In fact, many hospitals are moving to hire only nurses with a BSN degree or higher going forward, and others are requiring active RN employees to return to school if they do not have at least a bachelor’s in nursing.

All of this points to a very high likelihood that a BSN will soon become the minimum requirement to practice as an RN. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing already considers it to be, making it worthwhile to consider starting your career with an MSN degree, particularly if you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and can earn your MSN in an accelerated timeframe. But, there are other reasons to start your nursing career with a Master of Science in Nursing degree.

Hospitals Don’t Just Need Nurses; They Need Leaders

Regardless of the degree you graduate with, you’re unlikely to start out as a nurse manager, charge nurse or nurse leader. For that, you must have a few years of experience working as an RN.

That being said, healthcare is growing ever more complex, requiring nurse leaders to have a thorough understanding of the issues affecting community health, healthcare administration and much more, as well as a commitment to lifelong learning. Starting your nursing career with an MSN not only provides you a well-rounded nursing education (thanks to a more rigorous nursing curriculum), it also demonstrates that you are hardworking and academically ambitious. Earning a master’s in nursing also puts you in a better position to return to school to pursue an advanced nursing registered nurse (APRN) role and makes you eligible for management positions, such as at Magnet hospitals.

A Master’s in Nursing Is a Stepping Stone to Advanced Practice Nursing

If you’ve been wondering what you can do with a master’s in nursing, there’s good news. An MSN degree won’t just help you to stand out from other recent nursing graduates or give you the foundation to move into a leadership role when the time comes. An MSN also puts you closer to a career as a nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, or nurse anesthetist — on average the highest paying advanced practice nurse role.

Of these three APRN roles, though, one stands well above the rest when it comes to demand and overall projected job growth — the nurse practitioner. Across the country, NPs are in high demand for the wide-ranging care they can provide. Nurse practitioners can be found in a variety of acute care and primary care settings.

Though their level of practice authority varies, NPs in many states already enjoy full practice authority — meaning they can diagnose illnesses and other conditions, prescribe medicines, and provide the same level of a care a primary care physician might without the direct supervision of a physician. Meanwhile, many other states are looking at increasing the nurse practitioner’s scope of practice to help meet the growing healthcare needs of diverse populations, particularly in rural areas, which often fail to attract sufficient numbers of physicians. As such, NPs play an important role in, among other things, addressing the opioid crisis.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner with an MSN Degree

Becoming a nurse practitioner requires not only a Master of Science in Nursing degree, but also a generalized or more specific post-master’s NP certificate — for example, as a family nurse practitioner or an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP).

Typically, these post-master’s certificate programs consist of around 30 to 50 credit hours, depending on the focus area and your previous education. It’s also worth noting that while many of these certificate programs do require an MSN, some build the MSN in. Marquette’s AGACNP program, for example, is offered in two formats — one for those who already hold a master’s and one for those who hold a BSN degree.

Both of these program options offer an online curriculum, making it possible to continue working while furthering your education. And unlike many post-master’s NP certificate programs, Marquette’s AGACNP programs in Indianapolis, Indiana, take care of finding preceptors for you. However, don’t think you have to live in Indianapolis to obtain a certificate through Marquette University. We offer a number of post-master’s nursing programs at our main campus in Milwaukee.

As with becoming an RN, you must also pass the respective exam for your advance practice specialty — as must anyone seeking to become a nurse-midwife or nurse anesthetist — and subsequently apply for licensure with the state board of nursing. Keep in mind, though, that unlike with RNs, there isn’t just one certification exam. Instead, it depends on your area of interest, with the two most common certification exams administered by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Hopefully this helps you to better understand how an MSN degree can be your pathway to a world of advanced practice specialties. To learn more, read our post, Becoming a Nurse Practitioner with a Non-Nursing Bachelor’s Degree.

Is a Nursing Career in Your Future?

If you’re ready to answer the call to change lives as a nurse and you already hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, Marquette University’s Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing program in Pleasant Prairie could be just the opportunity you’re looking for. Our Direct Entry MSN program blends online coursework and hands-on experience (in the form of around 1,000 total hours of skills and simulation labs and clinical rotations), allowing you to earn a master’s in nursing in 19–21 months.

Contact us today to find out of this second-degree MSN program is right for you, or fill out the form to have someone call you later.