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RN vs BSN vs MSN: What degree makes sense for you?

RN vs BSN vs MSN: What degree makes sense for you?

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The field of nursing is full of opportunities and there’s never been a better time to join the practice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts more than 3.3 million jobs for registered nurses (RNs) by 2031 and points to retiring nurses from the baby boomer generation, plus the need for caregivers for an aging population, pushing the demand for nurses.1 To make the most of this opportunity, you might want to consider getting a new nursing degree.

As you increase your level of education, especially in nursing, your options open up further and allow you to specialize in a certain area of interest or role that appeals to you. Higher levels of education also often correlate with higher salaries and better shift hours. The degree you should pursue depends on where you’re at in your career, your professional goals, as well as practical considerations like how much time you’re willing to spend in school.

What do you learn in nursing school?

Registered Nurse (RN) Curriculum

An Associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) is the minimum amount of education required to become an RN. While some nurses only have an ADN it’s not uncommon for someone to have a bachelor’s in another field and then go on to earn their ADN as a part of a career change.

ADN programs provide a robust foundation for nursing practice. Topics usually include traditional courses like microbiology, anatomy and physiology, statistics, psychology and chemistry and also cover nursing skills like pharmacology, behavioral health, and foundations in nursing. As a new student in the field you’ll also have to perform several state-mandated clinical hours before you can be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam, which is required for an ADN graduate to become a licensed nurse.2

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree can be earned on its own without an RN, in addition to a bachelor’s in another field or on top of an RN. If you’re interested in earning a bachelor’s in addition to your RN you should look for an RN-BSN program for a faster path to achieving your degree– you could even complete an RN-BSN online. BSN programs typically take two to four years but RN-BSN programs can be completed in as few as twelve months.3

BSN curriculums are typically made up of both core nursing courses and electives in the sciences and humanities. BSN nursing courses include theory and field study courses on topics like community health, nurse leadership and research in nursing. Generally every BSN curriculum will also include a health assessment course which focuses on key nursing skills for working with clients to assess their health status.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

A master’s in nursing is a well-respected degree to add to your resume and experience. Similar to BSNs, there are several ways to earn a Master of Science in Nursing. The MSN can be earned on top of an RN in a slightly accelerated program referred to as an RN-MSN, it can be earned in addition to a BSN, or can be earned via a “direct entry” program in addition to a bachelor’s or graduate degree in another field. The length of time it takes to complete a master’s in nursing will vary depending on what degree you’re starting with and the format of your program.

MSN curriculums include specialization pathways like education or leadership plus core courses that go deeper into nursing leadership theory, research integration into nursing practice, continued development of nursing practice and administration as well as a practicum and master’s project. Specialization pathways are where nurses will really have the opportunity to delve into their interests. A nurse in an education specialization might learn about curriculum building, teaching strategies, simulation lab education, and course assessment. A nurse in a leadership specialization could study management theories, finance, healthcare systems and quality improvement.

What kind of jobs can you have as a nurse?

No matter what degree you have, experience is key to getting further in nursing. Even with just an RN you might be able to work your way into a speciality you’re interested in after several years of experience, however your level of responsibilities will stay the same. Additionally, certifications in specialty areas like gerontology, pediatrics, maternal health, behavioral health, etc., will be helpful when applying to higher-level and leadership roles with a BSN or MSN.4

RN nurse jobs

RN average salary: $31.29 per hour, $68,818 annually5

RNs are needed in every service line of healthcare. Responsibilities may vary among roles but in general require performing intake, brief physical examinations and diagnostics, observing and working with patients, collecting patient data and administering medication or other treatments.6 Because RNs often work in places that require round-the-clock coverage, they likely will be on twelve-hour shifts, working three days a week. They could also have on-call shifts where they need to get to work on short notice in an emergency or coworkers’ absence.7 Registered nurses are commonly found in:

  • Emergency rooms
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Nursing homes and assisted living communities
  • Physician offices
  • Inpatient and outpatient hospital departments

BSN nurse jobs

BSN average salary: $87,017 annually8

One of the key reasons to pursue a BSN is for job security. In a 2020 survey, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing found that 41.1% of hospitals and other healthcare settings are requiring new hires to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, while 82.4% of employers are expressing a strong preference for BSN program graduates. This preference also contributes to the fact that BSNs also earn a higher average salary than nurses with just an RN because they’re considered to have more competencies and to produce better outcomes.

BSN jobs are otherwise similar to typical RN jobs and are available throughout all levels of health systems and service lines. You might also have more opportunities to specialize or step into more responsibilities with a nursing bachelor’s. Many health systems will require nurses working in certain areas to hold a BSN, for example in pediatrics or surgical nursing. A nurse with a BSN could also work as a:

  • Health coach
  • Consultant
  • Travel nurse
  • Flight nursing
  • Perioperative nursing

MSN nurse jobs

MSN average salary: $103,478 annually9

As an MSN-prepared nurse, you have a lot of options for specializing your career or stepping up into leadership positions. Read our blog specifically on high-paying MSN jobs for more information. Your career options are also highly dependent on the specialization path you choose.

Education is a popular specialization and can lead to jobs like:

  • Clinical nurse educator
  • Nurse faculty
  • Research nurse
  • Staff development nurse
  • Public health advisor

Leadership is also a common specialization and can help you get jobs like:

  • Chief nursing officer
  • Nurse manager
  • Clinical nurse specialist
  • Risk and safety manager
  • Medical director

Why should you earn a new degree in nursing?

Even if you already have your RN, it’s always important to keep learning when you’re a nurse. Certifications and continuing education courses are key to constant development but earning a degree is also a clear sign to employers about your level of investment. Job placement for new grads with both BSNs and MSNs is also consistently high at 94% for BSN graduates and 92% job placement for MSN students within 4-6 months of graduation.10 Additionally, units with higher levels of BSN or master’s-prepared nurses correlate to better outcomes for patients:

  • Research consistently shows that lower mortality rates, fewer medication errors, and positive outcomes are all linked to higher levels of education11
  • Baccalaureate-prepared RNs reported being significantly better prepared than associate degree nurses on 12 out of 16 areas related to quality and safety, including evidence-based practice, data analysis, and project implementation12
  • One study found that a 10% increase in the proportion of nurses holding BSN degrees decreased the risk of surgical patient death and failure to rescue by 5%.13

Take your nursing career to the next level

If you’re ready to take the next step in your career for increased opportunities, higher salaries and better outcomes for your patients, check out Oklahoma City University’s online nursing programs. With 100% online options available for RN-BSN, MSN and RN-MSN programs, we can help you meet your career goals. Schedule a call with an Admissions Advisor to learn more.

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