We all know that nursing can be a fulfilling and lifelong career! As previously mentioned in my blog post Time for a Change: Alternatives to Bedside Nursing and How to Get There, nurses have a diverse arrangement of specialties to pursue. Nevertheless, these careers can have different educational requirements beyond the Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN) or Baccalaureate Degree of Nursing (BSN) required for the bedside nurse or mid-level management. Aside from career aspirations, some nurses just want to gain more knowledge or expertise in a particular field. Therefore, I wanted to breakdown some choices for advanced degrees that you may or may not have considered for your bright future in nursing!
Nurses can get a masters or doctorate in whatever they desire, including things seemingly unrelated such as social work, psychology, communications, or information technology. As long as they have the right prerequisites and eligibility set forth by the graduate program, they can even be an expert basket-weaver if they wanted! However, the following degrees are the most commonly sought after while maintaining a nursing credential.
Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN)
The most common advanced nursing degree is the MSN. If you look on any job posting for nursing management, clinical nurse specialist, or instructor, you would find that the MSN is a requirement. This degree can be broken down further into specialties including Nursing Education, Adult-Gerontology, Family Health, and Psychiatric Health. Also, if you were thinking of becoming a Nurse Practitioner or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), the MSN may be the right choice for you.
Masters of Science in Public Health (MSPH) or Masters in Public Health (MPH)
The MPH/MSPH degree can open up so many avenues beyond the typical nursing practice. As someone with a MPH degree, I get asked all of the time, “Why did you choose to get a MPH instead of a MSN?” I knew that I wanted to broaden my skillset outside of the bedside, but in other areas that could impact a community of people collectively rather than individually. The MPH/MSPH degree offers concentrations including Epidemiology (the study of the incidence and control of diseases), Global Health, Occupational and Environmental Health, Maternal and Child Health, and Public Health Practice. Many physicians even get an MPH/MSPH degree concurrently while in medical school to help better understand and serve their patient populations.
Masters of Heath Administration (MHA), Masters of Public Administration (MPA), or Masters of Business Administration (MBA)
Do you have a knack for healthcare AND business? If you are interested in health policies, organizational leadership, or health insurance as a VP, director, or manager, you may want to look into obtaining a MHA, MPA, or a MBA. While they may be separate degrees with particular requirements, they share similar methods that integrate health services and business disciplines like marketing, operations, and economics. These degrees are perfect if you want increased job responsibilities in local, state, or federal governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, or even in your own healthcare business!
Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) or PhD
The DNP or PhD are both considered terminal degrees in nursing. The DNP is utilized more by practitioners and focuses on several specialties involved in the direct care of patients. Most nurse practitioner programs are now requiring a DNP instead of just the MSN to prepare graduates for the most advanced independent clinical practice. Therefore, they now offer “bridge” programs, such as MSN to DNP or BSN to DNP programs. This gives recent undergrads or MSN students a straight path to obtain a DNP. On the other hand, the PhD focuses more on theory and research that helps to advance science, practice, and health policy. Many PhD recipients are seen as the innovators and leaders of the nursing profession, which is why many go on to teach, research, and lead at top universities, health systems, and governmental agencies.
Many nurses feel that the only next step beyond beside nursing is to be a nurse practitioner, which is now leading to an influx of NP students, competitive programs, and a saturated job market. Therefore, I would encourage those who want to pursue an advance degree to first figure out what their interests are. There is no reason to spend both your precious time and money on a degree that you don’t plan to use or for a career that you can’t stand. Once you figure that out, find out which program best suites your needs, including what the program costs or if it offers in-person or online classes. Other things to consider are capstone projects, internships, clinicals, dissertations, and qualifying examinations associated with the program. These should ultimately be factored into your time management, work-life balance, and budget. Hopefully, by the end of your journey, you would have not only delved into your passion, but come out as a health expert in America’s most trusted profession.
Featured photo by Jasmine Coro on Unsplash