Pursuing an advanced practice nursing degree is an exceptionally personal decision, and only you can know whether that choice is right for you. As healthcare evolves and nurses are increasingly exposed to sicker patients, more advanced technologies, and progressive policies and procedures, the value of higher education among the nursing workforce continues to grow.
But becoming an advance practice registered nurse (APRN) isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. If you’re considering going back to school for a Master’s in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of pursuing further education.
The nursing workforce is truly the backbone of the American healthcare system. With over 3 million practicing registered nurses in the United States today, nurses account for over 84% of the healthcare workforce. But healthcare isn’t what it used to be, and nurses now face a unique set of challenges related to ever-changing healthcare reforms, complex technologies, patients with more complicated diagnoses, and improvements to evidence-based nursing practice.
Because of these factors, it’s essential that the nursing workforce obtain a sufficient level of education in order to meet these challenges head-on. Advanced nursing degrees offer nurses the change to hone skills and refine their knowledge not just of medicine and patient care, but of other aspects of healthcare like research, system improvement, collaboration, and health policy.
According to research, the more educated the nursing workforce is at a particular hospital or facility, the better the patient outcomes are. One study found that in hospitals where 60% of the nursing workforce has, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in nursing, patient mortality rates fall by as much as 30%. In another study, clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) who developed programs to reduce hospital-acquired pressure ulcers (HAPUs) reduced the occurrence rate of HAPUs from 20% to only 3.8%. Additionally, other CNS-led efforts achieved a 46% reduction in overall acute care hospital-acquired conditions.
And yes, it’s true that an advanced nursing degree increases your likelihood of making more money. According to the United States Census Bureau, nurses with Master’s degrees make approximately 15% more money than nurses with bachelor’s degrees. This comes out to about an extra $8,000 every year, or $400,000 over your lifetime.
Today, there are over 500 nursing schools in the United States, many of which offer master’s programs that transition immediately and directly into doctoral degree programs. As the number of schools offering advanced degrees grows, so does the variety of choice a nurse has when it comes to advanced education program selection.
Now, nurses can pursue master’s or doctorate degrees in a variety of nursing practice areas, including non-clinical specialties like nursing management or nursing education. Most nurses pursuing advanced degrees in clinical practice areas go on to become nurse practitioners (NPs), certified nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives, and CNSs.
When considering an advanced practice nursing degree program, it’s important to examine a variety of factors, including:
Even beyond these variables, you must consider your personal support system and the time and dedication it will take to earn an advanced nursing degree. Obtaining any level of higher education is a huge commitment, and you’ll need to be ready to spend most, if not all, of your free time working on your studies. This can be very difficult, especially if you continue to work during your time in school.
A personal support system is absolutely essential to your educational success. Whether it’s a spouse, parent, or friend, you’ll need someone there to help keep you accountable, celebrate your successes, and help pick you up when the going gets hard. It isn’t impossible to earn an advanced practice nursing degree if that’s the best choice for you, but it can be a challenging experience. Knowing people care about your success is one of the best ways to stay motivated during the process.