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BSN vs. MSN: What’s the Right Path for You?

December 19, 2019  |  Category: Nursing

Advanced nurse practitioner treats a patient in a hospital

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of registered nurses in the United States is expected to grow 12% through 2028. This is due to an increased need for care for the aging population as well as an anticipated increase in demand for nurses at long-term care facilities and outpatient centers. Plus, hospitals and health clinics will continue to need to fill the nursing roles of older and more experienced nurses as they retire.

Because of this increasing demand for nurses, many healthcare professionals have begun to consider nursing as the next rewarding step in their careers. But to obtain certain nursing positions, professionals need to hold certificates and advanced degrees such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). For those who are evaluating a BSN vs. an MSN degree, it is important to understand the distinctions of each degree and the differences between them.

Definitions and differences between the degrees

Both a BSN and an MSN can enable a graduate to practice as a registered nurse (RN), a healthcare position in which nurses provide basic care to patients, assist doctors and other practitioners, and may also conduct tests and deliver other types of treatment, according to the Houston Chronicle. The requirements for each RN role can vary, but RNs often start by earning an associate’s degree from an accredited university or college.

According to the Houston Chronicle, a BSN provides nurses with more extensive knowledge than an associate’s degree, and “the additional two years’ classroom and clinical training provides nurses further training in leadership, critical thinking and administration. It also opens the door for ambitious nurses to later earn advanced degrees and specialized certifications.” Many MSN programs have two-year curriculums, although some schools do offer programs that can be completed in one year.

When considering a BSN vs. an MSN degree, it is important to remember that an MSN degree is pursued after earning an undergraduate nursing degree. No matter what degree RNs may have, they still need to obtain licensure. “Regardless of the pathway taken, students must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) before entering the field,” according to Assessing Progress on the Institute of Medicine Report The Future of Nursing. This report also discusses how “many nurses who enter the field with an associate’s degree or diploma go on to obtain more education, and in 2010, half of the nursing workforce held a baccalaureate or higher degree. The report recommends that this proportion be increased, setting the ambitious goal of increasing the percentage of nurses holding a baccalaureate degree from 50 percent in 2010 to 80 percent by 2020.”

The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report also discusses how the evolving healthcare landscape will require more nurses with advanced education. “Advances in medical science and technology, the changing practice boundaries between medicine and nursing, and the increase in the share of the population with multiple chronic health conditions create a level of complexity in health care that requires a more educated health care workforce. Nursing is the least well educated health profession by far but the one experiencing the greatest expansion in scope of practice and responsibilities.”

BSN and MSN degrees provide students and graduates with a firm background in nursing practices and procedures, but there are differences between them.

  • Key Areas of Focus: BSN degree programs cover key and core elements of nursing practices and often provide nurses with the ability to obtain clinical experience. In addition to the subject matter covered in a BSN, MSN programs also offer nurses the ability to learn more about advanced nursing topics. MSN students can gain more clinical experience and focus on specialized professional nursing tracks such as administration, education, and advanced practice.
  • Typical Course Offerings: BSN curriculums often include courses in community health, applied health assessments, anatomy, mental health nursing, nursing informatics, and pathopharmacology. In addition to these courses, MSN programs can include courses in nursing leadership and governance, nursing/healthcare technology, and healthcare finance, and can provide students with the opportunity to gain clinical experience and work on specialized projects.

Skills Taught: In addition to the advanced medical concepts described above, both BSN and MSN programs provide students with valuable nursing skills such as leadership and communication, critical and analytical thinking, and decision-making and organizational abilities.

Typical career paths for graduates with each type of degree

According to the “2019 Trends in Nurse Staffing Study” by Avant Healthcare Professionals, the highest demand for nurses is commonly in the medical-surgical, emergency room (ER), and intensive care unit (ICU) fields or departments. The study also indicates hospitals have been using travel nurses as a cost-effective solution to the nursing shortage.

Nurses with both BSNs and MSNs can become travel nurses and can work as emergency room nurses and ICU nurses. Hospitals and clinics, though, may find candidates who hold an MSN degree to be more competitive for these roles than those who hold a BSN.

There are specific career opportunities that become available to professionals with an MSN degree. Below are positions that may be open to MSN degree holders.

  • Nurse Instructors, Teachers, and Educators: These are professionals who teach nursing at universities, colleges, and other educational environments. The BLS notes that nursing instructors at colleges, universities, and professional schools earned an annual median salary of $80,380 in 2018. Professionals can also become nurse educators, individuals who work in a hospital and help teach nurses valuable skills and healthcare competencies. According to Payscale, the median salary for this role is $74,761.. . 
  • Family Nurse Practitioner: These professionals are trained across various healthcare areas and are able to provide a range of primary care and services to individuals, young and old alike. According to Payscale, the median salary for this role was $93,027.
  • Nurse Administrator: These professionals help organize and maintain a nursing department within a particular facility and ensure that staff abides by all necessary codes and guidelines. The 2018 median salary for medical and health services managers, positions similar to that of nurse administrator, was $99,730 per year, according to the BLS.

For a nurse who may not be interested in pursuing an advanced specialty, the BSN degree may lead to a rewarding and fulfilling nursing career. For those who are interested in the more advanced positions and the opportunity to obtain leadership roles, holding an MSN will often be a requirement and may also be generally helpful in becoming a more competitive candidate for other nursing jobs.

When deciding between a BSN and an MSN, nurses must take into account the tuition that will need to be paid. For nurses who know they want to pursue more advanced roles, many of which are associated with higher salaries, that additional investment can be worth it.

Pursue the degree that’s right for you

Ultimately, both a BSN and an MSN degree are invaluable to nurses as they progress through their careers in the field. Both degrees provide nurses with an advanced understanding of the field and can help professionals stay competitive for many nursing positions. An MSN degree is very beneficial, if not required, for several advanced, educational, and leadership roles in nursing.

Despite the rewards that both of these degrees can bring, current and aspiring nursing professionals may be reluctant to pursue a BSN or MSN as they believe they may not have enough time to dedicate to school or cannot afford to take time off from work. The introduction and evolution of online degree programs has given nurses the ability to further their education and careers in a flexible format. AdventHealth University Online offers both Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) and Master of Science in Nursing degrees for nurses who want to take their careers to the next level.

AdventHealth University Online, Bachelor of Science in Nursing
AdventHealth University Online, Master of Science in Nursing
Assessing Progress on the Institute of Medicine Report The Future of Nursing, “Achieving Higher Levels of Education”
Avant Healthcare Professionals, “2019 Trends in Nurse Staffing”
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2016, Nurse Anesthetists
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018, Nurse Midwives
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018, Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary
The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, “The Future of Nursing Education”
Houston Chronicle, “The Difference Between RN & BSN”
Houston Chronicle, “What Does an RN Do?”
Payscale, Average Nurse Educator Salary