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Everything a Registered Nurse Needs to Consider Before Pursuing Higher Education


Everything a Registered Nurse Needs to Consider Before Pursuing Higher Education

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Registered Nurses make up the bulk of the healthcare industry, but it is far from the pinnacle of your career. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses make great salaries in their specialization, and also have a greater choice of options as to where they want to work, from in a university to a top hospital. These highly trained nurses are in incredible demand, with APRN jobs expected to grow by 28% in the next few years. 

Take up a specialist position, a leadership position, and have your choice of working environments. The only thing holding you back from immediately jumping into your MSN is direction. 

Up until now, your career trajectory has been linear. Now it is branching out. You need to choose the correct branch so that you can make the most efficient use of your time and effort while studying to complete your higher education. 

The Levels of Higher Education Available to You 

For RNs who have a BSN under their belt, you have three main options available to you: 

  • MSN 

  • DNP 

  • Ed.D 

The most standard route to take is the Master of Science in Nursing. It is, in this context, the bare minimum at the moment. That being said, there are fast-track options to help you receive your DNP with only a BSN degree or to become a nurse educator with an Ed. D. 

As you can imagine, specializing will reduce your ability to work horizontally across the healthcare industry. That is why you need to be certain about your dream job and the pathway that you want to take to get there. 

Choosing the Right Route for You 

Choosing the right route for you means assessing what you want to do, what work-life you are willing to have, and what pathway will best suit your goals. 


A Master's of Science in Nursing is one of the best options you can invest in if you want to keep your options open. You will need to specialize eventually into one of the four main nursing types, and then specialize further into the role that you want, but this can be done in stages. 

If you are certain about what you want, however, then a targeted MSN is the way to go. The Marymount University nursing institute offers fast-tracked BSN to MSN-FNP degrees that allow you to prepare yourself as a Family Practitioner in as little as three years. 

You want your degree designed to prepare you for all elements of your dream position. Family Nurse Practitioners must be able to care for a diverse population, design and implement preventative clinical strategies, and be able to conduct a variety of tasks with skill and precision. Specialized BSN to MSN-FNP degrees are designed to prepare you for all of this. 

If you do not know, however, then wait before specializing your degree. 


A Doctor of Nursing Practice is the equivalent of a Ph.D., only with a clinical focus rather than a theoretical practice. For nurses, a DNP is the highest level of achievement available and is only held by the top-performing nurses with thousands of hours of experience under their belt. 

Though you do not need a DNP to become an APRN, it is becoming increasingly recommended to nurses. It showcases your expertise in your chosen field, can help you stand above the rest when it comes to applying for a position with a top employer. DNPs work in hospitals, clinics, or even in policy planning or academia. If you know what area you want to specialize in, but want to expand your options in terms of where you can work, then a DNP degree is certainly a favorable option. 

Thankfully there are also fast-track options. You can enroll in a BSN to DNP position and still complete in just a few short years. The clinic hours are expanded, yes, but when it comes to solidifying your career options, the extra clinic hours are worth the effort. 

Ed. D

The last main option is an Ed. D, or the Doctor of Education in Nursing Education track. If you love healthcare and nursing but want to slow down and get out of the hospital or clinics, this is the perfect degree to focus on. You can still become an educator with a DNP, yes, but if you want to fast-track into a role as an educator, then the Ed. D is the way to go. 

The Four Main Branches of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse 

Both MSN and DNP career paths will require you to choose an area to specialize in. At the very least, you will need to choose between the four main branches of APRNs. 

Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) 

Nurse Anesthetists are the highest-paid APRN in the industry, making on average, over $175,000 and, in the top percentage of earnings, over $200,000 every year. They do a lot of the same work as anesthesiologists and are often a key player during surgery. 

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) 

Nurse Practitioners have the greatest range when it comes to further customizing their careers. Nurse Practitioners can specialize in:

  • Family care

  • Emergency nursing

  • Pediatrics

  • Gerontology

  • Neonatology

They are the ones who design and provide care to patients, and often perform the same tasks that physicians would. 

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) 

Clinical nurses are often supervisors, working with, and training the nurses under their care. Their specializations are often focused on one of the eight patient populations, for example, children, adults, or seniors. 

Nurse-Midwives (CNMs) 

Nurse-midwives work in reproductive health. From before conception to delivery and the first few months after birth, they can work in hospitals or provide house calls as a service to their patients. You will need either an MSN or DNP as well as to pass the AMCB examination. 

Deciding on the Right Pathway for You 

The right pathway for you is a very personal thing. You should never let anyone else tell you what you want to do. To help you decide which career path is right for you, individually, always consider these elements before committing: 

Your Ideal Work/Life Balance 

Some thrive in fast-paced, stressful environments, and love the challenge down to their core. Others struggle to keep up with the demands found in a hospital and want a more balanced approach to their work. Be brutally honest with where you stand on the work/life balance. Highly-paid nurses can work in many different environments, including offices and universities, so if you want a more balanced approach to your work, there are great options you can work towards. 

Your Ideal Working Environment 

Your ideal working environment will naturally come to you when you decide on the right work/life balance for you. Those that want a challenge will probably feel most at home in a hospital, even in the emergency room. Alternatively, you can also work at satellite clinics or even as a travel nurse. 

Those who want a slower and more consistent day will enjoy small clinics or even non-medical environments. Know where you want to work, see what job options there are and what they are looking for, and then work towards those qualifications. 

Your Ideal Income 

A way to further narrow down your options is to decide on the income you want, and how important high pay is to you. If anything lower than $100,000 per year is off the board for you, then working as an educator isn't probably going to be the right fit for you. If you still want to work in an academic setting, then research institutes may be a better fit. 

How to Stay on Top of Your Career 

Regardless of which career path you have chosen, you will need to follow these tips to stay on top of your career and make you the best candidate for top-paying positions.

Commit to Ongoing Education 

Committing and completing degrees is a clear sign of commitment and dedication that most employers look for from their employees. Don't stop there, however. Always aim to improve your knowledge and qualifications. Whether it's a short course to become certified in using a new tool, or reading medical journals on your commute, these small efforts will pay off massively later on in your career. 

Always Push for More Responsibility and Leadership Roles 

To be in an advanced role, you need to be a leader. Showcasing leadership skills long before you complete your MSN or DNP is the best way to prepare yourself for career advancement later on. 

Don't Be Afraid to Innovate 

The healthcare industry is a notorious mess. It cannot stop to reassess how it operates because it must always be in operation. This makes innovation slow and a lot of red tape tying up workers and budget. If you find a solution to a common problem in your workplace, don't be afraid to suggest it. Follow up with email just to ensure that the idea can be credited back to you. 

Care for Your Wellbeing 

You cannot do any of this, however, if you burn out often. You must care for your health and wellbeing, especially if you take on higher education and your career at the same time. Slow and steady wins the race, and your career is the ultimate marathon. Keep that in mind and care for yourself to achieve all of your goals.

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