Why are so many nurses choosing to pursue more advanced nursing degrees?Although a licensed practical or vocational nursing program can be finished quickly, many nurses find that they're interested in more complex medical issues, and more advanced practices. In addition, LPN/LVN's must practice under the general supervision of an RN. Many RN's also find that more challenging clinical cases, advanced practices and the autonomy associated with more advanced nursing degrees are of greater interest to them once they've had some experience in the field.
While LPN's and RN's have specific supervision and oversight requirements, clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners have more ability to make independent decisions and direct patient care. In many settings, nurse practitioners are supplementing the gap in physicians. A nurse practitioner can prescribe medications and order tests, as well as make a medical diagnosis. Nurse practitioners work in conjunction with physicians, but can often step into the role of primary care provider in doctors' offices, clinics, ambulatory centers and skilled nursing facilities. Many people who go into nursing find this level of independence compelling, and have discovered that getting a master's degree in nursing and completing an Advanced Practice Certification is the way to attain that level of professional independence.
What can a Master's in Nursing prepare me for?
Nurses who already have an RN or BSN can take the next step and get their MSN in order to become an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN). Almost all MSN programs are integrated with the APN certification process, and completion of the degree programs allows a nurse to take one of the national nursing certification exams to become licensed as an APN.
Some of the advanced practice areas associated with the MSN degree are:
- Nurse Practitioner
- Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Certified Nurse Midwife
- Neonatal or Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
- Women's Health Practitioner
- Adult/Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
- Certified Nurse Anesthetist
Most programs that offer the MSN require that a candidate is already an RN, and in some cases may require that a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) already be completed. Programs that do not require a candidate to have completed an RN or BSN typically require a certain number of prerequisites in the areas of anatomy, physiology and biology. All MSN programs require the candidate to have a high school diploma or equivalency. Some programs will require colleges that confer the RN or BSN be accredited by either the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) or the Commission for Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
People interested in the management aspect of nursing are also best served by pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing degree. Many employers will look to nurses with their MSN as the best candidate to fill positions as nursing directors, nursing administrators or chiefs of nursing staff. Nurses with advanced degrees will find that there are doors open in upper management as well, with vice-president of clinical services positions typically requiring master's level education. Nurses interested in master's degrees in order to purse administrative positions can choose advanced practice certifications in management and administration.
What are my options for earning advanced nursing degrees online?In response to the growing demand for nurses, and the need for advanced practice nurses to help fill these nursing jobs so as to close the gap associated with a shortage in physicians, many programs are offering creative and flexible learning opportunities to allow the greatest possible access. Many MSN nursing programs are including online instruction/distance learning in their curriculum to help students who live considerable distances from the campus or who are working while they're completing an advanced course of nursing studies.
There are also accelerated MSN programs where a new-to-the field candidate who already has a bachelor's degree in another field can complete the course of study in three years, as opposed to the six years that is more typical. Like all accelerated courses of study, the schedules are very tightly packed and do not include holiday or summer breaks. Candidates are discouraged from maintaining outside employment due to the demanding nature of the program. Additionally there are online accelerated MSN programs, and like their BSN counterparts, the schedules are aggressively arranged, and not subject to self-pacing. The online programs seek to ensure that the quality of the graduate is no different than the graduate of a traditional campus-based department, so courses are challenging, and labs and clinical practicums are established with the same quality standards.