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BY Isabelle Pena AlfaroAugust 23, 2022, 2:36 PM

A nurse dons personal protective equipment (PPE) as she prepares to enter the room of a patient with COVID-19 coronavirus in the intensive care unit (ICU) at the Regional Medical Center, as shown saw in May 2020 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Demand was high for the largest group of healthcare professionals in the country, nurses, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has greatly increased the need for their services. To add to this demand, more recently there has been a decline in the number of nurses due to both retirements and career changes, which has put even more stress on the field.

The demand for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives is expected to increase by 45% from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is more than five times faster than projected growth for all occupations. Along with high demand, these types of nursing jobs that require a master’s degree are also well paid, with median salaries of over $123,000 per year in 2021, providing a foundation for a successful career in nursing.

However, not all nursing positions require a master’s degree. So what advantage does pursuing a higher degree offer?

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) opens the door to more career opportunities, including management, research, academic, and specialty positions. Nurses with a master’s degree can seek jobs Monday through Friday, instead of working alternate weekends and having 12-hour shifts. In addition to a better work-life balance, following an MSN program can also increase your earning potential.

Here’s what you need to know.

What roles become available to someone with a master’s degree in nursing?

Some of the benefits of pursuing a master’s degree in nursing include: expanding your nursing role, transitioning into an advanced practice nurse (APN) or advanced practice nursing role, or entering teaching, says Annette Jakubisin- Konicki, director of the family nurse. practitioner program and professor at the University of Connecticut.

Although “advanced nursing practice” and “advanced nursing practice” sound similar, the roles vary significantly. Advanced nursing practice encompasses all nurses with an advanced degree, i.e., nurse leaders, nurse educators, and advanced practice nurses (APNs). APNs are also known as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) and in many states they are referred to as Nurse Practitioners.

A nurse leader can become head of unit, director of a larger unit and head nurse. These leadership roles focus on improving clinical practice, work environment, and patient outcomes by implementing the latest research findings and creating new systems. These systems are intended to provide the highest quality, most cost-effective patient care possible. A nurse manager tracks budgeting, hiring, retention, staffing and professional development.

Nurse educators are usually passionate about teaching as they teach clinical skills and patient care to nurses. A nurse educator may guide students through clinical rotations or instruct hospital research. They can also design and update the nursing education curriculum in various health care institutions.

Some graduate students have opted for nurse-leader roles because they lived through the COVID-19 pandemic as nurses and noticed that when protocols change rapidly, strong leadership is often needed, says Denise Bourassa , Assistant Clinical Professor and Director of Nurse Leader and Nurse Educator. tracks at the University of Connecticut.

An advanced practice nurse assesses, diagnoses, treats, and creates a management plan for patients, which includes prescribing therapies or medications. An APN specializes in care, depending on the age of the patient and the acuity of the disease the patient is suffering from. For example, an APN Family Nurse Practitioner is the primary care provider for patients from infancy through old age. APN roles also include neonatal, pediatric and psychiatric nurse practitioners.

APNs can also practice independently with full practice authority, which means they can practice without the supervision of a physician, in more than half of the states.

Nursing roles can be found almost anywhere – schools, clinics, hospital care facilities, pharmaceutical institutions, universities and research labs, especially labs with protection of human subjects in clinical trials – notes Nancy Lee, vice president Principal, Chief Nursing Officer and Clinical Director Officer at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Pursuing a master’s degree opens up opportunities, she adds. “Your career options just expand exponentially,” says Lee.

What are the benefits for graduates with a master’s degree in nursing?

Nurses box advance in bedside care without a master’s degree, but a graduate degree sets a nurse apart.

“The biggest benefit of getting a master’s degree in nursing is to broaden your horizons and expand your role as a nurse. And, depending on where you go – whether you’re a nurse educator, nurse leader, nurse practitioner or academic – the pay, the benefits that come with it, will vary depending on that role,” says Jakubisin-Konicki. “The bottom line is that you can’t get into any of the expanded practice roles as a nurse without having at least a master’s degree.”

How much can a master’s degree increase a nurse’s salary? The median salary for an advanced practice registered nurse, for example, is 36% higher than that of a registered nurse, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Having a master’s degree can make nurses a rare commodity in the job market, especially if they have experience in highly specialized fields, such as transplants or critical care.

Regarding demand, Lee says, “The problem is when you want a nurse with a master’s degree and a clinical subspecialty of some type. She adds that a perfect example is an advanced practice nurse for the neonatal intensive care unit.

Is a master’s degree in nursing necessary?

Financial and time investments are a few factors to consider when deciding whether or not to pursue an MSN. Tuition usually ranges from $35,000 to $70,000. With a full course load, an MSN degree typically takes two years. Online degrees allow students to have more flexibility with their schedules, although they still need to complete some clinical requirements in person.

“It depends on what you want to do. If you want to play a clinical leadership role, or from a management perspective, or from an education perspective, you need a master’s degree,” says Lee.

If these advanced nursing practice roles sound like an exciting career path, it may be worth pursuing a master’s degree.

“I believe that a nurse with a master’s degree is a broader and more complete clinician and professional,” she adds. “I could not live without it.”

Find out how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s ranking of the best master’s programs in data science (in-person and online), nursing, computer science, cybersecurity, psychology, public healthand business analysisas well as the best doctoral programs in education, and part time, executive, full timeand on line MBA programs.

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