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Herzing University

Jessica Neddersen

Why an Advanced Nursing Degree is Important

Here are the key differences between master’s and doctorate degrees and why they are a viable education option.

Thinking about continuing your education after you’ve earned an undergraduate nursing degree? There are several options for students to pursue advanced degrees, such as earning a Master of Science in nursing, a nursing post-master’s certificate and a doctorate in nursing. However, it can be challenging to determine which pathway would be best for you. 

Here are the key differences between master’s and doctorate degrees and why they are viable education options.

What is a master’s degree?

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a specialized degree path and allows students to focus on a specific subject area. Nurses can choose from a variety of specializations such as:

Pursuing an MSN is a great idea if you have worked in a field for a while and want to move up to a leadership position. Earning your MSN could also provide an opportunity to advance your career in a specific area of advanced practice care.

One under-appreciated aspect of the MSN is that you can pursue your degree from various educational levels. A traditional pathway for a master’s degree is to earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and go on to the MSN. However, an accelerated MSN option allows students with an associate degree in nursing (ASN) to pursue their MSN without earning their BSN. 

Benefits of earning your MSN

Some benefits of earning a master’s degree include:

  • Working beyond a bachelor’s degree: You can embark on a new, higher-level career that can’t be attained by a bachelor’s degree.
  • Earning more money: Your salary is more likely to rise if you move from an RN role to that of a family nurse practitioner, for example.
  • Attaining an in-demand job: There is a great need for some positions that require a master’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there is a predicted 52% growth for nurse practitioners from 2020-2030 which is well above the national average.

While the exact time that it takes to complete your MSN varies according to specialization, you can generally complete your MSN in about 2 years or less. If you are interested in later earning your DNP, you usually need to already possess your MSN.

What is a doctorate?

A Doctorate of Nursing Practice, or DNP, is considered the highest degree you can earn in the nursing profession. They are research-based academic degrees that are also focused on specializations. The goal of the DNP is to become an expert in a field and contribute original or evidence-based research to the field.

A common reason for earning your doctorate is to become a leader in the field or to become a post-secondary teacher. And, of course, although a DNP is a doctorate and earns you the title “doctor,” it does not make you a medical physician.

Benefits of earning your DNP

While earning your DNP may take longer than an MSN, it is a very comprehensive degree. Unlike an MSN, there is a lot more flexibility to earning your DNP. In addition, you have the opportunity to actively contribute to the academic discourse.

Why an Advanced Degree is Important

Choosing to complete an advanced degree can be a life-changing move. Herzing graduate Joleen Brewer said it wasn’t an easy decision to go back to school to earn her MSN as a Family Nurse Practitioner.

“I was somewhat nervous about enrolling in an online MSN program, especially because I was going to be working full-time while in school,” she said. “My friends all said that earning their MSN was the best thing they ever did, but I wasn’t sure if I could make it work.”

While she may have struggled with some uncertainty earning her degree, she was able to put those doubts to the side. “I’m glad I did. It had been challenging, but it was worth the time and the effort. As a nurse practitioner, I can be more involved in providing excellent care for my patients and I owe it all to taking that first step to continue my education,” she said.

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* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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