RN Versus MSN: Which Program Is Right for You?


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Now that you’ve earned your RN certification, you may wonder whether it’s worth taking the extra time to get a master’s degree in nursing, also known as an MSN. The medical profession, in general, is experiencing a major nursing shortage of primary care providers, including RNs and MSNs, so nursing salaries and job prospects are competitive and stable throughout the field. Read on for more information about the difference between RNs and MSNs and decide which program is right for you.

Characteristics of an RN

Getting an RN certification is hard work. You’ll need to enroll in a nursing school for anywhere from two to four years, depending on whether you’re working during that time, and earn either a Diploma of Nursing or an associate’s degree in the field. Many hospitals offer nursing diplomas, while most community colleges and some four-year universities offer basic associate’s degrees. After you successfully complete your course of study, you’ll have to take a comprehensive entry exam known as the NCLEX-RN, which qualifies you for certification as a Registered Nurse.

As an RN, you’re qualified to administer medication, treatment, and palliative care to patients suffering from a wide range of ailments. Many RNs work in assisted living facilities or private doctor’s offices, where they perform clerical tasks and care for very sick or injured individuals. Others work for “home nurse” services, visiting very sick patients at their private residences. Due in part to a serious worldwide shortage of RNs, you can expect to earn close to $100,000 annually after just a few years on the job.

Characteristics of an MSN

To earn your MSN, you’ll have to attend school for a total of two to three years on top of your previous nursing-school stint and complete a year-long internship that exposes you to the rigors of professional nursing. Many MSNs perform research for healthcare companies or pharmaceutical concerns, and the degree is required in most jurisdictions if you wish to perform anesthesia or lead a delivery-room team. To become an advanced practice nurse, which dramatically increases your professional freedom and annual earnings, you’ll need an MSN as well.

Whereas RN certifications focus almost entirely on the practical applications of the nursing craft, MSN degrees deal with the complicated socio-political issues surrounding the medical profession. You’ll need an MSN degree if you’re looking to go into patient advocacy or public policy and still retain the ability to practice nursing. Likewise, an MSN certification is a crucial step on the road to a full-blown nursing doctorate, which allows you to publish cutting-edge research.

While RNs are undoubtedly important to the smooth functioning of the world’s healthcare system, MSNs truly have the potential to transform the tenuous status quo. The shortage of primary-care physicians in under-served rural and inner-city areas has created a gap that is slowly but surely being filled by qualified MSNs with the ability to administer emergency care, anesthesia, and complex courses of treatment. If you have limited time and money, enrolling in an RN program makes perfect sense for now. Many RN-to-MSN degree programs can be completed in less than three years, so you have plenty of time down the road to change your mind.

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