BSN vs MSN: Which Nursing Degree Should You Pursue?

The nursing profession offers a vast array of choices when it comes to career paths. Before you can take on your dream nursing role, however, you’ll need to know what nursing degree you need. This is why it’s critical to understand the differences between a BSN and MSN.

You can choose to be a:

  • Nurse educator
  • Informaticist
  • Forensic scientist
  • Bedside nurse
  • Manager
  • Advance practice nurse

The list goes on. But where do you start? Which degree type is right for you? 

The cornerstone to all nursing degree types is the Registered Nurse (RN) license. Once obtained, you can choose different nursing career paths. These include clinical and non-clinical options.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Registered Nurses have a projected growth of 7%. This is 3% higher than the national average for all types of careers. 

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) are two common degree paths to begin or advance your nursing career.

What Is A Bachelor of Science In Nursing (BSN)?

A BSN nurse is a registered nurse with an undergraduate degree in nursing science.

This is considered an entry-level degree for nurses.

Where Do BSN Nurses Work?

It is often required to begin work as a practicing RN. Most BSN-prepared nurses begin work on the clinical side, such as:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Physician offices

Clinical experience is important because it is the foundation of all nursing practice. Even if you move to non-clinical areas, you still need to know how clinical areas work and how to provide better patient outcomes.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the Baccalaureate Degree in Nursing is the minimal preparation for professional practice.

ADN vs BSN

Associate Degrees in Nursing (ADN) focus more on hospital and in patient functions. Meanwhile, the BSN nurse is trained to provide different roles within the healthcare delivery platform. 

That is why many facilities are taking part in a new system of integration which provides and coordinates care among a host of facilities within a community. This means BSN nurses need to be prepared for broader roles.

What Is Magnet Status?

Hospitals are slowly integrating more BSN-prepared nurses in order to achieve Magnet status. Magnet awards are hospital recognition programs for excellence in nursing services.

Hospitals can only achieve magnet status if 80% of nursing staff possess a BSN. Many hospitals require BSN or BSN “in-process” nurses before they are hired.

How Do I Get A BSN?

BSN degrees are offered online and on-campus traditionally through four-year universities. Traditional BSN programs take 4 years of full-time study and allow students to sit for the RN licensure upon completion.

Typical BSN degree courses include:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Mathematics
  • Patient care
  • Clinical rotations
  • Public health
  • Leadership and management courses.

Some colleges offer accelerated BSN tracks for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field of study besides nursing. Accelerated BSN tracks take 15-18 months of full time and rigorous study to complete.

Once completed, the student is granted permission to sit for the RN licensure. Prerequisite courses are often required for accelerated programs.

Students who obtained an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) can acquire a BSN degree through a bridge program.

Bridge RN to BSN programs are typically offered online and can be completed in as little as 9 months of full-time study. At the completion of this program, the nurse will have a BSN degree. 

What Is A Master of Science In Nursing (MSN)?

An MSN degree is a graduate-level nursing degree with many different specialty options.

MSN degrees offer clinical and non-clinical options.

Non-Clinical MSN Options

Some non-clinical MSN options include:

  • Education
  • Informatics 
  • Leadership and management
  • Forensics

These options do not require direct patient care. That’s why they are classified as non-clinical. 

Although these are considered non-clinical options, prior clinical experience if often required and preferred.

What Is An Advanced Practice Nursing (APN) Degree?

Clinical-focused MSN types are considered advanced practice nursing (APN) degrees. These are registered nurses (RNs) with a:

An Advanced Practice Nurse can:

  • Prescribe medication
  • Diagnose patients
  • Treat patients

Recently, there has been an increase in APNs to make up for physician shortages.

There are four types of Advanced Practice Nursing (APN) degrees:

Only RNs with an MSN or DNP in one of the four APN roles are considered APNs.

RNs with graduate degrees in non-patient facing roles are not considered APNs. This includes roles like:

  • Healthcare administration
  • Nursing education
  • Informatics

Non-clinical MSN-prepared nurses can always go back and get clinical licensure with post-master certificate options.

MSN degree paths are good for those seeking advancement in their nursing career. Nurses who acquire an MSN degree often advance their careers and enhance the nursing profession.

How Do I Get An MSN?

MSN degrees are offered online and on-campus through universities and colleges. They typically take 2-4 years to complete after you obtain a BSN degree.

The degree can be completed part time or full time. Most MSN degrees offer part-time or flexible class schedules in order to cater to the working student. Most of the time, nurses work while getting their graduate degree.

The usual progression of study for MSN students is completing a BSN degree and then working towards a MSN. However, recently direct-entry MSN programs have become available for students who do not have nursing experience. 

Direct-level students can begin MSN degree courses prior to having an RN license or any nursing experience.

Most professionals in the nursing field agree that nursing experience is beneficial prior to becoming an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN). However, the option is available to quickly acquire an APN degree.

RN to MSN bridge programs are offered to skip over the BSN curriculum and dive into MSN content. This allows students with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) to pursue a graduate level degree more quickly. 

BSN vs MSN: Which Degree Type Pays More?

MSN nurses are paid more than BSN nurses in general.

Moreover, APNs are paid more than non-clinical MSN nurses. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, APNs are paid on average $115,800 per year. Meanwhile, non-clinical MSN-prepared nurses make $83,240 on average.

Although pay should be something you consider in your career choice, it should not absolutely guide your decision. Remember to follow your passion and the money will follow!

BSN vs MSN: Which Degree Is Right For Me?

Choosing between a BSN and MSN degree depends on many factors. You must consider both your short- and long-term goals. You also need to think about what nursing specialty you want to become an expert in.

Most nursing schools will urge you to complete a BSN program and gain invaluable expertise as a clinical nurse before deciding which route to take. Sometimes, nurses are perfectly content with working as a BSN nurse until they retire, and that is perfectly acceptable.

The nursing profession is one of the few professions that offers so many specialties and flexibility. It’s just all the more reason to begin your nursing journey today.

 

References

American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2021). Master’s Education. Accessed from https://www.aacnnursing.org/Nursing-Education-Programs/Masters-Education

Bureau of Labor and Statistics.(2021). Occupational Employment Statistics. Nurse educators. Accessed from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes251072.htm