Understanding the key differentiators between a BSN and MSN degree

Balancing rocks with two different amounts on each end

Pursuing a career in health care at any level is often exciting, rewarding and a doorway to professional opportunities. Even if you’re in the early stages of your nursing career, it’s never a bad idea to start considering your long-term professional goals, what types of roles you may want to hold – and the steps you’ll need to take to get there.
Nursing is a profession accompanied by an abundance of room for growth and advancement, but the degree level you reach will play a significant role in what possibilities you may be presented with.
Today, employers increasingly prefer nurses with advanced graduate degrees rather than just the diploma-level education needed for a registered nurse certification. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the American Association of Colleges of Nurses, about half of healthcare employers now require at least a bachelor-level education, with nearly 98 percent saying they strongly prefer nursing graduates with a BSN degree.

This data is just one highlight in the bigger body of research that has accumulated in recent years indicating the importance and demand for nurses with the advanced skills and training that are needed in today’s evolving and complex health care environment.

Knowing the differences between BSN and MSN programs will help give you a better idea of which is more likely to set you on a logical and promising trajectory path that catapults you into a career where you can administer and influence health care at the level and in the capacity most valuable and meaningful to you.

BSN vs. MSN: Breaking down the basics

BSN degree programs give graduates a strong foundational knowledge of nursing. It provides the preparation and experience needed for registered nurses to assume broad-based roles and entry-level health care positions. It also readies them for continuing education and advanced study.

Generally, BSN programs span four years, unless it’s an accelerated program, which can be completed in two years.

While holders of BSN degrees are in a great position to pursue health care roles in a more advanced capacity than RNs, including some management-level positions such as head nurse and assistant director, MSN degrees expand that professional horizon even more – presenting the opportunity to gain advanced expertise in a particular area of focus and work in other and greater capacities and positions than they would be qualified for at the bachelor level.

Earning a BSN degree puts you on the path to an MSN degree. Aside from RN to MSN programs that typically take about three years to complete, most MSN degree programs take 18 to 24 months.

Skills and specializations

One of the biggest differentiating aspects between BSN and MSN degrees comes down to the type of material the curriculum covers and the skills that it is designed to teach. Students enrolled in MSN programs learn about more than just nursing. Largely research-based and centered on the most updated practices and methods, these programs often cover clinical practice, management and leadership, advanced nursing theory and informatics.

The further you get in the program, the more specific and concentrated the work becomes to the particular area of specialization – which is perhaps the main and biggest distinguishing factor that sets MSN degrees apart from the BSN.

There are certain job functions and responsibilities an MSN degree prepares and allows you to do that you can’t with only a BSN degree, such as assessing patient conditions, managing other nurses and diagnosing and developing patient treatment plans. Furthermore, an MSN degree is required for the following roles:

  • Nurse Educator: If you’re passionate about the field of nursing and want to help mentor and educate others who are interested in it, an MSN degree will allow you to hold such a position at colleges and universities.
  • Public Health Nurse: MSN degree allows you to participate in developing health policies and best practices and make a real impact in patient care in ways other than directly administering it.
  • Nurse Practitioner: Diagnose and treat injuries and prescribe medication, develop treatment plans and offer guidance and support to patients.
  • Nurse Midwife: Practice, administer and manage prenatal, childbirth and postpartum care.
  • Nurse Administrator: With an MSN degree, you will be qualified to manage and oversee lower-level nurse professionals and ensure quality patient care.

Most of the leadership roles in nursing you may want to pursue are ones an MSN degree will qualify you for. In fact, in terms of the breadth of career options a graduate degree prepares you for, MSN is second only to a Ph.D. There are also a handful of clinical nurse specialties MSN degree programs prepare you for, such as critical care, neonatal, hospice, mental health, pediatric, community health, public health, geriatric and oncology.

Salary range

Typically, the more advanced level of education you reach, the higher salary you’re likely to. According to Nurse Journal, the average salary of BSN-degree holders ranges between $42,343 and $81,768 compared to those with an MSN degree, which often tend to fall somewhere between $62,281 and $195,743.
More, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said that the 2016 median annual salary for RNs was $68,450; looking at the earnings of advanced nurse professionals such as anesthetists, midwives and nurse practitioners that number jumps to $107,460.

Earn your degree entirely online

As we’ve detailed, the biggest differences between BSN and MSN degrees aren’t just the types of skills and specialties you gain, but the range of professional opportunities and compensation graduates are eligible for.

Taking this into consideration, the Nurse Journal pointed out that it’s becoming increasingly easier for health care professionals to earn an MSN degree, especially if they already hold a BSN degree.
Most MSN programs are designed for working professionals and can be completed in under two years – which is relatively nothing considering what you’ll learn in this time period could benefit you throughout the rest of your career.

The field of health care is constantly changing and evolving and, as it does, there is an increasing demand for nurses who have higher degrees of education. To ensure you have a lucrative, rewarding and personally fulfilling career, it’s important to stay committed to your continuous professional education and development – and enrolling in an online MSN degree program is a great way to do that.

Recommended Readings:
Taking the next step in your nursing career
Where can nurses with a MSN work?








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