RN to MSN: Was My Master’s Degree in Nursing Worth It?

By: Tyler Faust

The number of opportunities available to nurses can leave many uncertain about how to best advance their career. Fortunately for me, I had a good idea of where I wanted to go before I graduated nursing school with my BSN. 

The choices were simple. I either wanted to be a CRNA or a nurse manager. 

After minimal consideration, I decided a nurse manager position was best for me because I wanted more interaction with people and less schooling. Taking advanced courses in pathophysiology and pharmacology required to become a CRNA didn’t sound appealing to me. 

Since making that initial decision and actually completing my Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN), I’m happy to say that it was definitely worth it. Here’s why. 

Early Nursing Career 

I started my career on a medical GI floor and, after only two years on the floor, I decided to go back to school for my master’s degree. I was accepted into a nursing administration track at a local university. I enjoyed the fact that I could continue my nursing experience while simultaneously getting the education I knew I’d need to get into a nurse manager role early on in my career. 

After three years of nursing school, I graduated with a master’s degree and had accumulated over five years of nursing experience.

Why The MSN Degree Was The Best Choice For Me

I saw a clear path for me to accomplish want I wanted in my career. I knew I didn’t want to be a bedside nurse forever and I had a passion for leadership. Healthcare has an enormous demand for leadership and that got me excited! 

Without an advanced degree and with my limited years of experience as a nurse, my chances of getting into management at one of the largest institutions in the country were not favorable. I’m not one to wait around and I wanted to advance my career and pursue my goals as early as possible. 

An MSN degree was my ticket to getting the skills and education I needed. I considered getting a DNP, but that required a lot of extra work and two additional years of study without adding significant value -- plus, I had the MSN-DNP card in my back pocket should I ever want to go back and get my DNP. 

Going Back To School After Only 2 Years 

I went back to school just two years into my nursing career, figuring I could graduate with an MSN and five years of RN experience and be set up well for the rest of my career. When most nurses were just starting to consider what graduate program they wanted to apply for, I was graduating with my degree. 

Going back to school seemed inevitable given where I wanted to spend the majority of my career. I knew I wanted to be in management. Additionally, the opportunities that an advanced degree would afford me made it all the better. So, it wasn’t a matter of if, but when. 

I loved the inpatient environment but couldn’t justify staying there as I started a family. After, I took a clinic job but soon found myself longing for more. It was clear that an MSN degree would allow me the opportunity to work in the environment of my choice while continuing to maintain a normal work-life balance. 

With an MSN degree, I could make more money, work better hours, and participate in the things I was passionate about. A true win-win-win situation.

Top Challenges of Graduate School 

Going back to school while working full-time was totally worth it, but not completely without its challenges, including: 

  • Finding time for studying
  • Dealing with rotating shifts at less-than-ideal times
  • Working night shifts and coming home to study
  • Trying to flip days to nights

After starting in the clinic setting, I found that clinicals were difficult. I had enjoyed my Monday through Friday work schedule but realized that the majority of people I would need to shadow for clinical hours worked Monday through Friday as well. This forced me to take lots of PTO. I had to find experiences that work off shifts as well, limiting my opportunities to make the most of my clinical hours, which was disappointing.

Paying For an MSN Degree

Paying for school was the most difficult part of my decision as programs can cost up to $60,000. Fortunately, the hospital I worked for offered generous incentives to go back to school. Scholarships also helped, and they're always worth applying for. Even if you get only one scholarship, it is probably worth your time. 

There are two ways to approach paying for school. 

  1. Taking a class or two at a time and having your employer pay your way. This is helpful but can delay graduation and lead to missed career advancement opportunities. 
  2. Get in and out of school as quickly as possible. I chose this approach and it gave me the chance to make extra money much sooner. 

When I got into management, my pay jumped over $20,000 a year. The average salary for a nurse manager is roughly $110,000. Every advanced degree will boost earning potential significantly. 

This is How The MSN Has Changed My Career For The Better 

Healthcare is in need of nurses and leadership, both of which I love. With an advanced degree, it feels like the floodgates of opportunity are open wide. Without my degree, I would be forced to move to a small hospital network or settle for a position I'm not passionate about.

Even with a master's degree, getting into a leadership role was not easy. But the payoff was totally worth it. For a while, I legitimately felt excited to go to work. I was actually enjoying work and it almost felt wrong. I enjoyed my work so much that Monday didn’t feel like a burden and I didn’t spend half of my Sunday discouraged that Monday was just around the corner.

Like I said before, I get the best of what nursing has to offer without the drawbacks of the profession. I get to work in a fast-paced, demanding, and complex environment that challenges me each day. Yet, largely due to my MSN degree, I can provide for my family financially, be present at home, and not work rotating shifts, holidays, or weekends. I feel privileged to be where I am.

Conclusion

Obtaining a master’s degree was difficult, stressful, overwhelming, and rewarding, all at the same time. Looking back on it, I’m glad I took the leap of faith and got my degree when I did.

If you find yourself undecided about going back to school, ask yourself whether you will be content only making lateral moves for the rest of your career. Nursing has seemingly endless lateral moves you can pursue, but if you are driven for more, a master’s degree is a great option and one that I highly recommend.

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