One sure way to advance your nursing career is by earning an advanced degree. The demand for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) is high, with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting a 31 percent increase in jobs over just 10 years. If you’re already a registered nurse (RN), earning a master’s degree in nursing may be your key to accessing this high paying, rapidly expanding career. You might also benefit from considering alternative options for advancing your education, like a doctoral degree in nursing.

High Demand for Advanced Practice Nurses

APRNs are registered nurses who pursue an advanced education and earn a second license that permits them to provide more advanced patient care. Advanced practice registered nurses most often work as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives. APRNs differ from RNs in that more services fall under their expanded scope of care. In many states, APRNs have the training and authority to order tests, diagnose medical conditions and prescribe treatments including medications.

Nurse practitioners act as primary or specialty care providers and work alongside or independently from physicians, depending on state requirements. They earn a median salary of $103,880, the BLS reported. Nurse practitioners have the best job outlook of all APRNs, with an expected 36 percent increase in career opportunities over a decade. That increase will amount to 56,100 new jobs.

The highest paid APRNs are nurse anesthetists. Like physicians in the field of anesthesiology, nurse anesthetists administer the medication used to induce numbness, pain relief or a loss of consciousness for surgeries and other medical procedures. The median wage of nurse anesthetists is $165,120. There are currently 41,800 nurse anesthetists working in the United States, and the anticipated 16 percent job growth will increase that count by 6,800 new jobs.

The rarest kind of APRN is the nurse midwife. There are only 6,500 nurse midwives currently working in the United States, and even with an estimated 21 percent job growth, just 1,300 more jobs will be created, according to the BLS. Nurse midwives provide obstetrical care, including prenatal care and the delivery of babies. They earn a median annual wage of $100,590.  

The highest paid APRNs work in hospitals and outpatient centers, while the lowest paid work in educational services.  

Stiffer Credential Requirements

Traditionally, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) has been the degree of choice for aspiring APRNs. The MSN remains the most common degree for advanced practice nurses entering the field, according to the BLS. Most MSN programs are intended for RNs who already hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, but there are some paths available to nurses with an associate’s degree, as well.

However, in the future, a master’s degree might not be enough to become an APRN. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has recommended that advanced practice registered nurses obtain a doctoral degree like the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. As a result, many schools are transitioning their MSN programs to DNP programs to meet these recommendations. By 2025, new nurse anesthetists will need a doctoral degree, and other advanced practice nurses will be “strongly encouraged” to get one, according to U.S. News & World Report .

That’s not to say that MSN degrees aren’t in demand. However, aspiring APRNs should be aware of the pressures and any certification or licensing requirements in their state and health care specialization that could make a DNP a better choice for career advancement.

There are more than 250 schools already offering Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree programs.

Job Options

Nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists are excellent careers. Each one allows a nurse to expand the scope of care he or she can provide, develop expertise in a specialization and enjoy a high salary and rate of job growth. However, they aren’t the only choices available to graduates of MSN degree programs.

Another option is to pursue an MSN degree in the specialization of nursing education . Believe it or not, there is such a shortage of nursing instructors that the lack of faculty contributes to the extreme competitiveness of nursing degree programs. In just a decade, the number of students enrolled in RN to BSN degree programs rose from fewer than 30,000 to 90,000, increasing the demand for nurses with advanced degrees like the MSN.

You can also earn an MSN degree in nursing informatics, a specialization that combines computer and information technology with the science and practice of nursing care. If you’re eyeing a high-level role in administration or management, you could look for a master’s degree program in nursing and health care leadership.

For students with a BSN degree, it typically takes 18 to 24 months of study to complete a Master of Science in Nursing program.

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