There are a number of different nursing qualifications. For the uninitiated, the acronyms can seem meaningless and confusing. Whether you are already a nurse or not, it is never too early to start planning for the future and considering what the best career path or qualification might be to pursue.
This article will break down all the different nursing qualifications and explain what they are, how to obtain them and the reasons why most people decide to pursue them. Everyone is different and there are as many motivations as there are stars in the sky, but hopefully, understanding more about the general reasons why most people pursue a particular degree will help you to decide whether it is for you.
RN – Registered Nurse
Registered Nurse (RN) is the most common nursing qualification and the one that you are likely most familiar with. The work of RNs is very broad and encompasses a wide range of activities and healthcare needs. RNs implement the healthcare plan for each patient and monitor their care.
This means that they assess the healthcare plan, communicate with the patient and answer questions, and monitor the patient throughout the care they receive. RNs work under the guidance or direction of a doctor or nurse practitioner, but most of the work that they do is done independently.
People decide to become an RN for many different reasons. Some people feel strongly pulled towards nursing and consider it to be more of a vocation than a career, others are interested in science, healthcare or improving clinical care. Regardless of the motivation for becoming an RN, one thing is certainly true – it is a job in which you will learn something new every day and it is an incredibly steady career path.
There is always going to be a demand for healthcare services. Now more than ever before, nurses are able to make excellent salaries in a variety of creative roles. The flexibility, stability and people-centered nature of nursing is often what leads individuals to pursue it as a career path.
There are a number of different degrees which individuals can pursue in order to become an RN. The most common degree is the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This is the entry-level degree for becoming an RN and it focuses on training nurses by teaching foundational skills and knowledge. BSN programs take a holistic approach to nursing training programs by instructing students in the core sciences while also teaching them communication, collaboration and practical clinical skills.
MSN – Master of Science in Nursing
Nurses who have completed their BSN have the option to then pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Obtaining a master’s degree is required for a number of other further qualifications in nursing, such as the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) qualification.
There are many different types of MSN degrees which focus on a variety of topics. Some are specialized to train nurses in administration or education. Nurses who want to specialize in a specific area of study are also given the chance to through MSN degree programs. These specializations can be for areas such as midwifery, clinical, anesthesiology or surgery and they help nurses to research and learn more about a particular aspect of healthcare in great detail.
As with all other degree programs, people decide to pursue MSN degrees for a multitude of reasons. Some people start out in nursing and, after a few years in their career, they realize that they want a new intellectual challenge, or they feel incredibly passionate about one aspect of healthcare and want to learn as much as possible about it. Other nurses will only start their career after they have already attained a master’s in nursing – this, in turn, will allow them to qualify for the NCLEX-RN exams.
Although there are many reasons why someone would pursue an MSN, one thing is for certain, it helps candidates to further their career. An MSN qualification will certainly never hurt your job prospects, as completing an MSN shows that the student is hard-working, diligent, a good researcher, ambitious and intelligent.
NP – Nurse Practitioner
A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is an RN who has decided to pursue additional education at the graduate level. They have typically attained a master’s degree or doctorate degree in subjects such as pathophysiology, pharmacology, diagnostic reasoning, assessment or treatment planning.
As a result of their additional education, NPs are given more autonomy on hospital floors and are authorized to make certain decisions which RNs cannot. These decisions tend to pertain to prescribing a patient medication, ordering specific diagnostic tests or diagnosing a patient. These are actions which RNs are not able to take on their own, which is certainly one of the major differences between the two qualifications.
In some respects, NPs occupy a space in the healthcare system in between RNs and doctors. They each undergo a different kind of training and have different roles and responsibilities in the clinical environment.
Now more than ever before, NPs are taking on incredible roles and responsibilities in the healthcare system and their work extends far past primary care. NPs are able to provide patients with comprehensive care and they are frequently viewed as able to step in for retiring doctors as their work is so all-encompassing.
Aside from vocation, ambition and enjoyment of a challenge, many NPs decide to pursue this path due to the job prospects available. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics presented a report in 2021 which highlighted the employment levels and wages of NPs across the United States.
The report found that, in a group of 21,000 NPs across the US, they had an average salary of $114,510 and were frequently hired to replace doctors. The same study estimated that between 2020 and 2030, there would be a 52% growth in the NP job market due to increased demand. In fact, the study also found that many clinics and hospitals were struggling to hire NPs and were anxiously seeking NPs with any level of experience.
Regardless of whether nursing is someone’s vocation or not, it is hard to argue that it is not a great career path to embark on. If you think that a role as an NP could be for you, you can learn more about the many different types of programs available.
DNP – Doctor of Nursing Practice
Another degree path for nurses is to pursue the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). This is a degree path which is open to students who have already completed an MSN and are looking to further their academic and professional careers even more.
One of the main differences between the MSN and the DNP is its rigor. The DNP is a rigorous, challenging course which trains nurses in the best skills and techniques that are currently available. The degree also allows nurses to take on a more significant role on the hospital floor when it comes to leadership, quality of healthcare and ensuring that patient care is provided at a certain level.
Many people are drawn to DNPs because they are typically the leaders on the floor and have the skills, experience and knowledge to assist other nurses and ensure that the clinic is providing the best possible health care to its patients. While the DNP is a challenging course, it is ideal for ambitious nurses who are passionate about nursing and who want to get ahead in their career with another qualification. Nurses who want to advance in their career and to take on significant leadership positions would be well suited to the DNP program.
There is also currently a national call for nurses to pursue DNP degrees, so it is certainly a qualification which is in demand. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has called for more nurses to obtain DNPs due to the need for leaders in academic, research and clinical spaces.
PhD in nursing
Did you know that you can also get your PhD in nursing? A PhD is the most difficult, longest and most prestigious academic degree which you can obtain in any field. In order to complete a PhD, the candidate must complete a certain number of course modules over a period of years and publish a thesis presenting original research. The length of study and of the thesis will vary according to the subject, university and researcher’s interests.
Many people who complete PhD degrees do so because they want to start a career in academia. These days, most associate professor or professor roles would be filled with individuals with PhDs. Many of the individuals pursuing PhDs in nursing are doing so because they would like to go on to pursue a career in academia.
However, academia is not the only path available to those who obtain PhDs in nursing. A PhD is truly an asset for researchers who want to pursue a high level of research into a certain topic and make publicly or privately funded research their career. This degree is an asset in research roles because obtaining a PhD demonstrates the individual’s intelligence, hard work, research skills and dedication to the field of study.
Anyone who decides to pursue a PhD should do so after careful consideration and research, as these degrees are incredibly demanding and can take much longer than originally anticipated to complete. If you are interested in starting a PhD, you should consider research topics, check out the programs offered at various schools, and get in touch with professors and assistant professors who can give you advice about your topic.
After choosing a degree to pursue, it is also important to consider the format in which you would like to study. There are primarily three different formats of study available: traditional in-person education, online education and hybrid education.
There are benefits and downsides to each of the three forms of education, but whichever you choose will impact the way that you learn and study for the duration of the degree, so it is worth giving it some serious thought. For some, the thought of studying fully online is hard to imagine, but for others, it offers an ideal way to learn because it can accommodate the daily needs and demands of life.
If you are unsure of how you study best and what you would prefer, you should reach out to the various universities and ask them for more information about what taking their course is like.
Choosing the right degree path
At the end of the day, there are hundreds of different reasons why an individual would choose to pursue one particular career path over another. On top of that, the reasons for pursuing a particular degree are likely to change and evolve as one spends more time as a nurse, gaining experience on the floor.
Choosing to pursue a degree or additional qualification is not a decision which should be taken lightly. The course of one’s career can be altered by pursing a certain degree and it is important to take the time to really reflect and decide which option is best suited to your interests, experiences and goals.
If you have done your research into the different degree programs and the different formats of study available and you still are not sure which degree is right for you, then you should try to reach out to the individual schools you are interested in and ask for more resources.
The recruitment department of every school or university should be able to provide you with resources and some will be able to refer you to students or alumni whom you can speak with or invite you to attend webinars on the degree or department.
Regardless of the path you choose to take, you can rest assured that you are making a solid decision for your future career.