Earning a master's degree in nursing is a momentous step in a nurse's career. It opens doors to higher-level nursing positions and allows the nurse to expand his or her practice. However, some nurses who earn an MSN do not wish to leave bedside nursing. After all, caring for patients directly is why many nurses got into the field of nursing in the first place. So, does earning an MSN mean that nurses have to move up the clinical ladder and away from direct patient care?

The answer is not necessarily. While many MSN-prepared nurses earn the degree to move up the ladder into management, executive, educator, or practitioner roles, not all have those goals in mind. Some nurses simply wish to expand their knowledge base to improve their bedside care. For example, a nurse can earn an MSN in education to be able to utilize their skills when teaching patients. An MSN in quality may improve a nurse's practice style as a whole. MSN-prepared nurses can also become nurse practitioners and assume the role of a primary care provider for patients.

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Additionally, healthcare is continuously changing. MSN-prepared nurses are skilled in changing along with it and identifying healthcare-related issues along the way. They are proficient in problem-solving using evidence-based solutions. What better way to identify concerns than being on the front lines? In short, nurses can improve their bedside care dramatically by earning an MSN.

Other benefits of working at the bedside with an MSN include:

  • Enhanced assessment skills
  • Improved critical thinking
  • Improved leadership skills
  • A higher level of patient advocacy

So, while master's degrees prepare nurses for higher-level positions, they don't necessarily have to work in those positions. It's important to note, however, that employers have their own unique hiring process. While one employer may jump at the chance to hire an MSN nurse into a bedside caregiver role, another employer may deem an MSN nurse "overqualified" for the position and pass him or her up. This is not always the case, but nurses should keep this in mind.

Nurses are lucky; they have many ways in which to develop professionally. Deciding to earn a higher degree is an individual choice, and nurses have many reasons why they choose to return to school. Whatever role the nurse selects, more education not only benefits the nurse but benefits patients as well.

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
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