It doesn’t take long for a nurse to realize that the learning never stops. Whether on-the-job experience shapes your professional growth or much-needed continuing education keeps you up to date for you license renewal, lifelong improvement and nursing go hand in hand.
The natural trajectory for career development leads many nurses to formalize their training with advanced nursing degrees. This may lead them down paths like advanced practice, leadership, teaching, or research as they explore the specialty that suits them best. Whichever your passion, heading back to school can be a great option to take your career in healthcare to the next level.
What are Advanced Nursing Degrees?
Most nurses today are entering practice with a bachelor’s degree, which is sufficient to make them successful in the care and management of their patients. However, as they go along, many discover special areas of practice about which they are uniquely passionate, but their current level of education limits their options.
While there are tremendous benefits to be gained from continuing education, an advanced nursing degree is only obtained through graduate academic schooling. Nurses who want to become APRN or NPs need to go back to school to obtain a master’s or doctoral degree before they can be considered for these specialties.
It is important to note that, when it comes to advanced practice nursing, it is not purely the degree that gets you to the finish line. Depending on the program, advanced nursing degrees give you the training and knowledge to become eligible to sit for a board certification exam in your chosen specialty. You’ll still need to pass the test to start practicing.
Why Get an Advanced Degree?
As of 2022, only 17.4% of nurses in the U.S. held a master’s degree, and only 2.4% have received their doctorate. However, those 1 million+ nurses are filling some of the most vital roles in the healthcare industry, in addition to being leaders and scholars in the advancement of nursing practice.
Graduate school also creates the potential for a return on your investment in a number of ways. A degree opens the door for possibilities like:
- Improved autonomy and satisfaction in an advanced provider role.
- Opportunities for career advancement and earning potential.
- Influencing healthcare on a larger scale through policy and advocacy.
- Having greater ability to shape the future of nursing.
- Mentoring younger nurses in their professional growth.
Advanced Nursing Degree Options
When it comes to nursing, advanced degree options outnumber most other professions. Most nurses probably don’t even realize the range of possibilities available to them when they first enter the workforce! Specializations include:
A nurse practitioner is a licensed professional nurse specializing in patient assessment, diagnosis, and disease management of acute and chronic conditions. The role of the nurse practitioner is divided into specialties focusing on family care, pediatrics, neonatal care, mental health, geriatrics, and women’s health. Nurse practitioner programs are offered as both master’s or doctoral degree programs, each with both didactic and clinical components.
A Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM) specializes in the holistic care of women from adolescence on through their post-menopausal years. Nurse-midwives prioritize natural physiologic responses while providing care for preventative and primary women’s health. CNM programs can be offered through both master’s degree and doctoral degree programs, each with didactic and clinical components.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
The CRNA is trained in anesthesia and anesthesia-related care for patients of all ages, and the CRNA role has established itself in a variety of clinical settings both inside and outside of the hospital. All CRNA accreditation requires doctoral-level study, and programs are intense, full-time committments with competitive entry requirements.
Clinical Nurse Specialist
The clinical nurse specialist (CNS) has expertise in assessing and diagnosing for the purpose of acute and chronic disease management. The CNS also often fills roles outside of the direct provider-patient relationship, and may focus on areas like nursing leadership, education, research, and public health. CNS degree programs are most often master’s level graduate degree programs with both didactic and clinical components.
Nurses who pursue an advanced nursing degree in education generally find themselves in either academia working at a college or university or in the acute care setting. Although not always required, for those nurse educators wishing to remain in the clinical environment, a master’s degree in adult learning theory concepts or nursing professional development can be exceptionally useful.
Any nurse educator wishing to enter the academic world will—at a minimum—need a master’s degree for a role in clinical instruction, or a doctoral degree if they want to pursue a role as faculty.
Nurses wishing to enter leadership roles need to be well-prepared in many areas of nursing operations, prioritizing the big picture when it comes to optimizing patient outcomes. Graduate degree programs that develop a nurse for executive leadership can be in the format of both master’s and doctoral programs, often integrating implementation projects like process or quality improvement into their degree plan.
Consider the Cost
When it comes to paying for school, research any opportunity to limit the financial burden. This means investigating things like employer tuition reimbursement or discounts that might be available depending on where you work.
If you choose an online program, make sure you know if there are any on-campus commitments you are expected to fulfill. Also, check the accreditation of the institution as well as the reported board pass rates when considering a program to ensure it’s delivering results for the investment.
Could an Advanced Nursing Degree Be Right For You?
Going back to school for an advanced nursing degree isn’t for everyone, but if you have the drive and are willing to put in the work it may be the best decision you’ve ever made—after becoming a nurse of course! Regardless of your decision, education is a lifelong affair for a nurse, and in nearly any state you’ll be required to engage in annual or semi-annual continuing education to maintain your license.
With Premiere’s Unlimited Nursing CEU subscription you’ll always be able to pursue your specialization interests, meet your state-mandated CE requirements, and keep building toward an advanced nursing degree. All of Premiere’s content is created by industry experts, and makes keeping current as simple as turning on your screen to ensure you’re delivering the best care to your patients every time.