Higher Learning: Nursing Jobs Increasingly Require Advanced Degrees

NursingMay 23, 2018

Once upon a time, earning associate degree in nursing meant you were among the best-trained, best-educated of working nurses. More and more institutions are moving toward requiring their nursing staff to obtain a BSN, for instance, as a way of improving the quality of care and patient outcomes. BSN-prepared nurses are often given greater responsibility than their less-educated peers, and they are entrusted with the authority to supervise other nurses.

But increasingly, BSNs are discovering that some nursing opportunities require still more advanced degrees. To become a nurse midwife, for instance, nurses are now required to obtain a master’s degree in nursing (MSN). And that is just one example of the desirable nursing specialties now typically filled by Advanced Practice nurses; collectively referred to as APRNs. APRNs now fill roles such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse-midwife, nurse educator, health policy expert, nurse administrator, and certified nurse anesthetist.

A Broad Trend

The trend toward requiring more advanced degrees among practitioners in the medical field is not limited to the nursing profession. Other occupations, such as physical therapists, and even audiologists, were formerly required to possess no more than a two-year degree. Now some of these occupations actually require practitioners to have a doctorate-level degree. Even midwives may one day be required to obtain a doctorate to practice.

This trend toward overhauling the education requirements for healthcare professionals can be traced back to a report, commissioned by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), of the National Academies, nearly a decade ago. The report was intended to examine—and reevaluate—the American healthcare landscape in the wake of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, in 2010. At that time, a goal was set to significantly boost the number of nurses in the workforce who possessed BSNs, by 2020.

In its report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, IOM strongly encouraged the states to embrace the expanded role of APRNs as key personnel for the delivery of quality healthcare. By 2020, the IOM recommended, up to 80% of nurses should possess at least a BSN degree.

MSN and Beyond

The number of doctorate-level nurses was projected to double in the same time period. The recommendation to achieve these levels of working APRNs dovetails with a position paper issued by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, in 2004, which suggested that all Advanced Practice nursing jobs should eventually be filled by nurses with doctorate-level degrees. Programs available to current BSN-prepared RNs include post-masters and post-baccalaureate-to-doctorate tracks.

The writing is on the proverbial wall: Getting your master’s degree is becoming increasingly important if you want to be well-respected and well-compensated as a nurse. The best opportunities are likely to go to nurses who can compete in tomorrow’s healthcare workplace. While a doctorate may not be crucial at the moment, it appears as if a master’s degree may become increasingly common—and necessary—to remain current and competitive in the nursing profession.