After qualifying as a nurse, usually by obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), most nurses work as a registered nurse (RN) for at least a few years. However, this is not the end of their learning journey. For many nurses, it is just the beginning.

There are always new developments in nursing, with new protocols, therapies and treatments to learn. Nurses are encouraged to follow these new developments. Some may subscribe to nursing magazines, and many workplaces organize training to ensure their nurses remain up to date on the latest practices, providing further opportunities for professional development.

Nursing is a lifelong learning journey, and a question that many RNs consider after a few years in the profession is whether they should undertake more formal studies to gain additional qualifications, such as a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) or even a doctoral qualification such as a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice). To determine whether further study is the right decision for you, it is worth considering the many benefits of pursuing an advanced nursing degree and what it can do for you both professionally and personally.

Flexible study options

The time needed to study for an advanced degree may seem like a disadvantage as some nurses worry about fitting it in around other commitments or are not sure if they can afford to spend so much time away from the workplace to devote themselves to studying, particularly with tuition fees to pay. However, this is not a problem today thanks to the increase in high-quality accredited online courses. Although these studies do require a commitment of time and money, the chance to study online gives you greater flexibility when it comes to when and where you study. It also means you do not need to factor a lengthy commute into your already busy life.

Additionally, it means that you can find a course that completely meets your needs and interests instead of having to make do with whatever is available to you locally. Many courses will even help you arrange convenient clinical placements in your local area to put your skills into practice and complete the number of hours needed for qualification. As a result, it is possible to gain an advanced nursing degree while continuing to work and without neglecting your family and social opportunities.

Diverse career opportunities

Nursing is a profession with many opportunities for promotion, and gaining an advanced nursing degree can open up a wide variety of opportunities. There is no single route through the nursing profession. Instead, there are several career paths available. However, one factor all nursing career options have in common is that demand is high and predicted to grow ever greater. No matter what direction you want your nursing career to take, you are likely to enjoy excellent long-term job security.

One option for those with an advanced nursing degree is becoming a nurse practitioner working in such diverse areas as pediatrics, gerontology or psychiatric care. Alternatively, you may choose to become a family nurse practitioner, working with patients at many different stages of their lives. Perhaps you would like to become a nurse midwife, caring for expectant mothers and their newborns. Another option is becoming a clinical nurse specialist, building your knowledge and expertise in an area of medicine that particularly interests you such as oncology, neonatology or women’s health.

With an advanced nursing degree paving the way to so many different career options, there is certain to be one that makes the most of your skills, matches your interests and fits in well with your lifestyle.

Better salaries

While people are usually drawn to the nursing profession by a desire to help others and make a difference, nobody is expected to work for free. Nursing is a highly rewarding career from an emotional standpoint, but a higher salary is also part of the draw.

With a higher income, you will have greater options in your personal life and leisure time, such as vacation, days off, a larger home, a better car or exciting hobbies, to name just a few benefits of a higher salary. If you have children, a better salary can open up opportunities for them and give them a higher standard of living.

An advanced nursing degree can help you aim for promotion, giving you a better chance of gaining employment in a higher-paid nursing job compared to that of an RN. This means that the time and money invested in studying for an advanced degree is likely to pay off.

Greater autonomy

The positions that become available to you with an advanced nursing degree come with a greater degree of autonomy in your work, allowing you to make decisions independently of a doctor or a more senior nurse. For example, as a family nurse practitioner, you may have your own practice of patients, while in clinical roles, you can take on the responsibility of ordering tests, carrying out examinations and making diagnoses, in addition to playing a significant role in deciding treatment plans in collaboration with other medical professionals.

Being able to work more independently allows nurses to increasingly use their nursing skills, such as decision making and problem solving, and it can also bring them a much greater degree of job satisfaction.

Choice of location

An advanced nursing degree is a formal recognition of your expertise that will impress prospective employers, giving you a greater chance of being offered the job you want in a location of your choosing. The salaries and benefits of being a nurse do vary from place to place, so if you have the flexibility, it is worth considering where your ideal place of work both would be from a personal and professional standpoint.

Perhaps you would like to be within easy reach of the beaches of California or Hawaii, or maybe the outdoor life and activities of Alaska appeal to you. Being able to live and work somewhere you love can significantly increase your quality of life and allow you to make the most of your leisure time. However, if your priority is your career, you may want to consider the medical facilities in different locations. If you are eager to be close to a center of medical research, a city like Cleveland that is home to the Cleveland Clinic could be a good place to choose.

If you are unsure where your dream home would be, talk to friends, relatives and colleagues to find out where they are from and if they would recommend it. Another place to learn more is at the university where you study for your advanced nursing degree, whether you are studying in person or through an online course. Students in the online MSN programs at Walsh University can learn about the best cities for nurses from staff and fellow students at that university through online contact, on clinical placements, or during their experience at Walsh’s campus.

With advanced nursing qualifications, working abroad might even be an option, allowing you to combine the job you love with the chance to see the world. By living and working in a different country, you will be able to truly immerse yourself in that culture, gaining experiences that will enrich your life.

Flexible work options

While job satisfaction is important for a happy life, we are increasingly becoming aware of the need for a good work-life balance. Nursing is a demanding career that is full of physical and emotional challenges, and achieving a good work-life balance can help reduce stress and burnout, something that is important for your own physical and mental health, in addition to making you more effective as a nurse.

Because nurses with advanced nursing qualifications are in high demand, it can be easier to find a nursing position that fits your lifestyle. For example, as a family nurse practitioner, you may be able to set your hours to fit in with your children’s schedule. With a higher salary, you may be able to afford to work fewer days each week, giving you more time for family and social obligations or leisure activities.

Influencing the future

Advanced nursing degrees will give you career options beyond patient-facing roles, many of which can allow you to influence the future of nursing in your own workplace and beyond. You may use your new qualifications to move into a managerial role. This might mean being responsible for the working practices of the nurses in your ward or in your workplace as you ensure that staff and resources are deployed in a manner that provides the greatest benefits. You may also be involved in setting policies or choosing new practices to implement. Those who follow a managerial career path in nursing may eventually reach executive level, playing a significant role in the organization of their workplace.

Another way you can influence the future of nursing is as a nurse educator, preparing the next generations of nurses. With new nurses very much in demand, this is a highly worthwhile position that will help safeguard the health of future generations. You may combine your role as a nurse educator with a clinical setting, supporting and mentoring student nurses in their clinical placements. Some of the responsibilities of this role include devising an appropriate training program, monitoring and evaluating students’ progress, providing feedback, and helping students develop as nurses. Another option is to work in a university setting, supporting students in their studies.

Advanced nursing degrees also open up opportunities in research. This can allow you to participate in or even design studies that will improve the standards of nursing care in your immediate area and beyond. Becoming part of studies that pave the way to new protocols, practices, treatments, therapies and policies is a way that you can make your mark on nursing for many years to come.

Intellectual challenge

Nursing is a lifelong learning journey, and many nurses are eager learners who enjoy expanding their knowledge and the challenges they meet along the way. As a result, even before they enjoy the benefits an advanced nursing qualification can bring, they enjoy the intellectual stimulation of study that takes them beyond the challenges they experienced in their BSN degree program. These may include research opportunities that provide a chance to expand their knowledge into an area they find particularly interesting.

Gaining a qualification is inherently satisfying and can increase your confidence in yourself and your nursing abilities at a higher level.

Is earning an advanced nursing degree worth it?

The way a nursing career progresses is very much a personal choice that can be influenced by many factors. However, studying for an advanced nursing degree is an option well worth considering when you are ready to seek promotional opportunities. It can allow you to specialize in areas that interest you and give you a greater degree of autonomy in your professional life. It can provide you with greater responsibilities, such as a managerial position or an educational role, or open up a wealth of research opportunities. Additionally, it will result in higher salaries and give you a competitive advantage when applying for jobs, providing you with a greater chance of securing a position that fits in with your life or in a location that appeals to you. Many nurses who have earned an advanced nursing degree feel it was worth the effort because it brought their career to new levels.

If this is an option that appeals to you, it is a good idea to start exploring your study options. With the popularity of flexible online degrees, you could be embarking on your advanced degree studies sooner than you expect, making the personal benefits and promotional opportunities of advanced nursing careers a reality within the next few years.