May 4, 2017

Ask Nurse Keith: Do I Really Need Another Nursing Degree?

Ask Nurse Keith: Do I Really Need Another Nursing Degree?

By Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC

As a career coach for nurses, I’m often asked very similar questions by many nursing professionals. Our challenges may feel unique to us, but you can often find other nurses who feel just like you do. In other words, you’re not alone, nurses -- many of our struggles are universal. 

Nurses often come to me with questions about whether to go back to school and earn another nursing degree. This common question has many answers that depend on your personal situation and career goals. 

Here’s an email I received about this subject: 

Dear Keith, 

I’m a telemetry nurse with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing, and I’m wondering whether to go back to school. I know that some hospitals no longer hire nurses without a BSN, and other facilities may do the same. 

The hospital where I work is still hiring ADNs, but they plan to switch to all BSNs by 2020. I think I’ll get grandfathered in, but they may still force us all to go back to school sooner or later. 

Some people say I should go straight to a master’s or Ph.D., so it’s hard to decide on the best path. 

I have a son who’s a junior in high school and a daughter in 8th grade, so my kids are less dependent than they used to be. My husband works full time, 9 to 5. 

How do I decide if it’s worth going back? 


Confused Potential Nursing Student

Nurse Keith's Response

Dear Confused,

Going back to nursing school can be life-changing -- I'm glad you're thinking about it carefully. 

Many nurses are told they “should” go back to school, but just because you’re being told to go doesn’t mean it’s right for you. 

Here are a few reasons that nurses return to school: 

  • A Master’s degree is required to become a nurse practitioner (NP), nurse anesthetist (CRNA), certified nurse midwife (CNM), or clinical nurse specialist (CNS)

  • Some desirable positions are closed to nurses without a BSN

  • A Master’s is needed in order to teach

  • Pharmaceutical companies require a BSN in order to apply for a position as a nurse sales rep or educator

  • A BSN increases your earning potential

  • A Ph.D. is the only way you’ll be taken seriously as a consultant and highly paid expert nurse speaker

  • An employer offers to pay for nurse employees to earn their BSN in exchange for a time-based commitment from the nurse

  • Entry into certain specialties -- like nursing informatics -- is easier with a Master's degree

Common questions to consider about returning to nursing school:

1) What will be the return on investment (ROI) of my new degree? 

Although you can’t predict what your ROI will be on another nursing degree, you can gather as much data as you can before taking the plunge. 

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) salary data can be helpful when making career-related decisions. For instance, nurse practitioners and APRNs are expected to have outsized job growth (31%) through 2024, and their earning power is significant. 

The BLS states that 21% of all jobs in the U.S. require a bachelor’s degree for entry. It’s also been said that a bachelor’s degree generally increases earning potential over time.

NPs are gaining increased autonomy around the country, which continues to open doors. This definitely leads some nurses back to school. 

More autonomy and opportunity are two reasons why more education may be smart. You also need to consider the relative cost of living and potential salaries that can be earned after graduation. 

2)  If my employer is willing to pay for my degree program, am I willing to fulfill my obligation after finishing school? 

An increasing number of employers are willing to pay for your BSN program in exchange for a few extra years of employment. A “free” BSN might really come in handy down the line -- it can only help your career in the long run. 

Before signing on the dotted line, make sure you feel good enough about your workplace to stay a while longer. You don't want to get stuck with the bill for your education because you left before your commitment was fulfilled.

3) Decide if earning another degree will help you to achieve your mid- and long-term career goals. 

What do you want to do in your career? Are there awesome nursing jobs you can’t consider because you need another degree in order to even apply? 

Assessing your mid- and long-term goals on a regular basis will help you make good choices. Keep an eye on what you want out of your nursing career and the steps you’ll need to take along the way. 

Making the Choice

Returning to school isn’t a small decision. You need to make a choice that aligns with your personal and professional needs. School takes time, money, and resources, and the relative burdens need to be weighed carefully. Consider how school will affect your ability to fulfill other responsibilities and how it will impact your family. 

Make a thoughtful choice, and use school as a vehicle to get you where you want to go in your nursing career. 

All the best, 

Nurse Keith

Want to make great use of your nursing degree?  

High-paying nursing opportunities abound. As a registered nurse, you are in control of your career. Check out the best jobs from coast to coast on our job board. Get the pay and career path you deserve. Click here to see open positions for nurses now.


Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC is a Board-Certified Nurse Coach, award-winning blogger, nurse podcaster, speaker, and author. Based in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Nurse Keith’s work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications.

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