Nurses are in high demand all over the country, but the need for providers with a master’s degree is particularly striking. Nursing has long been one of the fastest growing professions in the U.S., but the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of providers into early retirement, further exacerbating the shortage. According to recent estimates from the American Nursing Association, there will be more available nursing jobs than any other type of profession.
But nurses with a master’s degree or higher prove especially valuable in today’s uncertain business climate. They have the experience and skillset to help facilities manage their operations as the industry continues to evolve. And that could mean earning a higher rate of pay.
“Master’s degree-prepared nurses have the potential to earn higher salaries than their bachelor’s degree-prepared counterparts, particularly when they are educated as advanced practice registered nurses such as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and clinical nurse specialists,” said Cindy Anderson, the senior associate dean for academic affairs and educational innovation at the Ohio State University’s College of Nursing.
The salary differences can be striking.
The median annual salary for registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree was $77,600 in May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the median wage for nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and nurse practitioners was listed at $123,780 per year. All these positions require a master’s degree or more.
That’s an annual pay increase of over $46,000 a year.
And demand for highly specialized nurses and nurse practitioners is growing fast.
According to the BLS, the job outlook for registered nurses is projected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030, while the outlook for NPs is expected to grow at a rate of 52%.
In fact, nurse practitioners are expected to become the fourth fastest-growing position in the country. But getting a master’s degree can lead to other career opportunities as well, including nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists. And both careers are expected to grow at a rate of 45% through 2030.
Nurses can also use their master’s degrees to become nurse educators, consultants, and administrators, all of which pay much more than the average RN position.
Getting another degree can also help nurses exact more change in the healthcare system.
“The largest health care workforce are nurses, and we probably have the greatest potential to impact health care,” says Shannon Idzik, president-elect of the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties. “There’s also a level of autonomy as you increase your education that you don’t have as a registered nurse.”
And graduates are increasingly using their skills to advocate for themselves and their patients.
“Our student body is changing,” says Bimbola F. Akintade, associate dean of the University of Maryland School of Nursing. “What students want and how they envision the workspace, how they envision what they bring to the workplace or academic space is changing.”
Turning a Master’s Degree into a Higher-Paying Nursing Job
If you could use a raise, going back to school for another degree can be your ticket to a high-paying nursing job. You will need to be admitted into an accredited nursing master’s degree program. That usually means having a bachelor’s degree in nursing ahead of time. You can find master’s degree programs that don’t require a BSN, but these programs require more credits and take longer to complete.
It typically takes between two to three years to complete a master’s of science in nursing (MSN), and the average program costs around $599 per credit.
Some programs require applicants to have an active RN license with a certain number of years of experience.
Experts say nurses should also look for a program that suits their needs. The school should be accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The school should have a strong reputation in the nursing community, or you may have trouble securing a job after graduation.
Virtual learning or a hybrid model can also help nurses pursue their education while holding down a full-time job. “Technology is now part of everything we do. It’s part of how we live,” Akintade says. “I recommend online programs to individuals because it will provide a significant sense of flexibility. But there’s also a tremendous sense of responsibility that comes with that.”
Access to student and life services can also come in handy.
“Some of the things we’re recognizing that significantly impact the success of students is not just curriculum or how the school is set up but what kind of student services are available,” Akintade says.
Diversity should be a priority for providers as well. “We not only want to work in diverse areas but also go to school with a diverse population or body of students,” he says.
You should also look for a school with clinical site placements, so you don’t have to secure those positions on your own. “It’s very burdensome and it decreases their ability to spend time learning; instead they’re spending their time cold-calling to find a clinical placement,” Akintade added.
The cost of continuing your education should factor into your decision. You’ll need to choose a career path poised for growth and secure a job at a facility that can help you get out of debt. Getting a master’s degree in nursing doesn’t guarantee a higher rate of pay but adding to your professional skill set is a valuable tool that can open the door to new opportunities.