Your Nursing Grad School Questions: Answered

Osmosis Team
Published on May 2, 2022. Updated on May 2, 2022.

You may not be really thinking about graduate school yet because you're in the throes of your undergraduate degree, but it's never too early to start planning for what your next degree might be! A recent report stated that nearly 88,000 bedside nurses are leaving to go to graduate school. What is causing this trend, and could it be the right decision for you? In case you missed it, we're breaking down a recent webinar with some experts in the Nursing field. Check out our guide to all you need to know about working towards your Nursing graduate degree. 

Where was the first university-based school of Nursing in the United States?

The first nursing school in the U.S. was at the University of Minnesota, and it was founded in 1909. There was an earlier program at Bellevue in New York City, which was actually the first real school of Nursing that was not university-based.

What is happening with Nursing education today?

In 2010, a report came out from the Institute of Medicine that recommended increasing the number of Nursing Bachelor of Science degrees to 80% by 2020. While we didn't quite make that figure by 2020, we are moving in the right direction. Also, in 2010, the Affordable Care Act was brand new, and we didn't know what the effects of it would have. We now have 11 years of data and experience on how the ACA has affected nursing.

Institute of medicine report 2010.

In 2021, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine launched their report The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity (2021), which builds on the work of the 2010 report. The 2021 report focuses on a path for nursing to create a culture of health, reduce health disparities, and improve the health and well-being of the country's population. These are the priorities for nursing for the future of Nursing 2020 to 2030.

Is there any downside to this trend towards advanced degrees?

One controversy that the advanced nursing degrees have spawned is that, with all the options and choices for advanced Nursing education, there are lots of letters after nurses' names. Nursing is one of very few professions that tack on so many letters—from RN, MS, PNP, PhD, DMP, and so on. This has generated some criticism from various sides.

Explain this alphabet soup, please!

Some of the letters after a nurse's name stand for an advanced degree. Others indicate licensure. And still, others refer to a credential. Here are just some of the acronyms, explained:

PhD = Doctorate of Philosophy degree for those who want to do research

EdD = Doctorate of Education degree for those interested in educational pedagogy

DNP = Doctor of Nursing Practice degree

DNS = Doctor of Nursing Science

MPH = Masters of Public Health

CRN = Certified Registered Nurse

There's a much more detailed list of all different kinds of nursing certifications, degrees, and licensures here.

Wow. Which of these degrees might be right for me?

This depends on where your interests lie and what you want to do. There are a lot of different terminal degrees. If you love research and you want to be a basic researcher, a PhD is the way to go. If you really love education and you want to go into educational pedagogy, then an EdD is the place to go. People who love being a nurse practitioner may go for the DNP. The more options you have, the more decisions you need to make. Many nurses don't get a master's degree in public health; they get an MPH, or they get a master's in nutrition, or they do something else that is of interest to them. It all depends on what you like to study and what you want to do with it.

Chart with different degrees.

What is the difference between a terminal degree and an advanced degree?

It might sound deadly, but a terminal degree is not fatal! A terminal degree is the final degree that you get in your profession. Doctorates are terminal degrees because they're about as high as you can go in the academic setting. An advanced degree is the one you get after your Bachelor's, but there might still be more to study. These are general master's degrees, like Master's of Public Health or a Master's of Science in Nursing.

Advanced practice nurses. AAC recoognized titles.

What other variables are there to consider?

It might depend on geography. Depending on which part of the country you live in, there are some different opportunities at the nearby universities. Some programs are intended to lead directly into a graduate program, like BSN (Bachelor's of Science in Nursing) to PhD, or BSN to DNP, or BSN to masters to DMP. If you prefer a public or private university, you may have other options as well.

What's the difference between a degree, a role, a credential, or a license?

Achieving a degree—whether it's a bachelor's, master's, or a doctorate—provides you with a certain skill set. A degree prepares you with academic knowledge and clinical practice as well. You use your degree in your nursing role or job. Most nursing roles require you to have licensure. Licenses are usually granted by overseeing bodies—for example, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing administers the NCLEX, which grants your state a license to practice nursing. While a doctoral degree might be expected for the role you're interested in, it doesn't necessarily require a license, unless it is one of those advanced practice degrees. Credentials are often shorter courses that prepare you for specific parts of a role you want to work in.

Which program is most popular?

It looks like DNP programs are increasing at a much faster rate than the research PhD programs. As of a report in 2019, DNP programs are expanding quickly because they're including all of those advanced practice specialties.

What if I'm not interested in studying anymore?

There are other ways to develop your nursing skills and degree beyond graduate school, or after grad school. Programs like nurse manager, nurse entrepreneur, nurse educator, or nurse administrator all exist as professional programs that nurses can move into. Another factor you might consider is the setting you'd like to be in, either in a hospital setting or academic one. There are lots of different options for what you choose to do.

Graduate school might be good, but how do I decide?

When you're considering graduate school, you need to think about what your practice is and what you want it to be. Is your practice going to be direct patient care—for example, as a nurse practitioner—or one of many other different kinds of specialties. These include management of care as a case manager, moving into a management position in a medical facility, or up the ladder nursing administration. There are so many different settings that nurses work in, like inpatient, outpatient, school nursing, and more. You may eventually want to get involved with policy development and implementation. The field of nursing is going through a huge transformation right now, and current nursing students will be on the frontlines of implementing a lot of change in the industry.

Follow your passion

One reason that we often hear for nurses returning to school for advanced degrees is that their experiences—both personal and professional—create drives and ambitions that they channel into their studies and research projects. Whether it's working in the NICU and seeing potential for improvement, or experiencing a loss and wanting to help others through similar events. If you see trends or issues in your work as a nurse, you may want to create your own project through study or research. This is a deep well of energy and commitment to difficult studies that can provide great long-term satisfaction and development in your career.


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