Is Nursing Grad School Right for you?

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Matt Soladay

Matt Soladay

Perhaps you have always known that you wanted to be an advanced practice nurse or have been working years as a bedside nurse and are now considering continuing your education and practice; here are three reasons that will help you identify if grad school is right for you.  

Broader Scope of Practice 

Getting to ‘do more’ in your job is one of the biggest draws to an advanced practice nursing degree. Regardless of your level of experience as an RN, you will have limits to what the law says you are authorized to do. Would you like to be able to place your own orders?  Make a diagnosis?  Initiate treatment and prescribe medications? There are nuances between every institution and state, but in general, having an advanced practice degree will allow you to do these types of things.

When I worked in the ICU, and my patient wasn’t breathing well, we would call the anesthesia team to place the breathing tube.  When my patient needed an additional medication, we would call the medical resident to place an order. These are just a few examples, but as an advanced practice nurse, I no longer have to ask someone else to perform as many of the necessary tasks as before.  I can’t do everything, don’t get me wrong, but I can do much more than I used to. 

Work-Life Balance

Night Shifts. Weekends. On-Call. Most of us have had to do one or all three of these things at some point in our career, especially early on. It is certainly dependent on the place where you are employed, but I went from working 40% nights and 30% weekends as an RN to 0% nights and 0% weekends as a CRNA.  Although I didn’t mind flipping between days and nights in my early 20’s, I am positive I wouldn’t handle it as well at this point in my life.  The predictability in my schedule has been one of the highlights of this step in my career. 

As a bedside nurse, your job can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining because you provide more direct care to your patient than anyone else.  As an advanced practice nurse, you will still be providing direct care, but it is likely that your job will not be as physically demanding. 

Earn More Money

The financial advantage of graduate school is that the base salary for advanced practice positions is higher, as well as an increased income ceiling. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of a Registered Nurse is $73,300. Here are the average salaries of some nursing specialties that require a graduate degree:

Midwife (CNM): $108,810
Nurse Practitioner (NP): $111,840
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): $181,040

As you can see, that is a minimum yearly salary increase of $30,000 right after graduation. This is not to say that you should go back to school just because you will get paid more as it’s only part of the equation; however, one benefit of having a higher base-salary is that you don’t need to work nights or weekends for differential pay.  With that, there are certainly many options for every nurse to get paid more without going to grad school, such as travel assignments, agency, call, or working for high-needs institutions. All of which are available for advanced practice providers as well.

My decision to pursue Grad School

I was about one year into my job as an RN working in the medical ICU when I decided to pursue grad school. When the ICU team performed rounds every morning, it was one of my favorite moments of the day; the physical tasks were paused to discuss the physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and how that was used to formulate a treatment plan for the patients. At that point in my career, I contributed what I could but not nearly as much as I wanted to. My bedside routine as a Nurse consisted of giving meds, charting my assessment, drawing labs, titrating pressors, etc.  Although those tasks added to my experience as an RN, I was interested in acquiring new skills and taking greater ownership in critical decision making. That is when I realized that I wanted to learn more so that I could do more; things like placing arterial and central lines, intubating, and nerve blocks. For me, going to grad school to become a CRNA was the best career choice I made, and I am reminded of it every single day I walk through those hospital doors.

Grad school may not be right for everyone or simply may not be the right time as it is a big time and financial commitment. Most nurses will remain in the healthcare field our entire careers regardless of our pursuit of an advanced practice degree- and being an RN is a wonderful profession! But if you are considering nursing grad school, it can open up new opportunities for advanced responsibilities, more autonomy, a better work-life balance, and increased income.

Are you considering grad school? Comment below…

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