BSN vs. MSN: Advance Your Nursing Career

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A nurse practitioner holding a tablet is speaking with a mother and child during a checkup.

Students weighing the pros and cons of earning a BSN vs. MSN should gain a clear understanding of the career options available after graduation with each degree. When planning their nursing education, students should note that a Bachelor of Science in Nursing can help qualify them for entry-level nursing roles, while a Master of Science in Nursing typically leads to more advanced positions, including those that involve managing and supervising teams of nurses. It’s also worth noting that advanced nursing positions generally come with higher earning potential.

No matter which degree path a student chooses when deciding between a BSN vs. MSN, nurses with either degree share common responsibilities and characteristics. For example, all nurses are responsible for the health and well-being of patients; some nurses serve patients directly with hands-on care, while others do so indirectly by managing a team of health care professionals. Nurses at every level are working toward the same goal of providing patients with efficient, high-quality health care and treatment. Regardless of their rank, all nurses are performing noble, valuable work that benefits countless individuals.

Why a BSN?

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing provides students with the necessary academic qualifications for entry-level positions in the nursing field. While an associate degree in nursing (ADN) is the minimum requirement to become a registered nurse, an increasing number of jobs in the medical field require at least a BSN.

In addition to the potential for more professional opportunities, earning a BSN can also result in higher pay. According to the compensation website PayScale, those with an ADN make an average annual salary of $72,000, compared to $87,000 for those with a BSN. Moreover, a growing number of hospitals and clinics are looking to hire nurses with at least a BSN.

Potential Career Options for BSN Graduates

Staff nurses may spend their time working in a physician’s office, clinic, or hospital. Their tasks are varied and include providing treatment, administering medication, completing paperwork, educating patients about the types of treatments they are receiving, assisting physicians during diagnostic testing procedures, and assuming other medical duties. Staff nurses may also be responsible for managing and supervising nursing assistants, vocational nurses, and other nurse roles.

Critical care registered nurses treat patients who have life-threatening ailments. They work under the management of a doctor, maintaining life support equipment, administering treatments, and providing various medications. These nurses often work in emergency rooms and intensive care units. Critical care registered nurses typically focus on fewer patients at a time because of the increased level of attention that critical care patients require.

Why an MSN?

While a BSN can open many doors in the medical field for registered nurses, students looking for advanced positions in the health care industry should consider pursuing an MSN. Earning a Master of Science in Nursing is the first step toward qualifying for several types of nursing jobs that aren’t usually available to those with only a BSN.

Additionally, nurses with MSN degrees earn more compared to nurses with a BSN. According to PayScale, those with an MSN degree earned an average annual salary of $97,000, which is $10,000 more than those with a BSN degree.

Potential Career Options for MSN Graduates

Earning an MSN opens the door to interesting and important nursing roles, including clinical nurse educator. Clinical nurse educators are vital in the nursing field, as they are responsible for training and educating recent nursing school graduates and other new medical staff members.

Considering that the country is experiencing a nursing shortage, the role of educating future nurses has never been more critical. Clinical nurse educators are tasked with developing a curriculum to educate students enrolled in nursing programs, as well as providing orientation to new hires. This role is projected to continue growing as more RNs enter the workforce.

Alternatively, students looking for a multifaceted nursing career may want to consider becoming a nurse researcher, since the position entails varying tasks and responsibilities. Unlike other nursing professionals, nurse researchers spend much of their time conducting research. They not only aim to develop cures and new methods of treatment for a wide array of medical ailments, but they also work to improve existing forms of medication. Additionally, nurse researchers may assist during clinical trials or be tasked with reviewing medical journals to improve or develop medications and forms of treatment.

Benefits of a Master’s Degree in Nursing

Advances in medical research and health care have resulted in higher standards of care. As a result, while a BSN qualifies nurses to work in health care, many hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other medical facilities are seeking nursing graduates with a master’s or doctorate. One of the major benefits of a master’s degree in nursing is that it places graduates in an advantageous position when seeking employment. This makes taking the leap from a BSN to MSN a worthwhile investment.

Not only does a Master of Science in Nursing have the potential to expand a nurse’s career and income possibilities, but the coursework can also provide students with the skills and experience to work in higher levels of health care and perform advanced practice roles.

While enrolled in an MSN program, nursing students can learn the following skills to prepare for a career as a nurse practitioner.

Team Leadership

An MSN helps qualify nurses for management and supervisory positions in the nursing field. These leadership roles include nurse researcher, nurse educator, and nurse administrator.

Of the many required courses for students earning an MSN, one of the most important is focused on how certain strategies work best when educating teams of nurses in various settings. Nurses earning advanced degrees may wish to pursue a career as a nurse educator, which requires a strong understanding of curriculum development and how varying facets of health care are taught to nurses, whether in a health care facility or educational setting.

Team leadership skills are also essential when planning treatment for patients with life-threatening ailments, as they often require around-the-clock care from a team of nurses with specific skill sets. Also, nurses with advanced degrees may be responsible for managing medical professionals when providing more intensive health care.


Nursing students may aspire to work in academic roles, since MSN programs provide training on how to educate and instruct other nurses. The mentoring of nursing students is instrumental in instilling in novice nurses a sense of confidence and calm under pressure. Nursing programs can be especially rewarding for students when they have skilled mentor leaders.

Establishing mentorships between different types of nurses is also important in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other medical settings since a collaborative work environment can elevate the quality of care administered to patients.


Whether nurses are working in a doctor’s office, intensive care unit (ICU), or other health care facility, effective communication between nurse practitioners is critical. Medical treatment must often be delivered precisely, and a strong line of communication is necessary to provide the best care. Keeping detailed records for other members of medical staff, for instance, can help prevent mistakes.

Communication skills are especially vital for nurses in management and supervisory positions, as these nurses must provide clear and concise instruction to other nurses.

Attention to Detail

Advanced nursing positions require keen attention to detail, as a minor error can cause a major medical issue. Nurses tasked with managing a patient’s treatment plan, for example, must carefully examine the patient’s medical history to ensure that a treatment does not interfere with any other condition or prescribed medication.

Attention to detail is also required for nurse researchers, as the job involves researching existing medications and developing new forms of medical treatment. Nurses working in pharmacology, clinical trials, and other areas of research must be diligent in attending to detail, since even the smallest variable can result in a medical breakthrough or a significant failure.

Learn More About How to Pursue Advanced Nursing Roles

There are many key takeaways from the BSN vs. MSN comparison. Notably, the potential for career advancement, higher earning power, and the ability to make an impact on the health care system are greater for those with an MSN degree. Another one of the benefits of a master’s degree in nursing is that it satisfies a critical step toward becoming a nurse practitioner, which is a highly sought-after position.

For students who aspire to an advanced career in nursing, Ohio University’s online MSN program helps them gain the skills and experience to take their nursing careers to the next level.

Learn more about Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing.

Recommended Readings

How Nurse Educators Use Simulation as Teaching Tools

What Can I Do With an MSN?

Why Get a Master’s in Nursing?


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, What’s a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?

American Nurses Association, Tools You Need

American Nurses Association, What is Nursing?

International Council of Nurses, “Nursing workforce crisis looms as expected six-million shortfall will be increased by more than four million nurses retiring by 2030”

PayScale, Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) Degree

PayScale, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree

PayScale, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree


Research in Nursing and Health, “Understanding Clinical Expertise: Nurse Education, Experience, and the Hospital Context”