Key Differences Between BSN and MSN Degree Paths

The US has been experiencing a serious nursing shortage for many years. This is a serious public health problem because few healthcare facilities can function efficiently without a full staff of RNs. When hospitals are understaffed, nurses are overworked. While this helps nurses to gain overtime pay, there is no doubt that the work overload can lead to worse outcomes in patient care.

Some of the most recent statistics on the nursing industry in the US reveal some startling numbers:

  • The US healthcare market is expanding at a very rapid pace, with 19% more jobs anticipated by 2024. As many as one out of five new jobs in the US by that time will be in healthcare and nursing.
  • RN job growth will top 16% by 2024.
  • There is an especially acute nursing shortage in the American south and west. This is due to those parts of the country seeing strong population growth.
  • The shortage of nurses will grow to 260,000 by 2025.

These stark numbers are a clear reminder of the many job opportunities available to professionals who choose a nursing career.

If you are interested in the nursing profession, it is important to learn about the most common degree paths: the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Below is more information about these degree paths.

Overview of the BSN

A bachelor of science in nursing prepares you with the knowledge and skills to become a registered nurse or RN. This is really the gold standard degree of nursing, and allows you to work in a wide variety of clinical nursing roles.

Nurses with a BSN provide and coordinate care for patients across the age spectrum. They record the medical histories and symptoms of the patient, and administer their treatments and medicines.

These nurses also work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to coordinate care, and observe patients and record observations. Their job duties are limited however to following the instructions of higher level healthcare professionals, such as doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

It is true that you may earn your RN designation with an associate’s degree, or less commonly, a diploma of nursing, BSN-equipped RNs are given more responsibility, higher pay, and more career mobility.

A bachelor’s degree in nursing will take you three or four years full time, and can often be earned at least partially online. Earning your bachelor’s degree will put you in a good position to work in the relatively high-paying field of nursing.

There are BSN programs available of two basic types. First, there is the BSN program available for students who already have their RN with an associate’s degree or diploma. These programs usually can be completed in less than four years. The other type is the ‘direct entry’ BSN program where the student has no background in nursing.

In either case, the typical BSN program is usually divided into laboratory work, classroom work and clinical experiences on site. All of the basic aspects of nursing are covered, including:

  • Medical ethics
  • Nursing and healthcare management
  • Nursing research
  • Healthcare organizations
  • Patient care and psychology
  • Special needs patient care

BSN Curriculum – Chamberlain University

A good, representative online bachelor’s program is the RN to BSN program available at Chamberlain University. This program is for professionals with an RN and work experience. They can in some cases earn their BSN in just three semesters. This program has been accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or CCNE, meaning that it has met very high quality standards.

The required courses in this BSN program include those listed below. The exact course names in your BSN will vary, but the subject matter covered in CCNE-accredited BSN programs is always very similar:

  • Transitions in Professional Nursing
  • RN Information Systems in Healthcare
  • Statistics for Decision Making
  • Health Assessment for RNs
  • RN Evidence Based Practice
  • RN Collaborative Healthcare
  • RN Community Health Nursing
  • Foundational Concepts and Applications
  • Healthcare Policy
  • Fundamentals of Nursing Informatics
  • Advanced Research Methods

Whichever BSN program you eventually select, it is becoming very important to have your undergraduate degree in nursing. More healthcare facilities are demanding that their nurses earn their BSN eventually. So the BSN is becoming the minimum standard for practicing RNs over time.

One of the reasons for this is that the American Nurses Credentialing Center or ANCC has devised the Magnet Recognition Program to bring attention to the best healthcare facilities. To qualify, 100% of nurse managers in the facility must have at least a BSN.

Jobs Available With a BSN

Earning your BSN will allow you to work as many types of clinical nurse. Many nurses after gaining experience may eventually decide to specialize in a particular area of nursing. Some of the most popular and in demand specialties today include:

  • Surgical nurse
  • ICU nurse
  • Pediatric nurse
  • Gynecological nurse
  • Hospice nurse

The median salary for all RNs today is a very healthy $68,450 per year. The most experienced nurses who usually are working in a specialty can earn up to $102,990 per year.

Many nurses are perfectly content to spend their career working in this field with a BSN. It is a highly respected and good-paying field, and the demand for nurses is never ending.

However, for nurses who aspire to work in higher level clinical, administrative and executive nursing roles, earning the MSN is the logical choice.

Overview of the MSN

Nurses who want to elevate their career into higher-paying positions of authority can do so with their MSN degree. Committing to an MSN program takes work and dedication, but the career possibilities with this graduate degree are nearly endless.

An MSN degree will give you the advanced skills and training to go beyond basic nursing care that you are allowed to do with a BSN. You will be authorized and trained to provide advanced nursing care in a specialized role. Having your MSN provides you with the skills to perform many of the same tasks that doctors can do.

This is very important in the modern healthcare environment; there is a shortage of doctors across the country, and they are expensive to employ. Advanced nursing practice professionals can do the same work in many cases at a lower cost, and still earn an excellent living.

With an MSN, you will study the more advanced principles of nursing practice, such as  healthcare ethics, healthcare policy, advanced pharmacology and biochemistry, theory and practice in an advanced nursing practice specialty, and a lot more.

MSN Curriculum – Benedictine University

The MSN curriculum at Benedictine University will give you a good idea of what to expect. Foundational courses in this MSN program include the following:

  • Health Promotion and Interprofessional Collaboration
  • Ethical and Culturally Competent Healthcare Professional
  • Healthcare Technologies
  • Healthcare Policy and Advocacy
  • Quality Improvement in Healthcare Organizations

Speciality courses will vary depending upon your track. For the nurse practitioner track, this program at Duke University is a good sample:

  • Professional Transitions – Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Nurse As Scholar
  • Clinical Pharmacology
  • Advanced Nursing Practice for Primary Care Adolescents
  • Advanced Nursing Practice in Older Adult Patients

Jobs Available with an MSN

Once you have taken your course MSN courses, you then will move into your specialization area. The most common types of advanced practice nurses today are:

  • Nurse practitioner: Primary and specialty care provider who can diagnose various medical conditions and illnesses, and can prescribe medications
  • Certified nurse anesthetist: Offers anesthesia services before, during and after many types of medical procedures
  • Certified nurse midwife: Provides specialized care to women, including family planning, infant care, childbirth services, etc
  • Nurse educator: Educates nurses who are in associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs

The pay rate for all nurses with an MSN is at the top of the scale: The current median salary for all of these advanced nursing practice nurses is $107,600 per year. And the highest earning can make more than $175,000 per year.


Earning your BSN or MSN is an excellent career choice. There are many strong job opportunities available for both degree paths. Which is best for you depends upon if you are happy working as a regular nurse for the bulk of your career, or if you would prefer the higher authority, prestige and pay that comes with earning your graduate degree in nursing.

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