Telemedicine is taking initial steps in Georgia. At Fickett Elementary School in Atlanta, students can obtain medical advice from doctors and nurses virtually. In this photo, fourth-grader Sonja Leonard listens as pediatric nurse practitioner Martha Cargill speaks on a computer from her clinic. (PHOTO by HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Is a master's in nursing for you?

Nursing is the very definition of "lifelong learning." Long after you earn your first degree or certification, you'll still be staying fresh in your field with state-required continuing education credits. More education is always a good thing, but does that mean earning a master's in nursing?

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The short answer is "maybe." According to Nurse.org and other nursing think tanks, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to going for an MSN, from the expense to losing time with family to those ever-so-appealing MSN wage increases.

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Here are the issues to consider before opting to pursue a masters (or not).

On the plus side:

You'll delve deeper into one area of nursing. Without an MSN, you're more of a generalist. If you have a passion for a certain area of nursing, like neonatal or mental health, you may really enjoy getting to focus on the deeper issues within that discipline, and an MSN allows you to do that.

You can specialize. According to Nurse Journal, a master's can put many appealing specialties within reach. "Once you hold an MSN degree, you can specialize in certain interesting fields of nursing," the article said. "You may, for instance, be interested in mental health carepediatric careoncology or any other specific field. Only with an MSN degree can you have true specialization."

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You'll make more money (usually). RNs don't often make as much money as MSNs, according to Nursing.org. One particularly appealing wage boost comes with the move from RN to Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, which can almost double your income.

There are lots of good choices. There have never been more options for obtaining an MSN than there are right now, according to Nursing.org., including part-time, accelerated and even online programs. "Students can basically go at their own pace, and customize their course schedules thanks to schools catering more to adult students, and technology that allows for distance learning," the site noted. "This is especially helpful for people who would like to continue working while they go to school."

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On the downside:

MSNs cost a pretty penny. Look for a master's to cost tens of thousands of dollars. Even though you'll be earning lots more when you graduate, your short-term budget may not be able to sustain the outlay.

The coursework is tough. After all, this is an advanced degree. "Master's programs are challenging, there's no doubt about that," Nursing.org said, "but even more so for nurses who are continuing to work and juggle family responsibilities as they take classes. It can certainly be done, as thousands of students prove each year, but it's not an endeavor to be taken lightly."

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The clinical hours can be brutal. If your time is at a premium for any reason, particularly with a young family or other recent life transitions, now may not be the time for a master's. "Even if you decide to take your time or go the online MSN route, you should still be prepared to dedicate a significant number of hours per week to your studies and/or clinical requirements," Nursing.org encouraged. "Doing so will likely require some shuffling around of responsibilities, and a strong support network at home and work."

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