Grad Nursing Pathways: What Comes After a BSN?

a registered nurse considering her options for professional development
a registered nurse considering her options for professional development

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is an important accomplishment. You may work as a Registered Nurse (RN) for some time with this academic preparation before considering expanding your skill set and career options. 

The next steps after a BSN degree are exciting to consider. If you are a BSN-prepared nurse looking to explore career choices available with graduate nursing education, this blog is for you. Let’s discuss what comes after a BSN. 


Graduate Nursing Career Options

Nursing practice experience as an RN can be invaluable when determining the next steps in your career. Perhaps you have gained expertise in a particular patient population and would enjoy professional development in a nursing specialty area. You may be passionate about patient education and advocacy, or your interest in technology has motivated you to pursue a future in nursing informatics.

Graduate nursing careers may be clinical or non-clinical. You can attain many professional positions with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. These include positions for nursing educators, nurse administrators, and Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) roles such as:

  • Nurse practitioners
  • Clinical nurse specialists
  • Nurse anesthetists
  • Nurse midwives

Additional training beyond the BSN degree can prepare RNs to fill essential roles that are in demand in the United States today. Nurses of all levels are needed, and you may be wondering, what comes after an RN? Nurses who pursue advanced practice roles are equipped to lead evidence-based practice and quality improvement initiatives.


Demand for Graduate Level Nurses

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for APRN roles is extremely favorable. Between 2021 and 2031, the employment of APRNs is anticipated to grow by 40 percent, which is much quicker than average. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) fact sheet on the nursing shortage estimates that approximately 30,200 new APRNS will be needed annually through 2031 to fulfill the demand.

Graduate nursing careers you can aim for are not limited to APRN roles. Next, let’s look at the responsibilities and salaries of a few specific graduate nursing career options you can pursue after the BSN degree.


Nursing Instructors and Teachers

Postsecondary education careers include nursing clinical instructors and teachers. These jobs have the highest employment levels in colleges and universities, typically requiring a terminal degree for qualification. 

Nursing instructors and teachers may also be found employed in work settings such as:

  • Junior colleges
  • Medical-surgical hospitals
  • Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Educational support

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for nursing instructors and teachers was approximately $84,180 in 2022.


Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs)

A family nurse practitioner is a primary health care provider with additional practice autonomy beyond the role of an RN. An FNP has the training to care for patients and families across the lifespan. An FNP can:

  • Assess patient health status using history and physical examination techniques
  • Order and interpret diagnostic testing
  • Diagnose diseases and prescribe medications
  • Provide ongoing evaluation of the health care plan
  • Serve as a primary point of care 
  • Refer patients to specialty care as needed

You can graduate from an MSN program to be eligible for nurse practitioner licensure from the educational requirement standpoint. You must also pass one of the national FNP certification exams offered by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). 

Online FNP programs are available at the master’s and doctoral levels. The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) endorsed the DNP degree for entry into nurse practitioner practice, so this graduate nursing pathway may be a long-term goal for a competitive edge in the job market.

Nurse practitioner income may vary by state and specialty area, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics approximates the average NP salary in 2022 to be $124,680.


Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs)

The psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner specialty is for working nurses who want to advocate for patients experiencing psychiatric and mental health issues. This graduate nursing career offers independence, high job growth, and increased salary potential.

The average base salary for a PMHNP in 2023 is approximately $145,200. 

Like the FNP role, PMHNPs are trained to work with patients across the lifespan. Online PMHNP programs are also available at the master’s and doctoral levels. 


Additional Graduate Degree Pathways 

MSN or DNP-prepared nurses can complete programs tailored to advanced practice nursing, public health nursing, health informatics, nursing education, forensic nursing, nursing administration, and several other specialty areas. Some MSN and DNP degrees provide nurse executive and health systems leadership training. There is also a research-focused PhD in nursing to consider. 

Within available MSN and DNP programs, there are many distinct types of degree pathways. As an example, nurse practitioner programs come in a variety of specialty areas including:

  • Family NP
  • Psych Mental Health NP
  • Pediatric Primary Care NP
  • Pediatric Acute Care NP
  • Neonatal NP
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP

Each nurse practitioner specialty area typically has a specific program curriculum that prepares and qualifies graduates to sit for the national certification examination in that specialty area. If you hold an MSN degree in one nurse practitioner specialty, you can consider becoming dually certified by completing a certificate program in another NP specialty.


MSN vs. DNP - Which is Right for You?

These two common graduate nursing degree pathways lead to qualifications allowing you to become licensed and practice as a nurse practitioner. Both degrees are earned through a rigorous, challenging program that helps RNs build advanced-level skills and knowledge.

An MSN curriculum is typically shorter and may be the best pathway forward if you want to complete one NP specialty program and then add another NP certificate in a different specialty area. 

The differences between MSN and DNP programs are worth considering as you decide which route is best for you. Some nurses choose to complete an MSN program in a short amount of full-time study to enter an advanced practice nursing role relatively quickly. Then, they may complete the DNP degree after the MSN milestone with online coursework and a part-time schedule.

The DNP is a terminal clinical doctorate. This is the highest level of education available in nursing practice and is a good choice if you are seeking a senior leadership role. The DNP is also an exciting pathway because graduates are trained in translational research. This allows nurses with a DNP to focus their futures on:

  • Appraising available research evidence on a particular clinical practice issue
  • Creating quality improvement initiatives
  • Implementing evidence-based programs to improve practice
  • Evaluating clinical and practice outcomes 


Start Your Nursing Career at Marymount University

The entry-level option for students with non-nursing undergraduate degrees is the Online ABSN. In just 16 months, Online ABSN students complete the following requirements in preparation for RN careers:

  • An on-campus residency
  • Clinical placements in Virginia
  • 100% online courses on topics like Research and Evidence-Based Practice

Marymount’s ABSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Nursing courses at Marymount are taught by practicing APRNs who can speak with authority about the profession. The university’s stellar reputation is confirmed by top U.S. News & World Report rankings in its National Universities and Nursing categories. 

If you want to become an RN, contact one of our student advisors to discuss if this program is right for you.


Request My Free Marymount Accelerated BSN Program Guide