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What comes after a BSN? Breaking down education and career options for registered nurses

At a glance

  • Overall employment for registered nurses is projected to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Registered nurses (RNs) who have completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) will have the educational foundation and skills to pursue leadership roles like charge nurse, nurse manager and director of nursing.
  • RNs with a BSN can further enhance their education by pursuing one of several specialty areas within a master’s degree in nursing, such as nurse administration, nurse education, nurse informatics and family nurse practitioner.  
  • University of Phoenix offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) that prepares registered nurses to take on leadership roles and includes multiple areas of specialty.

Post-BSN degree and career options

If you work as a registered nurse (RN) and are interested in making a change in your career, it’s important to know the options available to you. The path you choose should align with your overall goals, in both your life and career.

RNs may choose to further their education by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, or BSN. Through an RN to BSN program, registered nurses can learn leadership skills that can be applied to their hands-on patient care and clinical experience. A BSN program also focuses on how to implement an effective evidence-based practice.  

This degree can not only signal to employers and hiring managers that a nurse has the foundational skills to take on more responsibility but also may be an employer’s prerequisite for managerial or supervisor roles within a hospital.

Whether you see yourself specializing in a specific nursing field, taking on more administrative roles or just being more flexible in the types of roles you can occupy, it helps to know what a BSN can potentially do for you and what nurses can do after earning their bachelor’s degree to enhance their career. In this article, we’ll cover some of the career options available to RNs with a BSN and discuss what comes next after earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

What jobs are available after getting a BSN?

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing can provide more career options to registered nurses than they would have with just an RN designation. In all states but one (New York), working as a registered nurse does not require a BSN. Work in this role is generally available to those who have earned a diploma from an approved nursing program, an Associate of Science in Nursing degree (ASN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and passed the required National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).  

That being said, an RN to BSN degree program can help prepare registered nurses to improve the quality of their patient care or take on more leadership roles in a healthcare setting. These roles primarily focus on providing greater quality care for patients or helping hospital staff operate more efficiently. Here are some potential career paths available to registered nurses after completing a BSN:

Charge nurse

Overview: Charge nurses are generally RNs or licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who have extensive clinical experience. They are responsible for providing general quality care while also overseeing a team of nurses working in a ward of the healthcare facility or, sometimes, providers in the entire facility. They make sure the nursing team they oversee administers the highest quality patient care possible while taking on managerial and supervisory responsibilities such as overseeing and adjusting patient assignments during shifts and responding in emergency situations.

Job requirements: Charge nurses must be a registered nurse or an LPN with significant clinical experience, having earned at least a nursing diploma, ASN or ADN. These positions generally require RNs to have clinical work experience, and some employers prefer candidates to have a BSN. 

Public health nurse

Overview: Public health nursing is a broad category of nursing that generally deals with issues that affect a community as a whole. This includes immunizing the public against diseases, managing opioid addiction treatment, and providing patient care after natural disasters. Public health nurses can also act as advocates, promoting better health practices to their community.

Job requirements: Completion of an accredited nursing program is a common prerequisite for work as a public health nurse. In addition, they must meet the requirements of being a registered nurse, including having passed the National Council Licensure Exam – Registered Nurse (or NCLEX-RN) and work as an RN for at least two years.

Those interested in public health nursing may want to consider earning a Certified in Public Health (CPH) designation. To be eligible for the CPH exam, candidates must be a student in or alumni of a school accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health or have achieved a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a minimum of five years of public health work experience.

Director of nursing

Overview: Directors of nursing are the bridge between the RNs and charge nurses who oversee the treatment of patients and the administrative side of the healthcare facility. They are generally RNs with several years of clinical experience. They often develop budgets, set policies and goals, manage inventory and hire new nurses. It is a role that is largely determined by the needs of the facility where they work.

Job requirements: Besides several years of clinical experience and the achievement of a degree in nursing at a bachelor’s level or higher, there are specific certifications for those interested in work as a director of nursing.

15 types of nurses

What nursing degrees come after a BSN?

If you already have a BSN and are looking to pursue advanced positions with more leadership or administrative responsibilities, then pursuing further education may be the answer. While a BSN can provide the educational foundation to take on more responsibility in a healthcare setting, an advanced degree can help registered nurses prepare for advanced practice positions or more specialty areas within patient care.

Here are some master’s degree options for registered nurses with a BSN who are interested in enhancing their education:

Master of Science in Nursing

A logical step after a BSN might be a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). This degree allows RNs with a BSN to take on more advanced practice care or specialized work, as well as be prepared to serve in positions within healthcare organizations that require leadership and administrative skill sets.

Within the MSN are several specializations, each with its own concentration that suits a particular career path in nursing. Here, we break down some areas of practice a registered nurse may choose to pursue:

Nursing education

Nurse educators play an important role in keeping patient care up to date and based on current evidence-based practice. After achieving a BSN, an RN may decide to take their clinical experience into nurse instruction and education.

The skills to be a great nurse are not necessarily the same that make a great teacher. To learn how to apply clinical and patient care experience to instruction, RNs may choose to pursue an MSN and focus their studies on nurse education.

University of Phoenix offers a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Nurse Education degree that is designed to help registered nurses translate their years of experience on the hospital floor into educating others, developing instructional curriculum and managing an educational environment. 

What do you learn in this program?

Some key aspects taught in the MSN with a concentration in Nurse Education are:

  • Developing educational tools to promote population health
  • Applying learning and teaching principles to evaluate health education programs
  • Conducting research and synthesizing scholarship to promote evidence-based practice

What can you do with a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Nurse Education?

An MSN/NED can help prepare you to be a:

  • Nursing instructor
  • Nursing professor
  • Nursing faculty member

Nursing informatics

The development of information technology over the past several decades has transformed healthcare delivery and patient care. Experts in nursing and data analysis are able to draw insights from data to approach patient care in novel ways.

Those interested in this intersection of data science and nursing may choose to pursue an MSN to better understand the application of informatics to patient care. University of Phoenix (UOPX) offers a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Informatics. Students develop skills that can allow them to analyze large amounts of data and apply their conclusions to healthcare policies and nursing practices.

What do you learn in this program?

Some key aspects taught in the UOPX program are:

  • Evaluating how processes, systems and current technologies can be improved in quality to elevate patient outcomes
  • Creating plans for using informatics to collect data and support research
  • Evaluating regulatory requirements impacting the use of informatics within healthcare

What can you do with a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Informatics?

An MSN/INF can help prepare you to be a:

  • Clinical director
  • Nursing director 

Nursing administration

Healthcare facilities are complex operations, especially among the varied nursing departments found in many major hospitals. RNs looking to work in the operational side of patient care may decide to take on administrative roles, such as clinical directors or directors of nursing to manage human, fiscal and physical healthcare resources. Experience as a registered nurse can give these administrators the understanding necessary to liaison between nurses and the rest of the healthcare administration.

To prepare for this administrative responsibility, RNs may choose to pursue a master’s degree and focus on the specialty of nursing administration. University of Phoenix offers a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Nursing Administration that focuses on a healthcare leader’s role within an organization.

What do you learn in this program?

Some key aspects taught in this program are:

  • Analyzing a budget and ensuring resources are planned for
  • Developing a strategic plan according to organizational goals and data reports
  • Implementing changes to meet desired quality measures
  • Modifying policies to meet external regulatory and accreditation standards
  • Analyzing patient satisfaction benchmarks and goals

What can you do with a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Nurse Administration?

An MSN/ADM can help prepare you to be a:

  • Clinical director
  • Nursing director
  • Nurse manager

Family nurse practitioner

A family nurse practitioner (FNP) serves as a primary healthcare provider for a diverse range of patients from young children to older populations. They are empowered to make diagnoses, prescribe medications and order necessary lab tests, as well as additional advanced nursing practice responsibilities.

Employers expect greater responsibility of FNPs and generally require registered nurses to have an MSN to be considered for this role. University of Phoenix offers a Master of Science in Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner degree. This MSN program teaches the foundational skills necessary for advanced practice and holistic healthcare.

What do you learn in this program?

Some key aspects taught in the MSN/FNP program at UOPX are:

  • Managing holistic healthcare for individuals and populations across the life span
  • Integrating ethical principles in delivering care to patients across the life span
  • Synthesizing state nurse practice acts and/or regulatory guidelines to practice lawfully 

What can you do with a Master of Science in Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner?

An MSN/FNP can help prepare you to be a:

  • Family nurse practitioner
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Advanced practice registered nurse

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

While achieving a nursing degree at the master’s level can prepare students for several leadership roles, those who wish to pursue a role in the C-suite may choose to seek further education. A doctorate in nursing practice is for nurses who see themselves in executive leadership positions overseeing large and complex healthcare operations. It is among the highest levels of educational attainment in nursing. Roles that registered nurses with a DNP may serve include vice president of patient services and chief nursing officer (CNO).

University of Phoenix offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) for working nurses who desire a terminal degree. The DNP program generally takes about two years to complete and requires a master’s degree in addition to ample professional experience and the prerequisites to be an RN.

In this program, students can expect to learn how to utilize scholarly evidence to impact healthcare outcomes and patient care. The DNP program also focuses on continuous quality improvement of patient care from a foundation of evidence-based practice.

What do you learn in this program?

Some key aspects taught in the DNP program at UPOX are:

  • Integrating scientific underpinnings to advance nursing practice and improve the healthcare environment
  • Constructing leadership strategies to improve healthcare outcomes
  • Translating scientific evidence to improve population health status and care outcomes

What can you do with a Doctor of Nursing Practice?

A DNP qualifies graduates to teach in nursing programs based upon the content area expertise and experience as described in a state’s nurse practice act. Some potential career options with a DNP are:

  • Nursing professor
  • Clinical director
  • Health information management director
  • Nurse educator

Take the next step after a BSN

Clearly, registered nurses have many options to consider as next steps after completing a BSN. Those who are interested in furthering their education may choose to take their degree and go right back into the workforce, implementing the skills they’ve learned in the classroom to help improve the quality of their work. For others, going on to the master’s level and beyond could be the right choice.

What about you? Explore nursing degrees at UOPX and find the program that’s the right fit for you and your career goals.