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I will be graduating in May 2014 and deciding if I should go for my MSN or my nurse practitioner certification. What are the major differences between the two?

Thursday May 16, 2013
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Dear Donna,

I am an LVN, working in a small hospital for 1 1/2 years, and have experience in psych, med/surg and the ED. I am attending a LVN-BSN program at California State University, Fullerton. I will be graduating May 2014 and deciding if I should go for my MSN or my nurse practitioner certification. What is the major difference between the two?

I want to be hands-on and focusing my work on direct patient care. I do not want to be behind a desk or work as a manager just yet, and I would love to specialize in emergency or critical care. I have heard that specialty areas are going to be changing or going to be removed from programs. Is this true? If it will be changing, which MSN or NP program do you think I should focus on?

Perplexed Student Nurse

Dear Donna replies:

Dear Perplexed Student Nurse,

First of all, you don't need to make this decision just yet. It would be great if you could work as an RN for a bit before deciding. Many RNs who have entered the profession with the intent of becoming an NP later decided that they enjoy the RN role so much that they no longer have the desire or drive to become an NP. And because so much in healthcare delivery is in flux right now, and evolving as we speak, you will have a clearer image of the future of healthcare, nursing and your own career after you graduate.

In terms of getting an MSN in something like leadership, education or administration vs. becoming an NP, the major difference is the level at which you practice — RN vs. advanced practice. Otherwise, you'll be able to do many of the same things. Even regular RNs will be taking on a bigger role in the primary care world by taking over much of the management of people with chronic illness and health teaching, for example.

In terms of choosing a concentration for your master's program when the time comes, look at the course work and curriculum and choose the one that is most interesting and exciting to you. One is not better than the other. What matters is that you get the master's degree eventually. Your specific concentration is less of an issue.

In the meantime, be sure to join and get active in the National Student Nurses Association (www.nsna.org). It will support your student year as well as your future career.

Best wishes,

Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is Nurse.com’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at www.Nurse.com/CE/7010 and www.Nurse.com/CE/7250, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to www.Nurse.com/Asktheexperts/Deardonna. Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit http://Events.nursingspectrum.com/Seminar.