Graduate School: Which Route Is Right For You

IMAG1225It’s that time in your nursing career where your stuck in a rug or “burnt out,” you think about going back to school but you’re not quite sure which route you want to go. The great thing about nursing is that nursing is available in all different shapes and sizes, so there’s plenty to choose from if you want to make a change within your nursing career.

Family Nurse Practitioner/Adult Nurse Practitioner– these types of nurse practitioners usually work in primary care/clinics or in the hospital but on med surg floors (some do work in ICUs but I know with the recent AACN consensus model, they’re trying to phase these NPs out if the ICU and require an ACNP certification if working in the ICU as an NP). Prerequisites are pretty much the same for every program, and they’re all usually obtained within your BSN education so no extra prerequisite education should be required. Education is mostly online and can be completed within 1-2 years; depending on how many classes you want to take in a semester. I have friends that continue to work full time while obtaining their FNP and it usually takes them two years so it’s definitely doable.


Clinical Nurse Specialist– A CNS is usually associated with quality improvement. What I mean by that? Quality improvement has to do with preforming tasks or actions that can lead to measurable improvement in population. For example, our CNS in my ICU doesn’t do patient care but she does a lot with STEMI protocols and improving the time it takes to get someone to the cath lab when a STEMI is suspected. CNSs tend to work in the hospital with services lines but depending on where you go have been used interchangeably with NPs in the ICU. Like an NP program prerequisites are the same and a CNS program can take about a year to two, again depending on the student, but there aren’t a lot of programs anymore so they may be hard to find.


Acute Care Nurse Practitioner– ACNPs are just starting to be used more. These are NPs that function as more of an intensivist in the ICUs and ED. I’m not going to go into too much detail because I’ve already dedicated a whole post to it.


Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist– These are nurses who administer anesthesia under the supervision of an anesthesiologist (although the anesthesiologist is usually never in the room, just the vicinity). Some schools require at least a year of ICU experience, others two. Depending on the program they require prerequisites like organic chemistry and physics (since these aren’t usually offered in BSN program you would have to get these separately on your own time). The programs usually take 24-30 months, nonstop and they suggest that you don’t work. My only fear with CRNAs is that in some areas (mine in particular) the field is becoming saturated so the job market might be a bit more competitive
, but the salary is still good.


Nurse Educator– If you like taking students (if you are a preceptor) and teaching, this may be for you. Usually a nurse educator will be an educator for units or specific floors, or they are a nursing instructor for undergraduates. Prerequisites for nurse education may require that you have some preceptorship and nursing experience but other than that, all other prerequisites and program length are the same as FNP/ANP/CNS.


Nurse Administrator– If you’re that nurse who likes being in charge and is involved in committees, then this route may be your thing. This route tends to be paper and research heavy (depending on where you go) and can usually take 2 years. People who have this degree tend to hold positions such as nurse manager all the way to chief nursing officer (although I think you would also have to have your MBA or MHA). Prerequisites for this may require leadership experience such as preceptor or a charge nurse/supervisor.


Nurse Informatics– Nurse informatics is for nurses who like technology, and know how to integrate it into today’s practice. These nurses can work for software companies as a consult or a facility itself to help buffer the complications that comes with integrating technology and nursing.


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