5 Ways Nursing Graduate School Can Pay Off


By Ilana Kowarsky

The number of jobs for nurses with graduate degrees is growing quickly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, whose forecasts show that the number of jobs available for advanced practice nurses will be 31 percent higher in 2024 compared with 2014. The bureau's research also shows that the typical pay for advanced practice nurses in the U.S. hit the six-figure mark in 2015, reaching $104,740 per year.

Given the country's shortage of primary care practitioners and an aging population, advanced practice nursing is an increasingly lucrative profession.

Here are five reasons why a graduate degree in nursing may look like a solid bet.

1. Impressive starting salaries: Entry-level advanced practice nurses typically earn between $92,000 and $95,000 per year. Officials at two highly ranked nursing schools, the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and the University Of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, say their graduates typically earn six-figure salaries immediately upon graduation.

2. A "hot" job market: Recent graduates from nurse practitioner programs say their degrees have paid off. Sara Marlow, a California-based nurse practitioner and health policy lecturer, says she received multiple job offers before her 2014 graduation from the Samuel Merritt University School of Nursing.

"Before I even went into the program I had informal verbal offers for jobs," Marlow says. "My employer at the time said, 'After you graduate and become a nurse practitioner, come back and work for us!' Throughout my training I had several people ask me if I would be interested in working for them after graduation and I accepted an offer before graduation."

Demand for nurses has skyrocketed due to a shortage of primary care providers and the impact of the Affordable Care Act, says Cindy Cooke.

"The ACA provides healthcare coverage for millions of patients who may not have previously had the means to obtain care," Cooke wrote in an email. "Healthcare providers, especially in primary care, are needed to increase patients’ access to care, decrease waiting times, provide preventive screening and treat acute and chronic disease processes."

3. Financial security: Because of the growing number of jobs for nurses with graduate degrees, experts say that the marketability of the credential brings peace of mind. Patricia Davidson, dean of the Johns Hopkins nursing school, puts it this way: "The great thing about a nursing degree is you're never without a job," she says.

Due to the widespread societal concern about a nurse shortage, there are a variety of loan forgiveness programs offered to nurses who practice in medically needy regions of the United States, and there are also a variety of generous nursing scholarships available from nonprofits and nursing associations, says Nyuma Harrison, a nursing careers specialist at Johns Hopkins.

4. Versatility: Another advantage of a nursing graduate degree, according to careers professionals at nursing schools, is the variety of ways such a degree can be used. Harrison says advanced practice nurses are now assuming leadership roles in the health care sector, tackling research-based positions, administrative work, and primary care roles.

Harrison says that some Johns Hopkins nursing graduates are taking on health policy roles at the federal government and in nonprofits.

"One of the things that people find attractive about nursing is that you almost can't make a mistake by choosing nursing because there are so many options within the nursing profession," Harrison says. "You can do public health research or clinical work. It's really, really, a big umbrella. You can design your own career in nursing at this point."

5. A recognized niche: Nursing professors say they cannot imagine a better moment in history to become an advanced practice nurse. Susan Renz, an associate program director at Penn's nursing school, is optimistic about the prospects for her students.

"I've been a nurse practitioner for 30 years, and when I graduated from Penn, no one really knew what nurse practitioners were," she says. "No one understood the role. Now, not only have salaries increased, but people now recognize the benefit of having an NP."


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