Nursing Career Paths: What You Can Do with a BSN or MSN Degree

a group of nurses walking

It’s a fact: Earning a BSN or an MSN can help you earn a higher salary and advance your career as a nurse. The path that’s right for you depends on your interests and what you decided to focus on during your degree program. Whatever path you choose to take, you can rest assured that a career as a nurse will be rewarding, full of opportunity and growth with a steady, high pay.

Career: Pediatric Nurse

Degree needed: BSN
Median pay (RNs): $71,730(as of May 2018)

If you love children, a career as a pediatric nurse is the perfect fit for you. Pediatric nurses work in hospitals, private doctor’s offices, and other healthcare settings, providing care to children from infants through their adolescence.

Earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing will prepare you for a career as a pediatric registered nurse.  Coursework within the program focused on pediatric care will provide the foundation you need to develop your skills in this specialty area. Entry-level nursing students can coordinate with their professors to complete pediatric clinical rotations.  If you are already an RN, speak to your supervisor about your passion for pediatrics and request some time to observe the pediatric unit. Connecting with a pediatric nurse as a mentor can also help guide you toward your goal.

If you want to take your passion even further, we recommend the Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN) exam3. Earning a certification can lead to higher pay and more job opportunities. It shows you are committed to the field of pediatric nursing and that you have gone the extra mile to gain specialty knowledge and expertise.

Career: Surgical Nurse

Degree needed: BSN
Median pay (RNs): $71,7301 (as of May 2018)

Surgical nurses are part of the OR team, preparing the patient and room for procedures, and assisting during surgeries. You don’t have to decide to specialize as a surgical nurse while earning your BSN. However, if you enjoy working as a surgical nurse and want to continue in the specialty, it makes sense to pursue a certification as a Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse. Certification is available to RNs who have worked for at least two years in a medical-surgical setting and who have had at least 2,000 practice hours over the past three years4.

Career: Critical Care Nurse

Degree needed: BSN
Median pay (RNs): $71,7301 (as of May 2018)

Critical care nurses are RNs who work in the intensive care unit (ICU), providing care to patients who have serious injuries or acute illnesses. Patients in the ICU require close attention and monitoring.

You have the option of earning certification as a critical care RN (CCRN) for adult, pediatric, or neonatal patients5. To earn the certification, you need to have been in practice for at least two years and have either a current RN or APRN license.

Career: Nurse Practitioner

Degree needed: MSN
Median pay: $113,9306 (as of May 2018)

Earning an MSN – Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) degree puts you on the path towards a career as a nurse practitioner. Nurse Practitioners are a type of advanced practice RN (APRN), meaning they have more training and responsibility than the standard RN. The pay is also much higher for a nurse practitioner compared to an RN.

In addition to the tasks performed by an RN, as a Nurse Practitioner, you might be responsible for making diagnoses, prescribing medications, performing certain procedures, and working with patients to help them maintain or improve their health.

Career: Nursing Instructor/Educator

Degree needed: MSN
Median pay: $73,8047

If you decide to complete an MSN in Education, one career path to pursue after graduation is becoming a nursing instructor or educator. As a nursing instructor, you teach courses to current nursing students, giving you the opportunity to be a mentor and to help shape the future of the nursing field. Nurse educators also play a role in healthcare settings, ensuring that nurses stay current on best practices and regulations within their field.  Nurse educators design professional development programs that help nurses maintain and refine their skills.

Career: Nurse Administrator

Degree needed: MSN
Median pay: $85,5828

If you’re interested in shaping the business of healthcare and contributing to the operations of the nursing profession, earning an MSN in Administration and Leadership can lead to a career as a nurse administrator.

Nurse administrators oversee a team of nurses in a healthcare facility. They work to help facilities keep their costs in check and ensure safety for employees and patients.

The opportunities to grow your passions and nursing career are endless. If you need further help deciding which nursing career path is right for you, the academic advisors, counselors, and tutors at AHU Online are here to provide support and assistance, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss your nursing career options or are looking for more career help.


  1. “Registered Nurses,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, last modified April 12, 2019,
  2. “Becoming a Pediatric Nurse,” Society of Pediatric Nurses,
  3. “The Certified Pediatric Nurse,” Pediatric Nursing Certification Board,
  4. “Get Certified,” Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board,
  5. “Get Certified,” American Association of Critical Care Nurses,
  6. “Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, last modified April 12, 2019,
  7. “Nurse Educator Salary,” PayScale,
  8. “Nurse Administrator Salary, PayScale,

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