I think you are asking some very good questions. And as you have pointed out, there is a lot of innovation going on in nursing today -- some of which is really best described as "experimentation." My recommendation is that you keep asking those questions and in the end, make the decision that will give YOU the best chance at the best (and most complete) education and professional development.
Here is my opinion on some of the issues you raised -- my opinion based on 33 years as a nurse. My history is that I got my BSN at age 22 ... then worked 2 years at a staff nurse before starting my MSN program. I graduated with my MSN at age 26 and worked 10 years in advanced/leadership roles before entering a PhD program. I graduated with my PhD at age 42. So I did the traditional route.
I believe that some of the "newer" tracks can work if done well.
The problem is, not all of them are being done well. Some new programs have been thrown together quickly and/or do not have enough resources to support them well. They are "short cuts" being offered by schools
to bring in students and make money for the school -- taking advantage of the large number of people who want to go into nursing today because they see it as a safer career economically than other options. So while there are some good "accelerated" programs and "new options" out there, there are a lot of others that skimp on the quality of the education provided
. And they have good salespeople to bring in the business for their school, so be careful. Faculty members know that their jobs depend on the school bringing in the revenue, so they might not always be as objective as you would like them to be either.
As you seem to realize, becoming a true expert ... being truly qualified to teach... etc. requires that a person have both "book learning" and also "experiential learning" that can only be obtained by spending time actually doing the thing itself. In other words, if you want to be an expert nurse capable of making expert judgments about nursing education, nursing research, nursing care, etc., then your professional development needs to include time invested in actually doing nursing. So whatever path you choose, make sure it includes an adequate amount of time actually practicing nursing so that you can learn that important nursing content that can only be learned at the bedside. Research shows that it takes about a year after graduate (give or take a little) for a new graduate RN to become a competent professional nurse. Three to five years if you want to become an expert nurse. If you skip that aspect of your education/development, it will be a hindrance to your throughout your career.
I think there are different ways to get that experience. You don't have to get it all working full time as a staff nurse. You can get some of it while working part time and going to grad school part time ... or through educational programs that incorporate clinical care as part of their curriculi (e.g. MSN level practicums). I do recommend that you spend at least 6 months after your initial nursing education focusing on mastering the actual practice of nursing and successfully making that often difficult transition from student to competent professional. Nursing does not need leaders who did not / could not "make a success of it" in the real world of health care delivery. So please, for the profession's sake, the patients' sake, and your own sake, invest a little time making sure you are competent in the real world before getting the "book learning" credentials that will give you a leadership role. We don't need incompetent leaders.
But after you've made that transition (6-12 months of practice) ... I don't see anything wrong with beginning to explore grad school options -- particularly if you can continue to get some more practical experience in the early years of your grad school experience. That 6-12 months in practice is a small price to pay for establishing your clinical competence and providing that foundation that will be an advantage to you for the rest of your career.
That's my $.02. Good luck with whatever pathway you choose. I believe you are asking the right questions -- and if you keep using that good sense you seem to have, I think you can make good choices that will serve you (and the nursing profession) well.
llg, PhD, RN-BC