Degree or Not Degree, That is the Question

This article attempts to offer an objective overview of the possibilities for the Master's-prepared Nurse pursuing post-graduate opportunities. Specialties Educators Article Video


Degree or Not Degree, That is the Question

It wasn't long ago thoughts of Doctor Nurse were ludicrous

MDs didn't appreciate the few brave souls that dared venture into that territory! Patients were confused and hospital administration wasn't willing to cough up more pay. The average DNP in practice made about $50/hr. Depending on location, that amount could be earned three 12-hour shifts a week as a generalist nurse.

Enter the 21st century: New era, new roles, and with-it new norms

More letters behind your name, the greater your status. Now don't get excited. Nursing faculty work hard to achieve these certifications, etc. and proudly display them. And, they should! Though I also know those who behind their names have more letters than the Oxford English Dictionary and are not capable faculty or nurses.

It is your decision to pursue your post-graduate education

It isn't always the case, though. Colleges and Universities have determined nursing education has to maintain comparable professionality standards as other professions and therefore a greater number of terminal degreed individuals.

Do you need a doctorate to teach? Yes and no

  • On a tenure track - yes
  • Teaching at a Community College - no
  • Teaching in an ADN program - no
  • Teaching in a BSN program – contingent on the institution - yes

If the thought of pursuing yet another degree gives you hives, don't panic.

Switch to clinical teaching

If your institution won't budge, consider switching to a clinical teaching position. Job placement sites like, list dozens of available clinical teaching positions throughout the country. These require a master's degree and some nursing experience.

Contract work

Another option is contract work. Colleges and Universities save money by hiring adjunct faculty term by term. An advantage is longer breaks between semesters. However, often these jobs don't include benefits. If this option is desirable to seek a traveling nurse agency that specializes in education positions.

Teaching Assistant

If you can take or leave being head honcho, consider a graduate teaching assistant (TA) position. These faculty are responsible for performing teaching or teaching-related duties. They assist faculty members, professors, department heads. proctor exams, grade, and record tests and homework. The TA can fill in for a lecture and moderate classroom activities. (America's Job Exchange, 2020). Positions in the lab or simulation department institution contingent may be associated with teaching. If you enjoy working with technology and creating interesting and effective hands-on learning, this could be the place for you. Some additional training may be needed. (LaFond & Blood, 2016)

Consider going for that degree if

  • You have ten years or more till retirement – worth your time
  • You have available State or Federal Nursing Faculty loan repayment programs
  • Your institution offers full or partial tuition reimbursement – take advantage of it
  • Your area of expertise is in demand (mental health, maternal/infant)
  • Your employer will offer you time off to take classes
  • You find a program that offers part-time classes if that's what is holding you back
  • On-site classes are available if you don't like online ones – if brick and mortar is your cup of tea
  • Your kids are out of the house and you have more personal time – do it for you

A terminal degree path may not be for you if

  • You have a ton of family responsibilities – post-graduate degrees take up a lot of time
  • You still work full or part-time as well as teach – ditto above comment
  • The cost will put you over the edge – it's never a good idea to stretch yourself financially
  • Your job description does not require it – unless you want it for yourself
  • You can achieve your personal career goals without it

Getting that terminal degree isn't easy or there wouldn't be a nursing faculty shortage. Remember why you became a nursing instructor in the first place. It's all the rage, for now, to have behind your name, prestigious degrees.

Ask yourself, truly, is this for you?

If it isn't, find ways to continue your love for teaching with the degree you now have. Who knows, shaking it up a bit might just get rid of the symptoms of burnout you've been feeling lately.


America's Job Exchange (2020), Graduate teaching assistant.  Retrieved from

LaFond, C. and Blood, A. (2016).  Targeted simulation instructor course for nursing professional development specialists.  Journal Nurses Professional Development, 32(6), 284-293.  Retrieved from

PamtheNurse has 25 years experience as a BSN, MSN and specializes in Simulation.

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Specializes in Education.

This article is a reflection of questions and concerns that motivated me to further investigate the nursing faculty plight with research. The research survey to generate the data will be coming soon!