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Is an MSN in Nursing Informatics Worth It?

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When nurses find out a master’s degree in Nursing Informatics is not required to enter the field, the next question asked is usually, ‘Is that degree even worth it?’ Drawing on my decade of experience and MSN in Nursing Informatics, I walk through the pros and cons as well as offer alternatives to the MSN.

Specializes in Informatics, Managed Care. Has 15 years experience.

What are the benefits of nursing informatics?

Is an MSN in Nursing Informatics Worth It?

When nurses find out a master’s degree in Nursing Informatics is not required to enter the field, the next question asked is usually, ‘Is that degree even worth it?’ Having both an MSN in Nursing Informatics and a Master’s in Business Administration, I have a unique view of this question.

On the one hand, I support nurses furthering their education. On the other, I understand the reality that school requires resources. Even when an employer is paying for tuition, you still invest time and energy (and probably pay for books and fees).

The short answer to this question is it depends on which career path you plan to take. For the long answer, keep reading.

Benefits of Masters’ Degrees for Nurses:

To this day, I do not know many nurses who pursued graduate-level education and regretted it. Even if they ultimately did not build a career aligned to their degree, the learning opportunity still broadened their horizons and gave them career options. Not all masters’ degrees prepare nurses for the same roles, but there are some common benefits any nurse can gain.

BENEFIT #1 Higher quality learning experience:

I remember feeling surprised (and a little intimidated) by how motivated and bright everyone was in my first graduate school class. These were not people in their late teens and early twenties, like in nursing school. These were experienced nurses with a wide age range. At 28 years old, I was on the younger end - most of my classmates were in their 40s and 50s.

Because we all worked full-time while attending school at night and on weekends, everyone was very professional. People showed up to class prepared, and the discussions were substantial. If there were folks hoping to coast to graduation, they probably dropped out within the first semester. It was clear from the beginning this was real work.

BENEFIT #2 Keeping up with new advances:

Continuing education helps nurses stay up to date on new advances, innovations, and trends. But it is up to the nurse to pick and choose the right courses. What graduate school offers is a full package of courses. For example, I learned about data management in my Nursing Informatics program but finished before ‘Big Data’ became a thing and Amazon stepped into healthcare. Business school packaged up the latest advances in data science, so it was easier to keep up with this booming area.

BENEFIT #3 Salary bump:

According to AllNursingSchools.com, the MSN takes nurses from the $70,000 range to $100,000+ in annual salary. This, of course, varies widely across nursing specialties, years of experience, and where you live. But it is generally true that graduate education fast-tracks people to higher salaries.

However, because graduate school is not free, it is also important to consider cost. When I got my Informatics degree, my employer paid for it. That is unusual nowadays (and that company stopped their tuition coverage program just after I finished). But even with employer assistance, there is still investment of time and energy. So it is wise to carefully weigh the pros and cons of any graduate program.

Pros and Cons of a Master’s in Nursing Informatics:

When I began considering Nursing Informatics, I did not know any nurses in this field. I thought the only way in was through a master’s degree program. Since then I have met, worked with, hired, mentored, and promoted many nurses in this field both with and without masters’ degrees.

So, is this degree worth it? It depends on your career goals. Here are the pros and cons as I see them.

Pros:

If you hope to climb the career ladder, a master’s degree is expected.

Even though a master’s degree is not required to get into this field, if you want to climb the ladder to Director or Vice President, a degree is expected. There are good reasons to climb that ladder, salary being a major one. Some big salaries in my area that typically require a master’s degree:

  • Director of Clinical Informatics: $140,954 (source: Ziprecruiter)
  • Clinical Informatics Educator: $143,000 (source: Ziprecruiter)
  • VP of Clinical Informatics: $240,000-$270,000 (source: Glassdoor)

In addition to base salary, there are also bonuses which can range from 10% to 30% or more depending on role and company.

But that climb also comes with other frustrations, office politics being the main one. There are plenty of nurses who would rather stay off the ladder and avoid that headache altogether.

For people who like a structured learning environment, a master’s program offers one.

There are many people who prefer to learn on the job rather than in a classroom. Learning on-the-job can be beginner-friendly if you find the right role. The challenge is there are roles where some knowledge and background is assumed, and there may not be resources to help if you feel lost.

For this reason, there are also a number of people who prefer a structured learning environment. That is exactly what graduate programs offer. They are organized in a way to take people from beginner level through gaining enough experience to get into Nursing Informatics roles. For some people, this is a preferred way to learn.

Cons:

The cost

As I mentioned before, even with full tuition coverage (which is harder to find nowadays), there is still the cost in time and energy. If you will spend at least two years in a master’s program, giving up your nights and weekends for schoolwork, you want to be sure it is worth it.

I knew I wanted a leadership role, so for me, the cost of my education has been worth it. However, if that is not your goal, it makes sense to carefully weigh the costs and benefits.

Name recognition

Unfortunately, Informatics is not as well known as other Nursing specialities or other masters’ degrees. I got a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) because the leaders I looked up to all had MBAs. Looking back, I still would have gotten the MSN in Nursing Informatics for the other benefits I mentioned. But I would have done it as a combined MSN-MBA degree (and gotten the whole thing paid for before that company ended their tuition program).

Alternatives to the MSN in Nursing Informatics:

If you would like guidance getting into this field, there are some alternatives to the MSN in Nursing Informatics. Going from most to least expensive, the options are:

Most expensive: Dual degree programs

You can get the MSN in Nursing Informatics with another master’s degree. A number of schools offer a combination of MSN and MBA, MPH (Master’s in Public Health), or other degrees. Some schools also let you get the MSN in another nursing area, like Family Nurse Practitioner, with a concentration in Nursing Informatics.

This is the most expensive option because there are more credit hours required and you will be in school longer. However, if you know you want both degrees this could be a great option (and is the path I wish I followed for my degrees).

Moderately expensive: Post-master’s certificate

If you already have an MSN in another area, you can get a post-master’s certificate in Nursing Informatics. These programs require fewer credits than a full master’s degree, and so are less expensive. They offer a similar structure to MSN programs, but focus just on the Nursing Informatics curriculum since you already covered the other material.

This is a good option if you want a structured learning environment and already have an MSN. It can also help you meet the requirements for the next option…

More affordable: Informatics Nursing Certification (RN-BC)

There is an ANCC board certification for Nursing Informatics. The cost depends on whether you are an American Nurses Association (ANA) or American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA) member. For non-members the cost is $395, but goes down to $340 for ANIA members, and $295 for ANA members.

The cost is deceptive, however, because to qualify to sit for the exam you must have 30 hours of continuing education in Informatics Nursing in the last 3 years, and there are practice hour requirements. Those education hours come with a cost.

Also, keep in mind not all employers are looking for this certification. It is more of a ‘nice to have.’ In my 10 years in this field, I have not hired any nurses based on having it.

Most affordable: From Bedside Nurse to Informatics Nurse: A How-To Guide

I recently published this guide to help nurses interested in Nursing Informatics make the transition. Distilled from my two masters' degrees and decade of experience, the guide focuses on the key things nurses need to know to get into this field.

It includes easy-to-digest explanations of technology topics, Nursing Informatics tools and methods, and how to get hands-on experience. Finally, it covers how to get hired for Nursing Informatics roles, and what mistakes to avoid that even master’s program graduates do not know.

If you purchase it from my online store you will get a 20% discount using the code AllNursesDiscount at checkout through May 31, 2021.

References

How Much Can You Earn with a Master’s Degree in Nursing?

Post-Master’s Nursing Informatics Certificate Programs

Informatics Nursing Certification

Lisa Brooks is a thought leader, writer, and the voice behind Writing the Future of Health (www.writingfuturehealth.com) - a site that brings nursing and technology together. She is a Registered Nurse with masters’ degrees in Nursing Informatics and Business Administration. With over a decade of experience, Lisa has done everything from teach computer system classes for nurses, to lead large technology projects at healthcare companies. Her goal now is to help nurses build flexible, well-paid careers in Nursing Informatics where they can shape technology’s future.

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