Your questions cover many areas that I would like to respond to. I have been an RN for over 31 years. I am a diploma grad, later achieving my BS in Health Arts and 2 years ago, completing my Master's degree in Nursing, with an emphasis on Clinical Systems management. I worked med-Surg, ICU, and Newborn/Level 2 nursery prior to moving into the OR. I believe it helped me in my move to the OR, with which I have had a love (scrub/circulator, educator)/hate (manager, director) relationship for the last 18 years. From my personal experience, you can work in an OR and still want to work somewhere else. I am doing that now. I am very fortunate in that I have a job that I love, working in Special Procedures, and teaching the Periop 101 program one day a week. I work at a Magnet facility, and I firmly believe that no matter what you're opinion of the Magnet process is, there is a very distinct difference between a hospital that embraces Magnet principles, and one that doesn't. There are more opportunities for growth, in any area of the facility, educational opportunities are abundant, and there appears to be more RN/physician collaboration than I have seen in other facilities, though that can always be improved upon. Another concept that you will hear more about in the future, is staffing ratios for RN's, especially on Med-Surg units. As staffing ratio's improve from 6-10/1 to 4 or 5 to 1, care will improve, nurses will be less burned out, and positive outcomes will happen to both patients and nurses, especially those that are able to find meaning in caring for higher acuity patients in a safe and effective manner.
As to your question concerning career advancement, I would encourage you to pursue advanced degrees, because your return on investment can be counted in several ways. You will make more money, (I made more in my first year after grad school to cover the expenses I had in school), but more importantly you will learn about issues in nursing that are important to all of us. You will also improve your knowledge base, and, hopefully, be able to apply that knowledge base to be a force for change, and improvement in the way nurses practice. You will also improve your self esteem. You may decide to work on an ARNP degree, or you can go for the RNFA in the OR. In any event, opportunities are there, tuition reimbursement is a good negotiating point when interviewing, and unless we continue to grow as a profession, we will never move beyond the "handmaiden" tag, that some would suggest is a more accurate description of what nursing in the 21st century has become. Good luck as you complete your program.