Working as RN before going on to grad school?


Hi everyone (particularly those in the process of getting their MSN or those with MSN degrees!)

I'm a rising senior and will hopefully graduate with my BSN in Spring 2021. I am debating whether or not to gain some experience as an RN before going back to school to get my master's. One of the nursing faculty at my school is in the process of getting her degree as a nurse practitioner, and she told us that she would recommend working as an RN before going back to grad school.

On the flip side, I've had multiple people telling me the opposite: to go to NP school right after graduating with my BSN. Obviously, it is easier to continue with school rather than to take a year or two off to work, as one may not be as motivated to return to the grind of classes and studying after taking a gap period.

My question(s) is: do you think it would be wiser to get some experience before applying for grad school or do you think it is better to "take the plunge" and work on getting a MSN right after graduating with a BSN? What did you all do? Any tips would be appreciated.

Thank you in advance for any advice! ?

allnurses Guide

Nurse SMS, MSN, RN

2 Articles; 6,840 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care; Cardiac; Professional Development. Has 12 years experience.

You will get both opinions here. If you want to be an NP, you will be a better one if you understand the nursing role by actually working in it. You also will have a broader view of whether you really want to be an NP. FNPs in particularly are facing low demand, falling wages and difficulty finding work. On the flip side, more specialized NPs (ACNP, psych NP, NICU NP) are in hot demand, but will want you to have some experience to go to school for those specialties.

Anything outside of NP basically requires you to have acute care experience for most job roles, even after MSN. Therefore if you get your MSN but have never worked as a nurse, you are both over and underqualified.

If your goal of the MSN is to obtain your APRN.. then the answer you seek will also weigh heavily on which specialty you are interested in.. For the most part there is sufficient evidence that primary care can practice safely and effectively without any prior RN experience. On the other hand, if you are wanting anything in acute care, including CRNA, then those programs will require a certain period of related RN experience.

Editorial Team / Moderator

Lunah, MSN, RN

33 Articles; 13,748 Posts

Specializes in EMS, ED, Trauma, CNE, CEN, CPEN, TCRN. Has 15 years experience.

Please get some experience first.

llg, PhD, RN

13,469 Posts

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 46 years experience.

I would recommend working first -- because you will never be able to "re-do" your first year in you change your mind later. Working first gives you a lot more career options down the road.

Yes, some people can go right on to grad school with no RN experience and be competent as a primary NP. That is possible. However, most people benefit from getting a little experience first. That year or two you spend getting some experience will help you to mature as a nurse, gain confidence in your patient assessment and intervention skills, and help you solidify you "nursing identity."

Getting a little experience will help you discover "who you are as a nurse" and give you a chance to "try out and find out" exactly what you like and don't like. Being a practicing nurse can be very different than being a student -- and you might find that you like some aspects of nursing better than you though you would -- and that you don't like some aspects of nursing as much as you thought you would.

There are a lot of nurses who make decisions about grad school with very little thought or experience. More than a few of them regret the choices they made when choosing a grad program. If you become an outpatient NP and later have the desire to do anything acute care/inpatient, it may be VERY hard for you to cross over.

And note ... there are regularly posts here that talk about how hard it can be in some locations to get good NP jobs, especially for new grads with no experience.

Get some experience so that you can make a wise, informed choice about what type of program will be best for you -- and leave yourself multiple career options for the future.

Thank you all for your excellent advice! This is exactly the information I was looking for, and many of the details given in your responses was information I was unaware of. I appreciate it!

The school I am at currently offers an FNP program, and I was going to apply for this. However, I had no idea that FNPs are facing lower demand rates, as Nurse SMS pointed out. Now that I know this, I am not sure if I would want to become an FNP, especially if this field is seeing a decline in certain areas.

Specializes in Per Diem - SNF/LTAC. Has 3 years experience.

Hey everyone, I was looking for a post exactly like this.

I just graduated with my BSN this week! I also just got a job yesterday, I'm literally fresh out of school. Haven't even done my NCLEX yet (our state has emergency qualifications due to covid). Nursing is a second career for me. My first was teaching high school and college that career, I waited enrolled and finished my masters after working for two years.

In nursing, I can't find a recommended amount of experience before exploring grad school (again). I imagine it's different for everyone and different for different degrees. Even so, how long do most work to gain experience before attempting grad school?

I also haven't decided on which grad degree I want to attempt. My end goal is to teach nursing and/or work at a clinical instructor. I really want to teach hands-on nursing skills, not really theory classes. Certainly need the experience to do that job! I'm considering MSN/ED. or possibly ED. D. in nursing. I know the ED. D. will take a lot longer, I still need research a lot more.

Looking forward to your responses!

llg, PhD, RN

13,469 Posts

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 46 years experience.
1 hour ago, Grad 2020 said:

In nursing, I can't find a recommended amount of experience before exploring grad school (again). I imagine it's different for everyone and different for different degrees. Even so, how long do most work to gain experience before attempting grad school?

You are right. It varies greatly depending on the individual and the situation. For me, many many years ago ... 2 years was enough as I had gotten wonderful clinical experience in that 2 years in a high level NICU and knew what type of MSN I wanted. I found an MSN program that prepared me for a variety of different roles (not just one) such as teacher, manager, and CNS that consisted of 52 credit hours of class and clinical covering all three roles.

But things are different today. Most MSN programs only cover one role, forcing the student to choose -- and to limit their career paths after graduation. They have to return to school if they change their minds.

I believe that if you are totally in tune (and honest) with yourself, you'll know when you are ready to go back to school. You'll know what career path suits your likes/dislikes and strengths/weaknesses as a nurse. You'll know the type of program you would like to attend and be willing to make the sacrifices it will take to complete that program. Until then, you won't be ready.


18 Posts

Specializes in Clinical Research. Has 10 years experience.

I would suggest a year or two of experience before you go back to school. It can be really challenging to find a job. The experience may even help with networking for jobs later on. I know someone that wanted to teach and went straight into an MSN program. Teachers need to have 3-years of clinical experience to be a clinical instructor and she didn't have the experience for that job.

Specializes in Psychiatry. Has 8 years experience.

Getting experience will be for your benefit. It may be harder doing some assignments when/if you don't know a thing about nursing; not just patient care but also working with managers, doctors, other nursing personnel; medication errors; violence in the workplace (staff-staff; patient to patient; staff to patient). These topics may come in handy for a few papers.

If you must, you can do both: work and go to school.

Specializes in SCRN. Has 9 years experience.

If you choose to go work as RN, it is wise to wait with enrolling into MSN. New grad RN has a full plate getting used to the job, give it a year before you start MSN. With that being said, go get some experience on the floor first. I often wonder why people forgo RN experience and go straight to MSN.

We had an educator MSN start in March with zero RN experience. Watching her lecture us and not being able to relate was painful. She quit 2 months in.

Specializes in Community health. Has 5 years experience.

Can you do both? I did an ABSN program, graduated Dec 2018. I will start MSN program in January, so at that point I’ll have two years experience. But I plan to continue working part time as I attend school part time. By the time I graduate with my MSN and PMHNP, I’ll have closer to 5 years experience as an RN.