As medicine advances, so do the expectations for the knowledge and skill levels of nurses.

One of the biggest debates in the nursing field is whether nurses should pursue advanced education beyond an associate degree. Currently, a nurse can earn an associate of science in nursing, and then sit for the national exam to become a licensed registered nurse, or RN. However, as nursing becomes more specialized and as the knowledge and skill level required for nursing jobs increase, more nurses are pursuing advanced degrees, including the master's of science in nursing, or MSN.

Career Advancement

A master's of science in nursing can lead to many career opportunities that are not available to nurses with an associate or bachelor's degree. Nurses who wish to become an upper-level manager, educator or coordinator of care can expect to need a master's degree. Many graduate programs in nursing prepare students for the challenges of management or becoming an educator by offering them specialized training in advanced leadership and communication skills.

Opportunities to Specialize

A master's degree opens the door to advanced practice nursing, which is nursing in specialized areas that require additional knowledge and training. Some of the many ways to specialize as an advanced practice nurse include becoming a nurse anesthetist, a clinical nurse specialist, a nurse practitioner or a nurse midwife. These specialties are in high demand in many areas, allowing nurses with a master's degree to focus on additional job opportunities.

Advanced Knowledge

A master's of science in nursing trains nurses in advanced nursing techniques and provides them with specialized knowledge of medical conditions. As medicine advances and new infectious diseases are discovered, this specialized information is becoming increasingly important. In addition, some professional organizations, such as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, are pressing for a bachelor's degree as the minimum requirement for licensing. Those with a master's degree are even more prepared, which keeps them at the forefront of knowledge and skills as expectations for educational attainment increase.

Better Pay

Nurses who have earned a master's degree can expect to command higher pay than RNs with a bachelor's degree or an associate degree. In addition, nurses with master's degrees are eligible to work in more specialized areas, such as burn units or intensive care units, where they can earn more money, as well as bonuses. Nurses with specializations that are in high demand can expect to earn upward of $90,000 per year in some metropolitan areas.