Social Work vs. Nursing: Which is a Better Fallback Degree for You?

So you have aspirations to become a marine biologist, a real estate mogul, or a super successful millionaire entrepreneur, but you also have the hunch that you might need something to fall back on in case your preferred career path doesn’t pan out. That train of thought brings you to the famous “fallback degrees” that people turn to when they want the quickest path to stable employment. The first two fields that come to mind in this conversation are nursing and social work. If you’re trying to decide between the two, consider the following:

    1. Are You Better with Details or Emotions?

Registered nurses need to pay very close attention to detail because oftentimes there is very little margin for error when administering medications and handling other patient-related tasks. Accidentally omitting information about an allergy or double dosing a patient could have disastrous consequences. As a social worker you’ll need to be able to assess and address behavior and psychology. So if you’re more in tune with emotions and tend to focus less on details, earning a masters in social work online might be a better choice.

    1. Do You Like Being in Hospitals?

You’ve probably thought this through at least once if you’re considering a degree in nursing, but before you make the commitment of enrolling in a program, you really need to ask yourself whether you have a strong desire to spend much of your time in a hospital environment. Some people enjoy taking care of patients and playing the role of the comforter, while others would be more comfortable in a social work setting (i.e. – at a school, nursing home, drug rehab center, etc.). If you’re already second-guessing the idea of having to spend 100+ hours per month in a hospital, an online MSW might be a more suitable fit.

    1. Are You Prepared to Work Long Hours and Show Up to Work Unexpectedly?

Another potential caveat of nursing that sometimes discourages people from entering the field is the fact that you’ll probably have to be okay with being called into work without warning, and due to the current nursing shortage you’ll probably be working long shifts as well. If a more relaxed and predictable schedule that doesn’t involve being on-call sounds more appealing, you might want to choose the MSW route instead. Social workers also tend to work shorter shifts and many consider social work duties to be easier than the job requirements of a registered nurse.

    1. Making a Decision or Going the Dual Degree Route

Ultimately, the best way to make sure you’ll be satisfied with your choice is to thoroughly envision what a day in the life of each career would be like. Talk to nurses and social workers, research their job descriptions, and imagine yourself having to do those duties for years on end. Considering you’ll be investing years of time and effort into one of these degrees, it wouldn’t hurt to take a few weeks to make up your mind. For the indecisive overachiever, there’s also the option of earning two degrees at once in a dual degree program, which would give you both nursing and social work to fall back on.


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