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8 Popular MSN Degree Specializations

Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Updated April 15, 2024
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    An MSN can advance your nursing career. Discover in-demand master’s in nursing specialties before you head back to school.
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    Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

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    Earning a master of science in nursing (MSN) can open professional doors. With an MSN, you can take on more patient care responsibilities and boost your compensation. In fact, many MSN nurses earn six-figure salaries, with nurse practitioners (NPs) making a median salary of more than $120,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

    Nursing schools offer multiple master’s in nursing specialties, including nurse educator, nurse administrator, and clinical nurse specialist. Each program can lead to a focused career path after graduation.

    So, which MSN degree specialization is right for you? Before you invest in an MSN, learn more about popular MSN concentrations to make the most informed decision about your future.

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    8 Popular MSN Degree Specializations

    Still debating among master’s in nursing specialties? When it comes to the most popular nursing specialties, many require a master’s degree.

    Here are eight of the most in-demand, highest-paying MSN specializations:

    1. Family Nurse Practitioner

    There’s a reason nurse practitioner ranked as the top healthcare job of 2024. Strong demand and six-figure salaries mean it’s a good time to become an NP –– and family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are the most common NP specialization.

    In fact, about 70% of NPs are FNPs, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). FNPs are primary care providers who can perform diagnostic tests, diagnose medical conditions, and prescribe medication in certain states.

    Nurse practitioners earn a median pay of $126,260, according to BLS data. The BLS also projects that NPs will grow 45% from 2022-2023, one of the fastest-growing jobs in the nation.

    2. Nurse Educator

    Nursing programs need qualified faculty. An American Association of Colleges of Nursing report found U.S. nursing schools had to turn away nearly 92,000 applicants in 2021 because of faculty shortages alone. That’s one reason nurse educators rank among the most popular master’s in nursing specialties.

    With an MSN in nursing education, you can also work in hospitals, where you’ll train staff and implement patient care resources. Nurse educators earn a median pay of $84,000, according to April 2024 data from Payscale.

    Because the shortage is so acute, nurse educators also benefit from several federal and state programs to support their education, including grants and scholarships.

    3. Nurse Anesthetist

    Maximize your earning potential by specializing as a nurse anesthetist, also known as a certified registered nurse anesthetist or CRNA. Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients undergoing medical procedures. They also offer pain management care.

    Currently, nurse anesthetists are the only nurses with a median pay of more than $200,000, according to BLS data. Now is a great time to become a nurse anesthetist with a master of science in nursing. Starting in 2025, CRNAs will need to earn a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree.

    4. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

    Demand for mental health providers continues to grow. And psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, also known as PMHNPs, can help meet that need.

    PMHNPs play a critical role as the dominant mental health prescribers in rural areas, according to 2022 research from Harvard.

    PMHNPs are also one of the highest-paid NP specializations, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. The total pay for PMHNPs ranged from $96,000-$152,000, according to March 2024 data from Payscale.

    5. Nurse Administrator

    If you’re interested in taking on administrative responsibilities, an MSN specialty as a nurse administrator could be a good fit.

    Nurse administrators schedule staff, create budgets, and advocate for nurses at the executive level. While they don’t provide bedside care, they do help healthcare facilities operate as smoothly and effectively as possible.

    Nurse administrators also report strong demand and high salaries. Medical and health services managers, a category that includes nurse administrations, earn a median pay of $110,680, according to May 2023 BLS data. These roles also benefit from 28% projected job growth from 2022-2032, which is significantly faster than the average growth for all jobs.

    6. Nurse Midwife

    Nurse midwives specialize in gynecological and prenatal care. They deliver babies and serve as primary maternity care providers.

    What makes nurse midwifery a popular specialization? Nurse midwives earn a median pay of $129,650 per year, according to May 2023 BLS data. That makes them one of the highest-paid master’s in nursing specialties. Plus, nurse midwives benefit from 6% projected job growth.

    You can become a nurse midwife with a specialized MSN program.

    7. Nursing Informatics

    Healthcare organizations increasingly rely on informatics to improve patient outcomes and boost efficiency. Nurses who specialize in informatics apply tech knowledge to healthcare data.

    Depending on their role, they may develop clinical information systems, collaborate with physicians, and create nursing data reports.

    With a nursing informatics degree, you can become a nursing informatics specialist. This career path reports an average pay of $91,000, according to Jan. 2024 data from Payscale.

    8. Clinical Nurse Specialist

    If you want to improve nursing care while still working directly with patients, consider becoming a clinical nurse specialist (CNS).

    A CNS works in clinical departments like oncology, psychiatric-mental health, and pediatrics. In these departments, they teach evidence-based techniques to nurses. They also analyze patient outcomes from a medical and patient satisfaction perspective to improve departmental policies.

    Clinical nurse specialists earn a median salary of $100,000, according to Mar. 2024 data from Payscale.

    chevron-double-rightAdvance Your Career With an MSN

    Pursuing your master of science in nursing degree can pay off. You’ll add advanced nursing knowledge and specialized skills to your resume that can help you move into leadership positions. And an MSN often means a significant jump in compensation.

    You can earn your MSN online or in person. You’ll meet any clinical requirements for online programs in your local area. Earning your MSN takes as little as one year or as long as three, depending on your program and specialization.

    When researching MSN programs, you can also consider specializations like pediatric nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, or public health nursing. With an MSN, you can also pursue a DNP or Ph.D. program that can further specialize your skills.

    Related Resources

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