8 Popular MSN Degree Specializations
Deciding on the best MSN specialty can be a challenge. This guide breaks down the most popular options for nurses taking the next step in their nursing career.
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Whatever your reason for wanting to pursue a master's in nursing (MSN), you can find MSN specialties to match your career goals and interests. For example, some want to manage their own practice, or explore a family nurse practitioner or a nurse midwife path. If you love data and analytics, nursing informatics is a great MSN specialty, though you can also use data and analytics in a more hands-on way as a nurse administrator.
As with any graduate program, there will be a lot of hard work ahead. You can stay disciplined by choosing a specialization. If you have not yet decided where to direct your energy, explore some of the most popular (and in-demand) MSN concentrations.
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1. Family Nurse Practitioner
The majority (65%) of nurse practitioners (NPs) work as family nurse practitioners. This is one of the best MSN options for those who want to work in nearly any setting, including their own practice, as long as the state offers full practice authority.
Nurse practitioners are the fourth fastest growing occupation in the U.S., and demand continues to rise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 45% job growth between 2020 and 2030 for all NPs. According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the average annual salary is $107,000.
2. Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
Adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioners care for older adults in hospitals, private practices, and long-term care facilities. Because of the aging population in the U.S., this career comes with tremendous growth potential. The BLS includes adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioner occupational data with all NPs, with a projected 45% increase in jobs between 2020 and 2030 and expected salary of $117,670.
3. Nurse Midwifery
A nurse midwife works closely with OB/GYN physicians, assisting with the pregnancy, delivery, and care of mother and child. This can be an especially joyous career, as it deals with bringing new life into the world.
Among the different master's in nursing options, nurse midwifery has a relatively slow growth rate of 11%, which is still faster than average, according to the BLS. The BLS also reports an average annual salary of $115,540.
4. Nurse Administrator
If you like making a difference in nursing itself, either after experience with direct nursing care or as an alternative, this might be one of the best master's in nursing specialties for you. Nurse administrators generally work more predictable hours with minimal evening or weekend requirements. However, the work comes with greater responsibilities.
As a nurse administrator, you must ensure effective nursing practices in a department or organization. Nurse administrators should be especially good at collaborating, motivating others, and leading change.
5. Nursing Anesthesia
With an average annual salary of $189,190, according to the BLS, nurse anesthesia is the highest-paying master's in nursing option. You can work as the sole anesthetist during less complicated procedures or as part of a team on more complex surgeries, and care for patients during and after operations.
However, starting in 2025, you will need a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), rather than an MSN, to become a nurse anesthetist. This is one of the slowest-growing MSN specialties, with a projected job growth rate of 13% between 2020 and 2030.
6. Nursing Informatics
Nursing informatics may appeal to data specialists who want to improve nursing while working predictable hours. In this MSN specialty, professionals use statistics, technology, and nursing knowledge to analyze data, design and run reports, and help administrators and leaders improve nursing practice.
7. Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
If you prefer the challenge of saving lives, acute care nursing can be a rewarding MSN specialty. Most acute care nurse practitioners work in hospitals and health systems, though they can also work in residential care and government facilities.
This is the third most popular specialty for nurse practitioners. The BLS projects a 45% job growth between 2020 and 2030 for all NPs, including acute care nurse practitioners. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports an average annual salary of $120,000 for this position.
8. Clinical Nurse Specialist
Clinical nurse specialists provide pediatric, neonatal, or adult/gerontology care. These specialists typically work in academic medical centers where they teach students ways to improve evidence-based care.
If you're interested in specialty care and becoming an expert in a particular patient demographic, this is one of the more versatile master's in nursing specialties.
While the pay is still above the national average, it is one of the lower paying MSN specialties, with an average annual salary of $92,000, according to Payscale data from October 2021. However, the BLS projects a 45% growth rate between 2020 and 2030 for all advanced practice registered nurses, including clinical nurse specialists.
Advance Your Career With an MSN
Earning an MSN is an excellent way to invest in your future and gives you a variety of career options to consider. However, there are many types of MSN specialties from which to choose. To help make the best decision for your career, explore specialty association websites; read job descriptions and nursing blogs; and speak to school or career counselors, your professional network, and those working in the field.
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