Earning a master’s in nursing helps nurses advance their careers and pursue roles with greater responsibilities. Nurses with a master of science in nursing (MSN) often work as nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives, three of the highest paid positions in nursing. These advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can also earn board certification, increasing their competitiveness on the job market. With a master’s degree, nurses can pursue leadership, educational, and management positions within their healthcare organization. Nurses with a master’s degree also earn higher salaries than RNs without an MSN.
Today, nurses have several options when it comes to earning a master’s degree. Nurses don’t need a bachelor’s degree to earn their MSN. RNs who want to pursue a specialty like oncology, orthopedics, or gerontology benefit from the advanced coursework in an MSN program. This article introduces the different types of nursing master’s degrees, including in-demand specializations, career paths, and salary opportunities.
Master of Science in Nursing
Nurses with a master’s degree can pursue advanced positions in healthcare, including the roles of nurse practitioner, nurse educator, and director of nursing. During a master’s program, nursing students take graduate courses in evidence-based practices, leadership in nursing, and specialized courses in a concentration area. Specializations in neonatal nursing, oncology nursing, and pediatrics are common subfields of nursing available to graduate students.
MSN programs also incorporate clinical experiences so that nurses can gain hands-on experience in their chosen specialty. After earning the degree, graduates can qualify for board certification and licenses including family nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner.
Earning a master’s degree in nursing takes two or three years, depending on the student’s prior work experience and whether they attend a program part- or full-time. Nursing programs admit applicants with RN licenses to earn a master’s degree even without a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).
At the master’s level, nurses can earn specialized degrees leading to careers as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse educators. Master’s in nursing specialties also include midwifery, orthopedics, and gerontology. Prospective students can read about other nursing specialties below and learn more about the top online nursing programs by following the link.
- Gerontology: In a gerontology specialization, nursing students learn how to care for elderly patients, including managing acute and chronic conditions.
- Midwifery: The midwifery specialization prepares nurses to care for pregnant women from conception through labor and delivery. Nurse midwives also care for women during their postpartum recovery period.
- Nurse Anesthetist: Nurse anesthetist students train to administer the proper doses of anesthesia for each patient based on their body chemistry and care for patients before, during, and after receiving anesthesia.
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner: Neonatal nurse practitioners care for premature newborns, often working in neonatal intensive care units. They also act as primary care providers for newborns with genetic and life-threatening medical conditions.
- Family Nurse Practitioner: Family nurse practitioners act as primary care providers for patients of all ages.
- Orthopedics: An orthopedic specialization prepares nurses to treat diseases and disorders affecting the musculoskeletal system, such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: Psychiatric nurse practitioners care for patients with mental health disorders. They can diagnose mental illnesses, create treatment plans, and prescribe medication.
- Clinical Nurse Specialist: Clinical nurse specialists focus on a particular subfield of nursing, such as pediatrics, critical care, or oncology.
Online MSN Programs
An online master’s in nursing program provides flexibility and accessibility for nursing students. Online learning enables nursing students to arrange their coursework around work or family obligations, including the often unpredictable hours for nurses working in hospitals. Many MSN students continue to work while earning their degree, even completing clinical hour requirements at their current place of employment. The ability to continue working helps nursing students continue their professional growth and earn a salary while completing a master’s degree.
These online programs also offer a more accessible route to a master’s degree, allowing nurses in rural areas to earn an MSN from top nursing programs without having to relocate. Online nursing programs work with students to complete clinical hours at local sites, providing a convenient path to career advancement in their home states.
Types of Master’s Degrees in Nursing
Master’s in nursing programs offer a variety of paths to earn a master’s degree, depending on the prospective student’s prior education and work experience. Many master’s programs offer RN-to-MSN programs or options for applicants with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. Applicants may also gain admission to certain master’s programs with an associate degree in nursing (ADN).
Various types of master’s degrees in nursing set different admission requirements, prerequisites, and graduation timelines. An RN-to-MSN necessarily requires a longer time commitment than a BSN-to-MSN program because of the additional courses needed to prepare for RN licensure exams. Applicants without a bachelor’s degree in nursing may need to complete additional prerequisite courses. Prospective nursing master’s students should carefully consider which option best fits their experience. The following list of master’s degrees in nursing explains the requirements for different types of nursing master’s programs.
RNs can earn a master’s degree in around three years through an RN-to-MSN program. These programs appeal to nurses with work experience who hold a two-year nursing degree or diploma but not a bachelor’s degree in nursing. By offering an accelerated pathway to a master’s degree, RN-to-MSN programs allow nurses to advance their career quickly.
During the program, students complete advanced coursework in nursing, meet clinical hour requirements, and specialize in a field within nursing. Online RN-to-MSN programs offer the flexibility to continue working while completing a master’s degree and may allow students to meet clinical requirements at their current workplace.
Most programs require a current and unencumbered RN license. Programs may also set a minimum numbers of hours of clinical experience and letters of recommendation from nursing supervisors to ensure incoming students succeed at the graduate level. RN-to-MSN programs may also require a minimum cumulative GPA for admission, often a 2.5 or 3.0 GPA, GRE scores, or a minimum Praxis score to gain admission.
Nurses with a bachelor’s degree can earn their master’s degree in around two years through a BSN-to-MSN program. These programs appeal to nurses with a BSN who want to advance their career or complete specialized training to take on a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or another advanced practice position. During a BSN-to-MSN program, nursing students take specialized courses in their concentration, complete clinical hours, and meet the requirements for any certifications or licenses desired after earning their master’s degree.
Applicants typically meet the entrance requirements for a BSN-to-MSN program by holding a bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited program and a current RN license. Many MSN programs set a minimum GPA for admission, often between a 2.5 and 3.0. Some programs also request GRE test scores, letters of recommendation, an essay or statement of purpose, and Praxis scores. Some MSN programs admit candidates with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, but these applicants may need to complete a second degree BSN to meet the prerequisite requirements.
Nurses with an associate degree in nursing enroll in ADN-to-MSN programs to earn a master’s degree in three years of full-time study. Also known as bridge programs, ADN-to-MSN programs enable nurses without a bachelor’s degree to complete a graduate degree with relative ease. This route particularly appeals to practicing nurses who want to become APRNs as quickly as possible. Once admitted, ADN-to-MSN students take classes within their chosen specialty and complete clinical hours. The ADN-to-MSN programs offer options for nurse educators, nurse practitioners, and other advanced practice nursing positions.
The admission requirements for ADN-to-MSN programs vary depending on the program and the specialization. Most programs require a current RN license and a minimum GPA for nursing coursework. Some programs admit applicants who do not meet the GPA requirement on a provisional basis. Many ADN-to-MSN programs also set prerequisite courses, most of which are included in the curriculum for an ADN. While some programs may require standardized test scores, a growing number waive that requirement for applicants who meet the other admission standards.
Nurses with an associate of science in nursing (ASN) and a current RN license can complete a master’s degree in around three years through an ASN-to-MSN program. Also known as a bridge program, ASN-to-MSN programs admit nurses with an associate degree and provide advanced nursing training, often within a specialization. Incoming students can choose to specialize in gerontology, nursing management, or clinical nursing. Graduates can pursue careers as APRNs. ASN-to-MSN programs appeal to recent graduates or nurses with an ASN who want to pursue an advanced degree instead of earning a BSN.
The requirements for an ASN-to-MSN program include an RN license and a minimum GPA. Some programs also request GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and an essay or statement of purpose. Programs may also set a list of required prerequisite courses. Applicants who do not meet the minimum GPA or standardized test scores may receive provisional admission. Most ASN-to-MSN programs expect applicants to hold clinical experience before enrolling in the program.
What Can You Do With a Master’s in Nursing?
With a master’s degree in nursing, graduates can work as nurse educators, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives. Master’s in nursing graduates benefit from salary increases over nurses with a bachelor’s degree, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that registered nurses earn a median salary of $70,000, while many career paths for nurses with a master’s degree offer significantly higher
salaries. Nurse anesthetists, for example, earn entry-level salaries of over $133,000 a year, as the table below demonstrates. Here are a few possible career trajectories for graduates of a master’s in nursing program.
Nurse educators train nursing staff and students. They may work in hospitals or in educational settings. Nurse educators often host trainings, create manuals or policies, and deliver presentations.
Nurse practitioners act as primary care providers for patients of all ages. They can prescribe medication in some states, order and perform diagnostic tests, and design treatment plans for their patients.
Midwives care for pregnant women during labor and delivery. They may also offer prenatal, postpartum, and gynecological care.
Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia. They monitor patients under anesthesia and oversee recovery.
Directors of nursing oversee a nursing unit, managing nursing staff members, establishing procedures, and keeping the unit organized. Directors of nursing often hold several years of nursing management experience.
Master’s in Nursing Careers Salaries by Experience
|Career||Entry Level (0-5 Years)||Mid-Career (5-10 Years)||Experienced (10-20 Years)||Late Career (20+ years)|
|Director of Nursing||$74,000||$80,000||$85,000||$87,000|