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, or nurse midwives — three of the highest-paid positions in nursing. These advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can also earn board certification, increasing their competitiveness within the job market.
MSN Degree Types:
With a master's degree, nurses can pursue leadership, educational, and management positions within healthcare organizations. 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, some of which don't require a bachelor's. This article introduces the various types of nursing master's degrees, 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 within a concentration area. Common specializations include neonatal nursing, oncology nursing, and pediatrics.
MSN programs also incorporate clinical experiences that provide nurses with practical experience in their chosen specialties. After earning their degrees, 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 2-3 years, depending on the student's prior work experience and whether they attend a program part- or full-time. Applicants with RN licenses can be admitted to a nursing program and pursue an MSN 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. Some master's in nursing specialties are listed below.
Gerontological nursing students learn how to care for elderly patients, including managing acute and chronic conditions.
The midwifery specialization prepares nurses to care for pregnant women throughout gestation, labor, and delivery. Nurse midwives also care for women during their postpartum recovery periods.
Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia for patients, calculating dosages based on their body chemistries. They also 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.
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 places of employment. The ability to continue working while completing a master's degree helps nursing students keep their finances in order.
Online programs also offer a more accessible route to a master's degree, allowing nurses in rural areas to earn MSNs 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, including options for applicants with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field or an associate degree in nursing (ADN).
Different types of master's degrees in nursing have different admission requirements, prerequisites, and graduation timelines. An RN-to-MSN 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.
RNs can earn a master's degree in three years through an RN-to-MSN program. These programs appeal to nurses with two-year nursing degrees or diplomas and work experience. By offering an accelerated pathway to a master's degree, RN-to-MSN programs allow nurses to advance their careers quickly without having to earn separate bachelor's degrees.
During the program, students complete advanced coursework in nursing, meet clinical hour requirements, and choose a specialized nursing field. 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 workplaces.
Most programs require a current, unencumbered RN license, a minimum number of clinical hours, and letters of recommendation from nursing supervisors for admission. RN-to-MSN programs may also require a minimum cumulative GPA, GRE scores, or a minimum Praxis score.Explore online RN-to-MSN programs
Registered nurses with a bachelor's degree can earn a master's degree in around two years through a BSN-to-MSN program. These programs appeal to nurses with BSNs who want to advance their careers or complete specialized training to take on nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or other advanced practice positions. Nursing students completing a BSN-to-MSN program must take specialized courses in their concentrations, complete clinical hours, and meet the requirements for any desired certifications or licenses.
Applicants need a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited program and a current RN license. Many MSN programs also set a minimum GPA for admission, and some programs request GRE test scores, letters of recommendation, an essay or statement of purpose, or Praxis scores. Some MSN programs admit candidates with bachelor's degrees in non-nursing fields, but those applicants may need to also complete a BSN to meet prerequisite requirements.Explore online BSN-to-MSN programs
Nurses with an associate degree in nursing can 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 quickly.
Once admitted, ADN-to-MSN students take classes within their chosen specialties and complete clinical hour requirements. ADN-to-MSN programs offer options for nurse educators, nurse practitioners, and other advanced practice nursing positions.
Admission requirements for ADN-to-MSN programs vary by program and specialization. Most programs require a current RN license and a minimum GPA for nursing coursework. Many ADN-to-MSN programs also have prerequisite courses, most of which are included in the curriculum for an ADN. While some programs require standardized test scores, a growing number waive that requirement for applicants who meet other admission standards.Explore online RN-to-MSN programs
Nurses with an associate of science in nursing (ASN) and a current RN license can complete a master's degree in three years through an ASN-to-MSN program. Also known as a bridge program, ASN-to-MSN programs admit nurses with associate degrees and provide advanced nursing training, often within a specialization.
Incoming students can choose to specialize in gerontology, nursing management, or clinical nursing, and graduates can pursue careers as APRNs. ASN-to-MSN programs appeal to recent graduates or nurses with ASNs 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 apply for provisional admission. Most ASN-to-MSN programs expect applicants to have clinical experience before enrolling in the program.Explore online RN-to-MSN bridge programs
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 bachelor's degrees.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that registered nurses earned a median salary of $71,730 in 2018. Some career paths for nurses with master's degrees offer significantly higher salaries; nurse anesthetists, for example, earned an annual median salary of $113,930 a year in 2018. Here are a few possible career trajectories for graduates of a master's in nursing program:
- Nurse Educator Nurse educators train nursing staff and students. They may work in hospitals or in educational settings. Nurse educators often host training sessions, create manuals or policies, and deliver presentations.
- Nurse Practitioner Nurse practitioners act as primary care providers for patients of all ages. They can order and perform diagnostic tests, design treatment plans for their patients, and in some states they can also prescribe medications.
- Nurse Midwife Midwives care for pregnant women during labor and delivery. They may also offer prenatal, postpartum, and gynecological care.
- Nurse Anesthetist Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia, monitor patients under anesthesia, and oversee recovery.
- Director of Nursing Directors of nursing oversee a nursing unit and manage nursing staff members. They establish procedures and keep the unit organized. Directors of nursing often hold several years of nursing management experience.
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5 Tips for Choosing the Best MSN Specialty for You
Specialized master's in nursing degrees prepare students for their future careers. With numerous options for master's in nursing specialties, picking one can feel overwhelming. Be strategic and choose the best specialty for your future career. Here are some points to consider:
- Think about your ideal work environment. Nurses work in a variety of settings. Some travel to patients' homes, while public health nurses often work at community centers, and nurse educators work in hospitals or schools settings. Think about what type of setting you want to work in before choosing a master's in nursing specialty.
- Consider your career goals and strengths. Specialized degrees allow students to hone their talents for their future careers. Consider your dream job and the skills you need to succeed in that occupation. Also, think about your strengths as a nurse. Do you work better in fast-paced emergency situations or does an executive administrative role appeal to you?
- Browse the course requirements. To earn a specialization, students need to complete a set number of credits. Before you commit to a concentration, make sure you understand the credit and practicum requirements. Also take note of how specific specializations may prepare you for exams and certifications.
- Research employment statistics. To get a realistic understanding of the job market, research to see if the BLS projects growth for your future career. The BLS's regional occupational data can paint a clear picture about your career prospects. You can also find out about specialized nurses salaries.
- Determine what populations you want to serve. Nurses work with a variety of populations depending on their specialties. Neonatal nurse practitioners work with babies, while nursing students who specialize in gerontology work with seniors. Consider the community of people you want to work with when choosing a specialization.
Financing Your Master's Degree in Nursing
To finance your education, you can tap public and private resources that you do not have to repay when you graduate. After submitting a completed FAFSA, you can also access low-interest loans from federal and state governments, but you will need to repay that money with interest after graduating. Before taking out a loan with interest, make sure to exhaust all other opportunities.
Employers need trained nurses, which means working nurses often have financial incentives from their employers to earn a master's in nursing. The BLS projects the nursing industry to grow 15% between 2016 and 2026. To further incentivize nurses to get an advanced degree, state and federal programs often offer loan forgiveness.
Additionally, students should look into grants and scholarships, which they never have to repay. Many federal grants give nursing students money to pay for tuition, books, housing, and other educational expenses. Students can also find financial awards through community foundations, nonprofits, and their colleges. To find out how you to access free money in pursuit of your master's degree in nursing, check out the link below.Learn more about nursing scholarships and financing a nursing degree