Master's Degree in Nursing (MSN)

Why Master Degree in Nursing?

  • For those nurses looking to take their career to the next level, pursuing a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree is a surefire way to do so. Committing to a master's degree program takes dedication, but it can have a huge impact on your nursing success in the form of new opportunities, from higher pay to greater responsibilities
  • A master's in nursing program will equip you with the skills and advanced training you need to give high-quality nursing care in a specialized role, such as nurse practitioner.
  • Earning your MSN qualifies you to deliver many of the same health care services that physicians are qualified to do, which is particularly important in today's health care field. Physicians may have packed schedules or cost too much for some patients making advanced practice nurses a great alternative

MSN for Advanced Practice

  • Typically, nurses who are pursuing an MSN will focus on one of four advanced practice areas:
    1. Nurse practitioner (NP)
    2. Certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
    3. Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
    4. Certified nurse midwife (CNM)
  • There are also MSN joint programs, in which you pursue your master's in nursing in tandem with another master's degree. The most common pairings for joint MSN programs include:
    1. MSN/MPH: This pairs your MSN with a master's in public health
    2. MSN/MBA: Pairing your MSN with a master's in business administration
    3. MSN/MHA: An MSN degree paired with a master's in health administration

Why should I earn MSN?

  • Earning an MSN allows you to hone in on a specific area of nursing. While registered nurses do a little bit of everything and provide general care, an advanced practice nurse has knowledge about a specialized area of nursing. For example, if you're interested in natural health or women's health, you might choose a nurse midwife specialty. 
  • Another reason to earn an MSN is to learn the business side of nursing or if you're interested in making an impact in the health care industry. A master's degree program will teach you about leadership, management, policies and finance. Choosing this route usually means enrolling in a joint MSN program where you'll learn about business or health administration.
  • Completing a joint MSN program can also open the door to much-needed areas of the profession, such as teaching roles and leadership roles. 
  • Finally, who wouldn't like to earn a little more? An MSN can translate into higher salaries and promotions because their specialized knowledge makes them unique. 

How long does my program take to complete?

  • Typically, an MSN program can take up to two years to complete. Some MSN programs will want a certain amount of work experience before you can be admitted, but MSN programs generally require the following: 
    1. A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)
    2. A registered nurse (RN) license
    3. Minimum GPA and GRE scores (varies by program)
    4. Clinical experience (varies by program)
  • It's also possible to pursue an entry-level MSN if you already hold a bachelor's degree in a different subject. These programs usually take about three years to complete. The curriculum is broken down in the following way:
    1. First year: Entry-level nursing coursework
    2. Remaining two years: Combined advanced master's training and coursework, including preparation for the National Council Licensure Examination test, or NCLEX-RN

What can I do once I earn this degree?

Once you've earned your MSN degree, your career choices will be based on your specialization. Overall, having a master's degree creates avenues toward leadership roles, but job options for a nurse midwife are very different from a nurse administrator, for example: 

  1. Nurse Practitioner

- Diagnose and treat injuries and illness

       - Prescribe medication

  1. Nurse Midwife

- Provide prenatal and postpartum care

       - Provide care during childbirth

  1. Nurse Administrator

- Manage nursing personnel

      - Improve quality and efficiency of patient care

Where can I work?

No matter their specialization, nurses who hold an MSN typically work in the same types of facilities. Common workplaces include:

  • General medical and surgical hospitals: There's always a need for advanced nurses in a hospital setting. With an MSN, you might work in the surgical ward, maternity ward or the emergency room. If you take the health administrator route, you could find yourself managing the facility or a specific department.
  • Home health care: A home health care nurse can make a world of difference in a patient's quality of life. Since nurses with MSNs are qualified to give more advanced care (many can even write prescriptions), the home health care setting presents great opportunities for MSN nurses.
  • Independent practice: This is an option that applies primarily to those MSN nurses who specialize as midwives, nurse practitioners orclinical nurse specialists. An independent practice takes a great deal of effort to launch and maintain, but the benefits include closer ties to patients and the ability to choose your own hours.
  • Schools or universities: If you specialize as a nurse practitioner (NP), you may find work in the health office of a college campus. Many universities employ nurse practitioners to work on campus and give medical attention to students. Nurse educators with MSNs can also work at colleges and universities teaching the next generation of nurses.
  • Physicians' offices: With an advanced degree in nursing, you can work in a physician's office that provides either general or specialized care. Your duties in a physician's office may vary, but in general, nurses who hold MSNs can diagnose and prescribe treatment plans for patients.

Will I need more certification or continuing education units to continue to practice?

  • If you hold a bachelor's degree in an area other than nursing, and have not yet achieved registered nurse (RN) status, then your first step after earning your degree will be to pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN. Passing this exam will certify you to practice nursing in your state.
  • More common, however, are MSN students who are registered nurses already. If you fit into this category, you don't need to take the NCLEX-RN again. In fact, the only instance in which you would need to retake the NCLEX is if you wish to practice nursing in a state other than the one you were certified in.
  • After you earn your MSN, you'll need to become certified by the appropriate organization as it pertains to your field. For example, nurse midwives must pass the American Midwifery Certification Board exam, while a nurse administrator can get certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Your MSN program will prepare you for the necessary certification you'll need in order to practice.
  • As an advanced nurse with a MSN, your required continuing education depends wholly on what state you practice in. Some states require nurses to complete a certain number of hours of continuing education every few years, while others don't require it at all. 

How do I advance in my career? What are my next steps?

  • Your MSN qualifies you for a higher salary and a whole host of new responsibilities, and you may have many opportunities to advance.
  • If you work in a hospital or physician's office, you could oversee and advise less experienced nurses.
  • For some other advanced nurses, such as midwives, having an MSN might allow you to work in your own independent practice.
  • Another popular option for many nurses with an MSN is to transition into teaching or nursing instruction.
  • While some nurse educators hold MSNs, you can advance further by earning a PhD and teaching at colleges and universities (and maybe becoming dean one day).


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