What is a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN)?
Pursuing a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a significant step in advancing your career as a nurse. Whether you are already a Registered Nurse (RN) or are just beginning to explore the opportunities available in a nursing career, there are a number of benefits to considering an advanced degree in nursing.
Nursing is a fulfilling career that provides the opportunity to work closely with other healthcare providers, educate and treat patients, and assist in certain medical assessments and procedures. Nurses often build a strong rapport with patients and their families, and are known for being great communicators, problem solvers, and compassionate caregivers. Advanced degrees such as an MSN allow nurses more authority in patient care, higher paying career options, and specialty training in an area of specific interest.
What Can I Do with a Master’s of Science in Nursing?
A Master’s of Science in Nursing allows RNs to pursue more specific career paths. With the correct MSN degree, a registered nurse can become certified in the following fields:
- Nurse Practitioner (NP)
- Nurse Midwife (CNM)
- Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
- Nursing Instructor
On top of these career options, MSN students pursuing a career as a Nurse Practitioner choose a specialty that opens the door to additional career paths, such as pediatrics, adult-gerontology, family medicine, acute care, and women’s health. Regardless of your career choice, an MSN degree can lead to an enhanced ability to provide patient care and work in a variety of environments and facilities.
In many states, Nurse Practitioners (NP) are qualified to prescribe medications and even maintain independent practices. Many patients seek out Nurse Practitioners for general medical treatment, as NPs often provide more holistic care and tend to give more time to understanding patient needs and circumstances. NPs also work in hospitals, outpatient care facilities, and at private practices alongside physicians who offer oversight and support.
Other advanced degree registered nurses opt to pursue specialties in midwifery and anesthesiology, both of which provide opportunities nationwide in hospitals, private clinics, and birthing centers.
Salary and Career Growth
Understanding your career and salary potential is an important part of deciding whether or not to pursue an advanced nursing degree. MSN programs can be expensive, but the benefits of receiving an MSN far outweigh the upfront costs. Nursing is a rapidly expanding career and with changes in healthcare practices and insurance costs, many more opportunities are available for advanced degree registered nurses (ADRN).
With a Master’s of Science in Nursing, you have the opportunity to become licensed in a multitude of careers that will allow you to work independently and alongside other healthcare providers to treat, prescribe, and examine patients. As the healthcare industry focuses more on long term care and preventative health, patients are often looking to alternative healthcare providers, such as nurse practitioners. Nursing offers a uniquely holistic and educational approach to healthcare and advanced degree nurses are able to offer their patients a more complete understanding of how to manage their long-term health.
These changes toward both approach and attitude in healthcare have allowed for incredible growth within the nursing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be a growth of over 30% in nursing jobs as a whole by 2026. The projections for each of the main advanced degree careers are also very encouraging. Between 2016 and 2026, there is expected to be a 16.2% increase in careers for nurse anesthetists, a 20.7% increase for nurse midwives, and a 36.1% increase for nurse practitioners, all of which are careers achieved through an MSN degree.
While career growth is an important consideration in choosing a degree program, salary outlooks are also worth noting as you consider pursuing an MSN degree. Registered nurses are currently earning a median wage of $71,730 nationwide. The average salary of an RN can fluctuate based on location, the type of facility in which an RN works, and it can even fluctuate from hospital to hospital. Nursing careers that require an MSN degree have an even higher earning potential, which is projected to increase as job opportunities and demand also increase. The current median salaries for nurse midwives, nurse practitioners, and nurse anesthetists range from $103,770 to $167,950 with nurse anesthetists earning at the higher end of the range.
A Master’s of Science in Nursing can greatly increase both salary potential and career opportunities. While projected growth in the nursing field is encouraging, it is also significant to understand the path to receiving your MSN degree and whether or not a career in nursing is right for you.
Requirements for Earning a Master’s of Science in Nursing
There are several pathways to earning your MSN, including pursuing your advanced degree after you have already begun a career as a registered nurse. The first requirement for entering a master’s degree program is to have completed a bachelor’s degree. If you are already an RN but do not have your BSN, many degree programs offer an RN-MSN degree path, allowing you to earn your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing while also working toward your Master’s of Science in Nursing. Other pathways include pursuing an MSN after completing a bachelor’s degree unrelated to nursing. This path requires the completion of basic nursing courses before continuing on with an MSN and can take up to 18 months longer than a typical MSN program.
Most MSN degrees can be earned in 24 months or two years, depending on whether your course load is full-time or part-time. There are many MSN programs available online and with flexible classes to allow students to work while also pursuing their degree. Both online and traditional programs require clinical hours with a precept, which can be completed at local hospitals or medical facilities that are approved by your particular program. You may think that one benefit of choosing a traditional program over an online degree is the availability of local clinical opportunities. After all, most programs will work with local hospitals and clinics, therefore offering more networking and clinical connections than would be available through an online course. However, many online MSN programs are designed to provide the same opportunities as other traditional programs while still giving students a chance to pursue their careers alongside their degrees.
Finding the right program for you is dependent on several different factors, including cost, location, time, and specialty.
While it is important to consider how much a program will cost, how long it will take you to complete, and where it is located in comparison to your current job or home, one of the other major considerations should be your desired specialty. Not all MSN programs allow for training and education in all career specialties for nurse practitioners, nurse midwives or nurse anesthetists. Taking a close look at coursework and specialties will help you fine-tune your MSN program choices.
It is also helpful to note whether or not a school is properly accredited. In order to meet certain state qualifications and qualify for future degree programs or more advanced degrees, schools should be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
Coursework for an MSN degree varies based on the specialty that you choose to pursue. However, most programs will require the same advanced topics of study outside of your specialty, including:
- Healthcare Ethics
- Advanced Pharmacology
- Clinical Practicum
- Leadership and Policy
Once you have earned your MSN degree, becoming a nurse requires receiving the correct certification for your career choice. There are several credentialing bodies that serve to provide certification in different areas of nursing. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and The American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANCPCP) are two nationally recognized programs that offer certifications for most Nurse Practitioner specialties.
Sitting for certification exams requires that you have completed (or are within 6 months of completing) your MSN degree, have at least 500 hours of clinical hours supervised by a faculty member and are a licensed RN. Both your MSN program and your State Board will help you understand the credentialing process and which certification is required for you to practice in your state and in your specific nursing career.
Is Pursuing an MSN Degree the Right Choice for me?
If you have already begun a career as a registered nurse, then you are familiar with the career, the patient care, and the strengths required to be a nurse. Pursuing an MSN degree would only further your career opportunities and your long term nursing goals. If nursing is a career path you are only just considering, it can be helpful to better understand the qualifications associated with becoming a professional nurse.
Nursing requires strong communication, problem-solving, and interpersonal relationship skills. Most nurses spend more time with their patients than do physicians, and they will often need to provide compassion and help patients and family members understand a diagnosis or medical procedure. Nurses are taught to approach healthcare from an educational perspective, meaning they not only provide treatment but also help patients become educated on how to improve their health or balance healthy lifestyle choices.
If you love to work with patients to help them understand both short term and long term health choices and encourage a healthier lifestyle, pursuing an MSN degree may be the perfect career choice. Nursing can be difficult and fast-paced, including long hours on your feet. However, nursing also provides new opportunities each and every day to help and educate patients.