What is a Master’s in Nursing Degree?

If you have ever tried to figure out how to get a master’s in nursing then you know it can be confusing. With a multitude of different ways to pursue the degree it can be difficult to know where to begin.

Getting a master’s degree in nursing prepares you to provide clinical nursing care to patients at the advanced level, or to provide indirect care as a clinical leader or educator working to improve patient outcomes. There are various types of master’s in nursing programs available. All require that you first have a bachelor’s degree, but they do not all require that you be an RN before entering the program.

Master’s in nursing programs will give you either a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) degree, or a master’s of science with a nursing major (MS).

While this can be confusing both degree types are accepted equally within the nursing profession. For example, Boston College’s nurse practitioner (NP) programs grant MS degrees, but their students are still prepared and qualified to work as NPs. Even though the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AACN) endorsed making the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) the entry requirement for all NPs, master’s prepared NPs are still able to become certified and licensed.

Why Should I Earn a Master’s in Nursing?

Getting your master’s will enable you to advance not only your career but also healthcare. As a master’s prepared nurse in any specialty you will have the tools to provide evidenced based care to patients. Since nurses make up the largest group of health professionals in the world you could have a significant impact on the lives of patients and the healthcare system. Whether you choose to be in a direct or indirect patient care role, you will be equipped to use evidence based practice in your daily work. As a master’s prepared nurse you can improve patient quality of care and safety, lead healthcare teams, enhance healthcare delivery, train other health professionals, and engage in valuable research. As a master’s prepared nurse you will not only have more autonomy and be able to advance your career, but will also have a higher salary.

Entrance Requirements for MSN Programs

  • Bachelor’s or associates degree: Earn your bachelor’s degree in any field or an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) before applying to a master’s in nursing program.
  • GRE: Take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and send your scores to the schools you are applying to.
  • Complete pre-requisites: Depending on what you got your bachelor’s in and the type of program, you may have to complete certain science courses, and/or some hands on clinical experience.
  • Letters of recommendation: You will likely need to get 1 or more recommendation letters to submit with your application.
  • GPA: Some MSN programs will require that you have a minimum GPA of 3.0 from previous degrees.
  • Submit applications: Complete applications for the schools you wish to apply to. This will usually involve answering questions about yourself, writing some essays, submitting materials such as transcripts from your bachelor’s program, and paying a fee.
  • Interview: Occasionally MSN programs will interview applicants during the admission process.

What Pathways Exist for Earning My Master’s in Nursing?

While experience certainly will not hurt, you do not have to be an RN to get your master’s in nursing. There are many different pathways into the field. There are MSN programs that will enable you to earn your RN in the process and also give you and advanced degree.

  • RN to MSN: If you have your ADN and are an RN you can apply for a program that will educate and train you to be a master’s prepared nurse while also allowing you to earn your BSN in the process. This will take 2 to 3 years.
  • BSN to MSN: This type of program is for you if you already have your BSN. BSN to MSN programs are often referred to as traditional master’s in nursing programs. They typically take 2 years unless you are training to be a CRNA. CRNA training is closer to 3 years long.
  • Bachelors to MSN: This program type is often referred to as a Direct Entry Master’s in Nursing program or an Accelerated Master’s in Nursing. For non-nurses, a Direct Entry Master’s in Nursing can help you optimize your time to become both an RN and Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) or another type of advanced practice nurse. Most Direct Entry programs require that you have a background in science or at least have taken certain courses. These courses usually include biology, developmental psychology, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, in addition to some others. Direct Entry programs can vary in length depending on the university but are usually around 2 to 3 years long.
  • BSN to DNP: DNP programs give clinical doctorate degrees in comparison to PhD’s which are research focused. You will earn a master’s as a part of your DNP program. These programs prepare you to be a clinical leader and are 4 years long if you have your BSN.
  • MSN to DNP: If you already have a master’s in nursing you can complete a DNP program in 2 to 3 years.

Online MSN Programs

Online MSN programs are a convenient alternative for people who have other obligations in life. These are programs that are offered by ACEN or CCNE accredited universities and provide quality master’s education in a format that is accessible for the busy adult. The application process will be similar to any other master’s in nursing program.  Some programs are fully online, meaning that all coursework is computer based, while others will be a mix of in class and online work. Classes will be either recorded or broadcast live for you to join in on your personal computer. Assignments will be submitted electronically, and you will likely have online discussion groups as a part of some of your assignments as well. Your school will help you organize your clinical hours in a location that is convenient for you with qualified preceptors.

What MSN Specializations Are Available

Master’s programs in nursing will prepare you to provide direct or indirect clinical care to patients. See our Comprehensive Guide to Advanced Practice Nursing for more detail. You can specialize in the following areas:

Nurse Practitioner (NP) Programs

If you enter an NP program you can focus in various populations. As an NP you will provide direct clinical care to patients. During your master’s you will be required to complete a certain number of hands on clinical hours to ensure that you master the skills necessary to be a safe and effective NP. The number of clinical hours required for each population foci is determined by the certifying body. Women’s Health NP students will need to complete 600 hours of supervised clinical care. For the rest of the following populations, students will need to complete 500 hours of supervised clinical care during their training:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
  • Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PCPNP)
  • Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (AC PNP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-PCNP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP)
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

Other Direct Care MSN Specializations

There are three other MSN specializations that provide direct clinical care to patients. These along with NPs are considered Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) roles by American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) – As a CNM you will independently provide care to women throughout their lifespan. You will specifically focus on reproductive and sexual health and will be trained to deliver babies, prescribe medication, and perform minor surgical procedures.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) – As a CRNA you will be able to independently provide anesthesia care to patients in all 50 states.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): As a CNS you will provide expert care to patients within certain populations and specialties. Depending on where you work you may diagnose and treat patients as a part of your job.

Indirect Care MSN Specializations

The following MSN specializations will enable you to impact the healthcare system and clinical outcomes of patients by influencing healthcare from an indirect role, meaning you will not provide hands on clinical care. These roles are often referred to as advanced practice nursing roles, meaning they require a master’s degree or higher. However, according to the AACN these are not APRN roles.

  • Clinical Nurse Leader – You will focus on improving patient care by leading, facilitating, and overseeing healthcare teams. You will work to improve patient safety, reduce costs, and improve healthcare delivery.
  • Nurse Educator – You will prepare nurses by educating them in professional and academic settings to ensure constant advancement of healthcare and improve patient outcomes.
  • Nurse Administrator: You can specialize as a Nurse Executive or in supervisor, director, and nurse manager roles. As a nurse administrator of any kind you will lead healthcare teams and create effective work environments.

What Will I Study in My MSN Program

Your curriculum will vary depending on what master’s program you decide to do as well as which university you attend. In general, all students getting a master’s in nursing can expect to take some variation of the following courses:

  • Nursing Theory
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Nursing Ethics
  • Concepts of Nursing
  • Evidence Based Practice
  • Population Health
  • Advanced Nursing Practice

Clinical Requirements

If you are becoming an APRN where you will be providing direct clinical care to patients (NP, CNM, CRNA, or CNS) you will need to complete supervised clinical hours as a part of your training. These clinical experiences are designed to ensure that when you enter practice you will be able to safely provide care to patients and continue to develop your skills. During these clinical experiences you will be trained to assess, diagnose, treat, and educate patients. These experiences will be organized through your school and will occur in a setting that focuses on the population you are being trained in. You will be paired up with a professional who has the same credentials as whatever type of APRN you are training to be. These professionals are often called preceptors when they agree to take a student under their wing. Your preceptor(s) will train you in the clinical setting and supervise you as you develop your skills and learn to practice independently. Depending on your master’s program you may have more than one preceptor and may be placed in a few different settings.

How Much Are MSN Degree Progams

The cost of master’s in nursing programs vary a little depending on the location and whether or not you are attending a private or state university. There may also be additional expenses for course materials. Some programs will also grant scholarships to competitive applicants, and many graduate students take out loans to pay for their education expenses. Below are a couple examples of tuition costs for private and state universities.

The cost of education in the U.S. can be a huge turn off for many people interested in earning their master’s. While there is no doubt that getting your master’s could put a dent in your wallet, tuition costs do not need to dictate your future. Since nursing is in a public service field, there are many programs and scholarships that can help you pay back or fund your education. The following are some examples of loan forgiveness programs for nurses:

Each state may also have their own way of helping you pay off your loans.

How Much Do Nurses with an MSN Earn

Salary will vary greatly depending on your population focus, the location where you work, and your years of experience. CRNAs are the highest paid of master’s educated nurses making anywhere from $150,000 to $250,000 annually. All NP roles as well as the CNM and CNS roles have competitive salaries ranging from $75,000 to $120,000 per year. Nurse Educator salaries can range from $60,000 to $90,000. If you go more towards the business side of nursing and become a Nurse Executive, it is possible to make up to $145,000 per year depending on experience and location.

MSN Resources

Denisco, S. M., Barker, A. M., (2016). Advanced practice nursing: Essential knowledge for the profession. Burlington, MA: Jones and Barlett Learning.

Similar Posts