Earning Your Master's in Nursing Can Expand Your Career Options

 Learn the ins-and-outs of how to earn your MSN or RN-to-MSN.

About the master's degree in nursing

nurse with msn assisting patient

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.

Typically, nurses who are pursuing an MSN will focus on one of four advanced practice areas:

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:

  • MSN/MPH: This pairs your MSN with a master's in public health
  • MSN/MBA: Pairing your MSN with a master's in business administration
  • MSN/MHA: An MSN degree paired with a master's in health administration

Why should I earn an 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 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: 

  • A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)
  • A registered nurse (RN) license
  • Minimum GPA and GRE scores (varies by program)
  • 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:

  • First year: Entry-level nursing coursework
  • Remaining two years: Combined advanced master's training and coursework, including preparation for the National Council Licensure Examination test, or NCLEX-RN

Am I a good fit for this program?

An MSN program is rigorous and challenging, but if you're willing to work hard, you'll have no problem succeeding in the program. You'll be surrounded by students who are dedicated and ready to learn. If that sounds like you, an MSN program could be a good fit. MSN programs will require you to juggle many responsibilities, so being organized and able to manage stress are two traits you'll want to have. 

Determining if you're a good fit for an MSN program also comes down to logistics.

  • Will you be able to attend classes regularly?
  • Do you have the free time to complete assignments?
  • Will you be working during this time?

The good news is MSN programs cater to all types of students and many offer online components so you can complete coursework on your own time.

What will I learn in my degree program?

You can earn your MSN at a college or university, and today, many MSN programs are available online. Your path toward an MSN will depend on your current nursing background. The majority of nurses who enter into an MSN program have already achieved RN status. However, there are some who enter an MSN program with a bachelor's degree in an area other than nursing.

If this describes you, there are accelerated master's programs available.

  • They usually take two to three years to complete
  • Contain a blend of practical, hands-on training as well as advanced, specialized courses

If you're an RN, you've already completed core science and nursing topics with your prior schooling. An MSN program, which usually takes about two years, will cover all the topics necessary for your specialization and wrap up with a practicum.

To get an idea of what to expect, read the following list of general MSN courses:

  • Health care policy
  • Theory and practice in your specialty
  • Health care ethics
  • Management and advanced practice nursing
  • Advanced biochemistry
  • Advanced pharmacology

See if online programs are available for master's degree-level programs

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