Get Your Master's Degree in Nursing (MSN)
Learn about the different types of master's in nursing degree (MSN) programs.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
Nurses hold one of the most in-demand occupations in health care today, and the nursing degree you choose can have a significant impact on your career path and the pace at which you can achieve your goals. So before you decide on a nursing degree program, take a closer look at what a master's in nursing has to offer, and learn about your master's degree in nursing options.
Introduction to Master's in Nursing Degrees
A master's in nursing degree provides you with the background, skills and advanced training to deliver high-quality nursing care in a specialized area, such as advanced clinical training or research.
Nurses who graduate with an MSN are called advanced practice nurses (APNs). These nurses deliver health care services that were previously delivered by physicians, and they typically focus on one of four advanced practice areas:
What to Expect in Your MSN Program
Master of Science in Nursing programs generally take 18 to 24 months to complete. Some students earning a nursing masters degree also pursue a joint degree in a related field such as business administration, public health or hospital administration.
Most master's in nursing degree programs require you to have the following:
- A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
- An RN license
- Minimum GPA and GRE scores
- A certain amount of clinical experience
Types of Programs
RN-to-MSN: Designed for registered nurses who want to earn their MSN immediately after their BSN, the RN-to-MSN program offers classes tailored to suit the specific needs of the student. In this way, nurses receive as much advanced placement credit for their BSN work as possible and eliminate overlap between their BSN and MSN courses.
- Direct Entry MSN: Non-nurses who hold a bachelor's degree in another field can complete their nursing education at an abbreviated pace through a direct entry MSN. These programs, which give students credit for having completed undergraduate liberal arts requirements, typically take three years to finish. The first year of a Direct Entry MSN typically involves entry-level nursing course work. And the last two years are devoted to master's-level study that combines preparation for RN licensure with advanced training in a master's specialty area.
- Post-Master's Certificate: Post-master's certificates are designed for nurses who already hold their MSN and want to demonstrate a commitment to excellence in their field. Of course, professional certification also adds to your nursing credentials and can help you advance to higher-level job positions.
- Post-Certificate Master's: In the past, some advanced practice nurses were not required to earn a master degree in nursing to practice in their area of expertise, however, an increasing number of states and employers now require an MSN for these jobs. In response, nursing schools have developed programs that offer certified nurses an accelerated route toward an MSN by giving credit for past educational and work experience in these fields:
Applying Your MSN Toward Nursing Certification and Licensure
If you do not already hold an RN license, as in the case of Direct Entry MSN students, your nursing masters degree program will qualify you to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam, which you must pass to obtain a nursing license.
After you earn your master's in nursing degree, you can become eligible for certification in an advanced practice specialty, which you must renew regularly. The ANCC lists specific eligibility requirements for each APN certification, which, in general, include the following:
- An active RN license
- A master's, post-master's or doctorate in nursing degree from an accredited university
- A minimum number of hours of supervised clinical practice
- Completion of specific course work in your specialty area
Each certification has its own list of eligibility requirements, so check your specialty area carefully before you choose a nursing degree program.
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011; American Nurses Credentialing Center.
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