Your Master’s in Nursing Career Path: How to Achieve Your Goals
Explore potential careers for MSN or RN-to-MSN graduates.
What MSN career paths are there?
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.
Once you’ve earned your MSN, you’ll be able to do the following tasks:
- Assess patient conditions
- Discuss and explaining conditions to patients
- Manage lower-level nurses
- Oversee patient records
- Research when necessary
- Educate patients on improving health
- Develop treatment plans
Your day-to-day duties will depend on your official title and the type of facility you work in. To get a sense of what you might encounter, we’ve provided a few examples of what specific advanced practice nurses can do.
- Diagnose and treat injuries and illness
- Prescribe medication
- Provide prenatal and postpartum care
- Provide care during childbirth
- 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 or clinical 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 does an MSN career path advance? 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).