Master’s of Nursing Opens the Door to Many Careers

A shortage of nurses and plenty of career options make a Master of Nursing an attractive degree.

nurses and doctor meeting to discuss patient care
two female nurses and male doctor in discussion

If you have a Master of Science in Nursing, the job market is waiting for you with thousands of potential opportunities across the nation and in a multitude of roles.

Consider these forecasts:

  • According to Joseph Dunmire, a board member for the National Association of Healthcare Recruitment (NAHCR): “Nationally, expectations are that there will be more than a million RN vacancies by 2024.”
  • Over the next five years, Dunmire also expects high demand for advanced practice nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists.

Clinical and Nonclinical Roles

With these healthcare shortages, nurses with MSNs have many career paths to choose from, both clinical and nonclinical. 

Dunmire says more than 20% of all licensed RNs are not engaged in direct patient care.

Many with MSN degrees choose instead to move into nonclinical roles in research, data analysis, executive management, administration, teaching, public policy, and government.

A shortage of nurses means that MSNs have many career paths to choose from, in both clinical and nonclinical fields. 

For most, but not all, MSN nursing positions, certification is required or recommended if they involve a specialty. There are a large number of certification programs approved by the American Board of Specialty Nursing Certifications (ABSNC), as well as other organizations.

We can’t cover all career possibilities here, but we can give you several examples of what you can do with an MSN.


Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs)

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) include nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives, according to the American Nurses Association (ANA). APRNs are often primary care providers and are at the forefront of providing preventive care for patients.  In some rural hospitals and in remotes areas, doctors may not be available, and the only medical provider onsite may be an APRN.

You’ll find them in all healthcare settings from trauma centers, teaching hospitals, and long-term care facilities to rural hospitals, private practice, public health clinics, and outpatient surgery centers.

In many states, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), MSNs with practitioner certification are permitted to operate autonomously and:

  • Evaluate and diagnose patients
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests
  • Begin and manage treatments
  • Prescribe medications, including controlled substances

In these states, APRNs work under the exclusive licensing authority of the state board of nursing. In others, MSN nurses with practitioner certification may be permitted to perform similar duties under a collaborative agreement with a doctor or under the supervision of a doctor. 

The APRN specialty roles are:

  • Nurse practitioners (NPs). They focus on primary, acute, and specialty healthcare through assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of illnesses and injuries, emphasizing disease prevention and health management. They often become certified in areas such as family practice, pediatrics, and adult care. Related certification: Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Certified nurse midwives (CNMs). They provide primary, gynecological, and reproductive healthcare for women, and deliver babies. Related certification: Certified Nurse-Midwife
  • Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs). These nurses are certified in a chosen specialty, such as oncology, gerontology, or pediatrics. They’re focused on direct patient care about 20% of the time, and educating nurses and staff, consulting, and research the rest of the time. CNSs identify gaps in healthcare delivery and help drive practice and process changes within an organization. Related certification: Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs). They provide anesthesia and pain management services for diagnostic, therapeutic, surgical, and obstetrical procedures in routine and emergency situations. Related certification: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

Degree Requirements Changing for Nurse Anesthetists by 2025

smiling female nurse in operating room

Currently, the required minimum education for a CRNA is an MSN. However, by 2025, they will need a doctorate (DNP) in nurse anesthesia. Candidates need to confer with school advisors to make sure the programs they’re considering will meet this requirement.


MSN Generalists

Someone with an MSN can also pursue an MSN Generalist path, which opens the doors to several other nursing positions.

  • Clinical nurse leaders (CNL) focus on care coordination, management of outcomes, care transitions, risk assessment, implementing best practices, and quality improvement within an organization or unit. Project management and exemplary people skills count in this position. Workplaces include hospitals and large health systems. Related certification: Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Clinical research nurses (CRN) organize, oversee, and assist in clinical trials often involving new medications or treatment methods. They administer medications, perform treatment procedures, and monitor each patient’s progress, documenting results and side effects. Careful attention to detail and analytical curiosity are helpful in this role. Employers include pharmaceutical companies, teaching hospitals, and government agencies. Related certification: Certified Clinical Research Professional
  • Public health nurses (PHN) promote and protect the health of populations in the community. Their work includes education and counseling for healthy habits and immunizations, and tracking disease outbreaks and responding to community emergencies. Employers include government agencies, city and county public health agencies, and community-based clinics. Related certification: Certified in Public Health

Nonclinical MSN Career Paths

Not all MSN degree-holders are working in clinical roles directly with patients. A master’s degree can also open the door to leadership and teaching careers.

  • Certified nurse educators (CNE) teach nursing students in diverse settings, including technical schools, hospitals, community colleges, and universities. In addition to expert knowledge of subject matter, excellent communication and presentation skills are a must in this role. Related certification: Certified Nurse Educator
  • Executive nurse leaders (ENL) serve as business executives at hospitals and healthcare and nursing organizations. You’ll be responsible for budgeting, staffing, and day-to-day operations in this role. Good organization, people skills, critical thinking, and decisiveness are important attributes for nurse leaders. Related certification: Nurse Executive Certification
  • Clinical genetics nurses (CGN) care for patients who are at risk for, or are affected by, a genetic disease or condition. Generally found at medical centers and research organizations, these nurses analyze genetic risks, educate patients and families on their risk profiles, and counsel them on how they may be affected. Empathy and compassion are essential for this role. Related certification: Advanced Clinical Genomics Nurse
  • Nurse administrators (NE-BC) are department heads or nursing supervisors in hospitals, large clinics, and health systems. They focus on administrative tasks such as budgeting, scheduling staff, hiring employees, meeting performance goals, and implementing programs. Related credential: Nurse Executive Certification
  • Informatics nurse specialists (CIN) bring medical knowledge to the IT world, assisting in the development and use of healthcare technology, often as an interface between health practitioners, IT staff, and organization leadership. They work in large medical centers, health organizations, and insurance companies. A deep knowledge of nursing, understanding of workflows, and a love of technology will make you a star in this position. Related certification: Certified Informatics Nurse

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing


Take a step up with a BSN-to-MSN Bridge Program

Take a shortcut with an RN-to-MSN Bridge Program

Earning an MSN Online: Is It Right for You?


Joint Master’s Degrees: Are They Worth It?

If your goal is to qualify for an executive leadership position at the strategic business, operational, or policy level, consider a dual master’s degree. They are often listed as a preferred credential for these senior positions and are designed to give RNs the additional perspective and education necessary to succeed. The three most common dual master’s degree programs are:

  • Joint MSN/MPH (MSN with a Master of Public Health): A plus for positions such as director of public health, public health educator, and epidemiologist
  • Joint MSN/MBA (MSN with a Master of Business Administration): Useful in positions such as chief nursing officer, chief nurse executive, and director of nursing roles
  • Joint MSN/MHA (MSN with a Master of Healthcare Administration): Good preparation for nurses seeking positions as hospital administrators, healthcare executives, or department heads

These programs are usually designed for completion in three years, so they take less time and cost less than earning two master’s degrees. Having a dual master’s may appeal to prospective employers and help you get jobs at more senior levels and earn a higher income.


What Can I Earn With an MSN?

Salaries vary widely for nurses with MSNs, depending on your role, specialty, education, certification, experience, workplace, and location.

Nurse anesthetists are at the top of the pay scale with an average salary of $181,040, according to the BLS. Nurse midwives earn an average salary of $108,810, and nurse educators earn an average of $83,160.

Whichever career path you choose, Dr. Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN and CEO of the National League of Nursing (NLN), urges you to use your compassion to optimize your success and your joy in nursing. Ultimately, she says, “You can have everything else–the skills and the ability to suture–but if you don’t have compassion, it doesn’t matter.”


sheila mickool

Written and reported by:

Sheila Mickool

Contributing Writer

beverly malone

With professional insight from:

Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN

CEO, National League for Nursing


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