Masters of Science in Nursing Programs, MSN Degrees

Masters of Science in Nursing Degrees

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Registered nurses (RNs) are the backbone of the health care industry, working in hospitals, clinics, physicians' offices, nursing homes and other medical facilities. RNs who want to take leadership roles as policy makers or educational roles as teachers in hospitals, colleges and universities generally need to have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to become advanced practice RNs (APRNs). Nurses who want to specialize in a particular field of nursing may also benefit from an MSN.

Pathways to Earn a Master's of Science in Nursing

Many different educational pathways can lead to a master's in nursing. Common pathways include earning a nursing diploma/certificate or an associate degree in nursing (ADNs), practicing as an RN, and working towards an MSN through an RN to MSN bridge program. Another option is to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and then working towards a Master's of Science in Nursing through a BSN to MSN bridge program.

In order to qualify for an RN to MSN program, an individual must typically be licensed as an RN in his or her state of residence, and have completed an associate degree in nursing from an accredited institution. To qualify for a BSN to MSN program, candidates must be a licensed RN with a BSN from an accredited institution.

Master's degrees are available both on campus and online, although many programs require an on-site clinical practice component. Some MSN schools are able to place students in medical facilities in their own communities for clinical practice.

Master of Science in Nursing: Program Details

Core course work for a master's in nursing usually provides a foundation in nursing theory, research methods and biostatistics, clinical judgment, economics, leadership and policy, health assessment and maintenance, and program and case management. Specific courses can include physiology, pharmacology, holistic health, moral and ethical issues, and informatics.

There are many master's degree concentrations including health policy, occupational and environmental nursing, oncology, psychiatric/mental health nursing, and primary or acute care in pediatrics or gerontology. Classes geared toward specializations can also include courses such as curriculum designed for nurse educators, care of the family in crisis for family nurse practitioners and women's health for nurse midwives.

APRN: Certification and Licensure

In order to practice, all states require RNs to graduate from a nursing program approved by their state's nursing board and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Different states mandate additional licensing or certification as well as continuing education for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). For specific state information, contact the individual state board of nursing.

Certification is a standardized way of formally recognizing specialized nursing skills, knowledge and experience. Certifications are provided by a number of organizations. For example, The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers nurse practitioner certifications in 12 specialties including gerontology, acute care, pediatrics and diabetes management, 10 clinical nurse specialist areas including public and community health, home health and child and adolescent psychiatry, and 25 different certifications for such specialties as forensics, informatics nursing, perinatal nursing and college health nursing.

Careers that Require a Master's in Nursing

As recipients of the master's degree in nursing, APRNs are allowed to prescribe medication in most states and are allowed to practice independently in a number of others. Although there are as many specializations as there are different fields in medicine, four common APRN career choices are:

  1. Clinical nurse specialist: provides a range of specialty care in areas such as pediatrics, cardiology, oncology, and obstetrics/gynecology (regulations differ by state, based on specialty).
  2. Nurse practitioner: provides front-line primary and acute care in settings such as schools, community clinics and hospitals. Services can include conducting physical exams and diagnosing and treating injuries and illnesses (regulations differ by state, based on specialty).
  3. Nurse midwife: provides prenatal, gynecological and postpartum services to pregnant women, delivers babies in hospitals and birthing centers and at home (regulated by 48 state nursing boards).
  4. Nurse anesthetist: provides anesthesia to patients (regulated by all 50 state nursing boards).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' projections show health care as the occupational group with the highest percentage of employment growth between 2010 and 2020 at 29 percent. RNs represent over 20 percent of the anticipated 3.5 million new health care jobs, and can anticipate an employment growth of 26 percent, which is higher than average (, 2012).

Salaries for RNs and APRNs are also higher than average. For May 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national mean annual wage for all occupations was $45,790, with RNs earning significantly more at $67,930. With a master's degree, APRNs can earn even more (, 2013):

  • Nurse midwife: $91,070
  • Nurse practitioner: $91,450
  • Nurse anesthetist: $154,390

The future looks bright for advanced practice nursing, which can offer you the opportunity for more knowledge, skill, responsibility and autonomy in your nursing career.


American Nurses Credentialing Center: Choose Your Certification
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: May 2012 Occupational Employment and Wages Estimates (US)
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Registered Nurses
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition: Registered Nurses
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition: Projections Overview
Columbia University School of Nursing: Master's Programs
Georgetown University School of Nursing: Master's in Nursing Online
National Council of State Boards of Nursing: Role Delineation Study of Nurse Practitioners and Clinical Nurse Specialists
University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing: School of Nursing: Master of Science (MS) Program
University of Minnesota School of Nursing: Master of Nursing
University of San Francisco School of Nursing: Master of Science in Nursing

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Grand Canyon University

Earn Your MSN in Health Informatics, Leadership in Health Care Systems, Nursing Education or Public Health Nursing.


Programs: Campus Locations:
  • Phoenix
  • Phoenix
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George Mason University

Located in Fairfax, Virginia, George Mason University is the largest public research university in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Northcentral University

  • Northcentral University was founded in 1996 to provide working professionals around the world with unprecedented access to richly engaging, professionally relevant, and academically-rigorous education from a U.S. university.

Programs: Campus Locations:
  • San Diego
  • San Diego
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