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Master’s Degree in Nursing

A master’s in nursing is an advanced graduate degree for those who have a bachelor’s in nursing and who are looking to increase their pay or their opportunities for advancement, especially in leadership or administration. The master of science in nursing (MSN), master of nursing (MN), or master of science (MS) with an emphasis in nursing are offered at many colleges and universities. This page is a guide to the master’s degree in nursing and includes information on admission prerequisites, the types of courses involved, and the job outlook for people who obtain this degree.

Why Pursue a Master’s Degree in Nursing?

There are many reasons to pursue a master’s in nursing. To start, an MSN offers a higher level of specialization for graduates. Undergraduate degrees in nursing (bachelor’s and associate’s) usually prepare nurses for entry-level, general nursing; master’s programs offer a more focused education in a specific area of nursing, such as gerontology, midwifery, or orthopedics, to name just a few. Those who have earned an MSN typically become licensed as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). APRNs might be nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives, or clinical nurse specialists after obtaining their master’s degree. They typically earn higher salaries than RNs because they have a deeper educational background and a greater level of responsibility. In many states, APRNs can become licensed to prescribe medications, administer anesthesia, and be considered primary care providers – all areas of practice that are not available to RNs. Another reason to pursue a master’s degree in nursing is that it generally places graduates in higher demand in the employment market and typically also provides stronger opportunities for promotions. APRNs are also beginning to fill in the gaps where there are shortages of general practice physicians. Due to the higher salary involved with these responsibilities, the time and cost of earning an MSN are worth the investment for many APRNs.

With over 330 master’s degree programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) to choose from, it is becoming more and more common for nurses to earn their master’s degree.1 Some schools even offer accelerated programs for RNs with a hospital diploma or associate’s degree to pursue both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree at the same time. Other schools offer master’s programs to nurses who have non-nursing degrees. Regardless of the pathway, master’s graduates typically see their career opportunities increase and commonly find it easier to get a specialized nursing job in their chosen field.

Master’s Degree in Nursing Requirements and Prerequisites

While the requirements to enter a master’s program in nursing vary by school, in most cases, a bachelor’s degree and a current, valid RN license are required to be admitted. Typically, scores from Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) are considered, along with letters of recommendation, college transcripts, and a statement of purpose. Clinical work and work experience are commonly also taken into consideration.

Potential master’s degree students should be ready to choose a focus area such as nurse anesthesia or nurse midwifery since most programs require students to choose an emphasis area either prior to or shortly after acceptance. Nurses should also have a genuine desire to help others, be detail-oriented, and possess physical and emotional stability. Since the master’s program will be more in-depth than previous studies, prospective master’s students should be academically competitive. People with compassion, organizational skills, stamina, and excellent people skills will stand out.

Master’s Degree in Nursing Coursework

The coursework required for a master’s of nursing will vary significantly depending on the program and area of study. Some examples of courses in a master’s of nursing program may include:

Nurse Practitioner:

  • Leadership in Professional Practice
  • Foundations of Primary Healthcare
  • Basic Clinical Skills
  • Health Status and Care Systems
  • Pharmacology
  • Advanced Clinical Skills
  • Applied Health Informatics
  • Research and Writing
  • Research Skills in Nursing Science and Health-Care Leadership
  • Supervised Clinical Practice

Nurse Anesthesia:

  • Anesthesia Concepts
  • Principles of Nurse Anesthesia
  • Pain Science and Practice
  • Current Issues in Health and Social Policy
  • Evidence-Based Facts for Nurse Anesthetists
  • Pharmacotherapeutics in Anesthesia & Critical Care Nursing
  • Advanced Health Assessment for Nurse Anesthesia
  • Anesthesia Pharmacology
  • Advanced Principles of Nurse Anesthesia Practice
  • Clinical Fieldwork in Nurse Anesthesia

Nurse Midwifery:

  • Reproductive Healthcare of Women
  • Intro Statistics for the Health Professions
  • Advanced Pathophysiology Across the Lifespan
  • Health Promotion and Risk Reduction Across the Lifespan
  • Practicum in Primary Health Care of the Adult
  • Models, Theories and Methods to Promote Optimal Health Outcomes
  • Scientific and Analytic Approaches for Advanced Practice
  • Intrapartum/Postpartum Care for Nurse-Midwifery
  • Foundations of Health Systems and Policy
  • Seminars in Advanced Women’s Healthcare

Nurse Educator:

  • Fundamentals of Leadership
  • Nurse as Scholar: Science Development, Study Design and Statistics
  • Theoretical Foundations
  • Trends in Management of Major Health Problems
  • Healthcare Policy
  • Scholarly Synthesis/Research
  • Curriculum Design and Education Theory
  • Educational Philosophies and Learning Theories
  • Role of the Nurse Educator: Issues and Challenges
  • Teaching and Learning Strategies

In addition to the coursework listed above, nurses in master’s degree programs also learn hands-on skills that will help them in their practice. As a part of their clinical studies, they typically learn and practice the skills they will use in the real world. For example, prospective nurse anesthetists complete numerous supervised clinical activities, during which they practice administering anesthesia for various surgeries. Usually, students will be required to complete a certain number of hours of clinical work as part of the degree requirements. Students in master’s programs are also expected to maintain a minimum grade point average in order to continue studies from semester to semester.

Career Opportunities for Graduates of a Master’s Degree Program in Nursing

The nursing profession is one of the most popular job fields in the US, and those with advanced nursing degrees are in especially high demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, APRNs – including nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives – earned a median wage of $107,460 in 2016.2 The outlook for APRNs is also promising, with advanced practice registered nurse jobs expected to increase by 31% through 2024, significantly faster than other occupations, and over 20% faster than RN jobs.2,3 This increased demand is due to health legislation, an increased emphasis on preventative healthcare, and the aging (and subsequent need for care) of the baby-boomer generation. APRNs who are willing to work in medically underserved areas (like inner-city and rural areas) may have an advantage in the job market.

Additional Resources

American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) – The AANP exists for nurse practitioners to find information about continuing education, professional services, advocacy, and expertise.

Nursing World – The American Nurses Association is a professional organization for all registered nurses. Membership provides opportunities in networking, advancement, and education.

Professional Nurse Educators Group – PNEG is free to join and is a professional network of faculty from nursing schools, continuing nursing education professionals, entrepreneurs and nursing staff development professionals. It supports the lifelong learning of nurses.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get a master’s degree in nursing online?
Yes. Fully and partially online master’s degrees in nursing are offered at many colleges and universities. Check with individual schools to see if they offer online learning opportunities before applying.

Will a master’s in nursing improve my pay?
Yes, it is likely that obtaining a master’s degree in nursing will give you an edge over other colleagues with lesser degrees. APRNs are usually paid more than RNs, and they also tend to be considered first for promotions and positions of leadership. The fact that APRNs have a more focused area of study also gives them an edge.

References:
1. American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN): http://www.aacnnursing.org/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm