Master’s Degree in Nursing

A masters in nursing is an advanced, postgraduate degree usually pursued by those who have a bachelors or associates degree in nursing, but who are looking to increase their pay or their opportunities for advancement, especially in leadership or administration. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Master of Nursing (MN), or Master of Arts (MA) with a nursing major are offered at most colleges and universities that offer postgraduate degrees. The following provides a guide for the master degree in nursing, 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 for pursuing a master’s in nursing. One reason is that it 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 can offer a more focused education in a specific area of nursing, specifically for those who want to be poised to accept positions of leadership. Registered nurses (RNs) typically hold a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree, while advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) have typically earned a master’s degree. APRNs might be nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives, or clinical nurse specialists after obtaining their master’s degree. They typically earn a higher pay than RNs, because they have a greater level of responsibility, often being able to prescribe medications, administer anesthesia, and be considered primary care providers. Another reason to pursue a master’s degree in nursing is that it may put graduates in higher demand for being hired or for promotions. Since there is a recent shortage of physicians, APRNs are beginning to fill in those gaps. They also tend to make more money than RNs, making it 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, pursuing a master’s in nursing is becoming more and more common.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 masters programs to nurses who have non-nursing degrees. Regardless of which way a master degree in nursing is pursued, graduates should see their career opportunities increase, and might 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 state RN license are required to be admitted. Typically, scores from Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) are considered for entry, along with letters of recommendation, college transcripts, and a statement of purpose for most colleges. Clinical work and work experience may also be be taken into consideration.

It is best if potential students of a master’s degree in nursing have narrowed down a focused area of study (such as nurse anesthesia or nurse midwifery). 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 strong, though a low GPA does not mean automatic disqualification, since graduate schools are typically looking for evidence of well-rounded students. People with compassion, organizational skills, stamina, and excellent people skills will stand out.

Masters 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 clinicals, 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 before graduating from the program.

Students in masters programs are also expected to maintain a minimum grade point average in order to graduate with a master’s degree in nursing.

Career Opportunities for Graduates of an 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 US Bureau of Labor Statistics, APRNs including nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives earned a median wage of $96,460 in 2012.2 The outlook for APRNs is also promising, with advanced practice registered nurse jobs expected to increase by 31% through 2022, significantly faster than other occupations, and over 10% 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) will 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 – The 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 masters degree in nursing online?
Yes. Masters degrees in nursing are offered at many postgraduate colleges and universities, and it is possible to get a master’s degree in nursing online. Check with the individual school to see if they offer an online masters degree in nursing before applying.

Will a masters 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 money 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 over their nursing colleagues.

1. American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN): http://www.aacn.nche.edu/
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm