MSN Programs: A Transition in Nursing

There are plenty of reasons for RNs to seek master’s degrees. MSNs can allow them to move into advanced clinical practice and obtain a new scope of practice and a new license. They can also help them advance in leadership roles.

Some nurses pursue master’s degrees so they can transition out of jobs that they enjoy but weren’t intended to do lifelong. An article from Duke University featured a professional who had gone from being a paramedic to a flight nurse and was now closing in on his goal of becoming a pediatric acute care nurse practitioner (

There are two main types of post-licensure nursing master’s: clinical and systems. Within these two broad categories, there are many possible majors.

Advanced Practice Master’s Degrees

Advanced clinical practice requires either a master’s or doctoral degree in Nursing. Here the master’s is the lower entry-point , but often a viable one. Nurse practitioner programs prepare nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and clinical nurse leaders. There are still some master’s level nurse anesthesia programs as well, though the timeline for transition to the doctoral level is growing short.

Some advanced practice nurses function more like a medical doctor but with a more limited scope of duty. They often make diagnoses and write prescriptions. Other advanced practice nurses work as part of the interdisciplinary team, tackling complex problems.

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Master’s Degrees Outside Clinical Practice

Having a master’s degree can increase one’s chances of landing jobs in many arenas, including administration, quality control, and clinical leadership. Here the graduate degree is not necessarily a mandate but can bring more positions into the realm of possibility. The size and location of the healthcare organization can be a factor, as well as whether it has, or is seeking, magnet status. Magnet hospitals, well-known for attracting top-caliber nursing talent, like to place highly educated nurses in leadership positions.

Health policy nurse is among the many unique career paths where a graduate degree is an asset (

MSN Specializations

Nurses at the graduate level increase their skills in applying evidence to many aspects of nursing and healthcare. The following are among the majors and specializations that fall outside clinical advanced practice:

• Nursing Informatics
• Nursing Leadership and Management
• Clinical Nurse Leader
• Public Health Nursing
• Global Health
• Healthcare Quality and Patient Safety
• Clinical Research
• Nursing Education

The AACN has set a general set of standards for master’s programs. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is the accrediting agency for most graduate nursing programs.

Top MSN Programs

Duke University is in the top three in a number of categories of master’s level nursing, as rated by US News and World Report. It is #2 out of all master’s in nursing programs. It is #3 when considered in the context of online master’s programs and measured against other online schools. Meanwhile, it’s #1 in multiple master’s specialties, including pediatric nurse practitioner and nursing administration. There are a wide variety of online options available through Duke. An RN can pursue any of eight nurse practitioner population foci. The school also has more than one major that is not primarily clinically focused. Included is a nursing education option (a relatively less common option nationwide). The nursing education major includes advanced classes in clinical subjects like patient assessment.

Ohio State University is the #3 program in the online nursing master’s category and the #6 master’s program overall. The per-credit rate here is lower than the online master’s programs at the top of the list. There are four options for a traditional MSN: Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Leader, and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner.

Emory University offers a nurse midwife track and multiple nurse practitioner tracks. Students can opt for a combined master’s in nursing and either public health or bionursing.

Careers for Master’s Level Nurses

One can find many postings for advanced practitioners.

The following were among those that turned up in a recent job search with the designation ‘master’s preferred’:

• Assistant Nurse Manager for the labor and delivery and antepartum units of an academic medical center
• Patient Safety & Quality Specialist for a cancer alliance
• Infection Preventionist for an ambulatory care center affiliated with a major health system
• Nurse Educator for a Moms2B program
• Ambulatory Surgery Center Nurse Manager for a major hospital
• Lead of Clinical Education for a multi-specialty medical practice
• Nurse Specialist, Clinical Outcomes for a hospital that is seeking magnet status
• School Nurses for multiple Washington State districts

The following positions were among those listed as ‘master’s required’ in a recent job search:

• Nurse- Health Care Ethicist for a unit of the federal government
• Chief Nursing Executive for an ambulatory care system heavily reliant on nursing care

The following asked for the ability to earn a master’ within set time period:

• ICU Nurse Manager

Advanced practice positions are not included in the above list. In the case of APRN practice, it’s a given!

Salary Considerations

Education level can do more than just make one competitive for more positions. It can also have a direct bearing on pay. As an example: One recently advertised position (occupational health for a federal agency) noted an annual salary of $55,890 – $98,032, dependent on both educational level and years of experience.

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Additional Reading

RN to MSN Programs

RN to Nurse Practitioner Programs

Paramedic to RN Programs

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