Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

There are several ways of becoming active in the field of nursing. One of the most popular and reliable is to earn your Master’s of Science in Nursing degree. Allowing you to practice within the realm of a particular specialization, and also to significantly increase your income and job prospects, an MSN program helps advance both your career and education. Thus, it is one of the most challenging and most rewarding experiences for a nurse. To learn the details of how, when and where you can earn this type of certification and what you can do with it in the healthcare market, read the extensive guide below.

Who is this program for?

You should pursue a Master’s degree in Nursing if you want to take your career to the next level. This means that you want to specialize in a certain field, receive a promotion, teach healthcare to prospective nursing students or familiarize yourself with advanced nursing practice. All of these endeavors require an MSN. If you want to work at a specific hospital or a prestigious medical institution, you will want to earn this certification as soon as possible. Renowned universities and hospitals give preference to Master’s degree holders. If you want increased income and more career opportunities, it is time to enroll in an MSN program. Only two years of higher education can do as much as triple your current salary.

An MSN track is long, hard and extremely demanding. It involves laborious clinical practice and classroom training that are time-consuming and will most likely require you to temporarily sacrifice some work responsibilities and family time. But if you intend to evolve as a nurse, gain broader and more meaningful knowledge of a particular healthcare field and have the potential to earn a much higher salary, this is a necessary step to take. Similarly, if you’re thinking about completely changing the trajectory of your career, an MSN is again the smartest decision. For instance, if you have been pursuing a position in midwifery, but eventually decided that it’s not the right fit for you, you can enter a different, but still lucrative field with an MSN as a Family Nurse Practitioner. The possibilities are endless once you receive your degree.

What can a Master of Science in Nursing do for you?

A Master’s degree in Nursing can make you an expert in bedside care or take you way beyond it in your career. The least it can do is offer you a stable, high-paying job in a friendly, but a competitive environment that will constantly stimulate your growth. The most it can do is offer the opportunity to follow your dream specialization and practice it or even teach other dedicated nurses. The program will provide you with the necessary tools to become a successful and more resourceful RN, advance in an executive or management role and forward your education towards a doctoral degree.

You will become knowledgeable in a wide array of specialty areas, including research, quality and patient safety, global health and nursing education. You will be thoroughly trained and prepared to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). An MSN program will help you master interdisciplinary collaboration, legal and ethical issues, management and critical analysis of health outcomes, as well as strategic planning and providing safe and exceptional medical care in state, federal and non-governmental agencies. The exact areas of study in your program will depend on the specialization you choose, as well as your desired university. But any MSN program will qualify and propel you into the workforce immediately after finishing(or a few years after if you want to focus solely on a doctoral degree after graduation).

Isn’t a Bachelor’s Degree enough?

A BSN is a useful and soon-to-be mandatory certification, but it won’t take you very far if you want to push the limits of what you can do at your job and maximize your earning potential. In order to continually improve and give back to the community as an individual nurse, and if you are truly committed to changing the healthcare system, you will need a Master’s Degree. Here are a few reasons why earning the latter is better than sticking with your BSN:

You learn more and from the best:

An MSN program is much more advanced and comprehensive than its subordinate certifications. The core curriculum and the highly-trained professionals who will be mentoring you will help you develop far more knowledge, patient care methods, leadership, research and communication skills. You will gain a much more intimate and genuine understanding of nursing, as well as have the opportunity to learn from exceptional professionals to reach their level after completing your studies.

You have more career opportunities:

It goes without saying that an MSN will open many new doors for you regarding employment. You will have a myriad of additional options to choose from when going after a job and a wide range of high salaries that can help bring you one step closer to your academic or career goals.

You earn more money:

Speaking of salary, an MSN will guarantee that you receive a generous salary that will keep you motivated and ensure that you can live a comfortable life. Whatever your professional dreams and aspirations, you most likely need money and time to achieve them. This program offers you an alternative and a solution for your most persistent needs in life.

You advance much faster in your career:

A Master’s Degree significantly broadens your professional horizon: it can take you from working the floor to leading a group of devoted, well-trained nurses. It can help you climb the corporate ladder towards a management or executive role or perhaps towards a doctoral degree that will allow you to implement policies and procedures, not just practice and learn about them. You can make meaningful, long-standing changes to the healthcare system, not just theorize about them while you’re working as a bedside nurse.

You save yourself trouble in the future and have a longer career:

Working as an RN is a fascinating and extremely rewarding job, but you might not want to do it forever. Or worse, you might not be able to. It is not uncommon for nurses to develop chronic issues or various physical ailments that prevent them from working long hours or practicing in the same field as they get older. A solution (adopted by many RNs) is to further your education over the years and secure a teaching, administrative or leadership position for a time when you cannot physically perform at the same capacity.

You can specialize in a field you love:

Once you have earned your MSN, you can specialize and practice in a variety of new and exciting nursing fields, including oncology, mental health, obstetrics, gerontology, anesthesia, midwifery, pediatric care and many more.

You have more flexibility and independence at your job:

With an MSN degree you can make your own decisions, intervene in certain medical situations, communicate more with patients and generally speaking have more leeway when it comes to tasks and responsibilities. You can say goodbye to those infamous, backbreaking and inhuman shifts. As an MSN holder, you can choose to work fewer hours or at least have a normal schedule, which allows you more time to spend with your loved ones or to put into advancing your education.

You can teach healthcare and nursing (if you want):

A Master’s Degree makes you eligible to become a teacher, mentor or nurse educator. You can train and guide fresh, eager-to-learn nurses currently where you once were and even become a trusted role model for them. This function is crucial for constant improvement and continuity in our present healthcare system.

What does the program require?

The main requirement to enter an MSN program is to own a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree. This certification must be earned from a college, university or institution that is fully accredited. In addition, you need to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale to be considered for admission. Depending on the program and specialization, you might have to submit proof of your licensure as an RN for matriculation. Again, if you are an online student, you need certification to be authorized by an accreditation organization.

To apply for the MSN track, you have to submit your official transcripts, a goal statement, your curriculum vitae (CV), your TOEFL scores (if you are a foreign student) and three letters of recommendation (two academic and one professional from your workplace preferred). You might be asked for two application essays, your Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores and transcript evaluations (if you are an international student).

Regarding prerequisites, there are several in general education, as well as specialized courses you need to have to be eligible for the MSN program. These include microbiology, human growth, and development, general chemistry, anatomy and physiology with lab, statistics, and nutrition. A school can ask you to have up to 20 credits of prerequisite coursework for admission but, generally, you need to have grade C or higher for each of these classes to join the program.

What will you learn?

An MSN can prepare you in a variety of specialties, teach you how to provide exceptional healthcare for patients and families of different cultural backgrounds, as well as introduce you to the basics of nursing research and management. Some of the most popular study fields for an MSN include cardiology, oncology, endocrinology, orthopedics, informatics, nursing education and healthcare leadership. Additionally, a Master’s of Science in Nursing program can train you in one of the following APRN majors: neonatal, pediatric, psychiatric/mental health, adult-gerontology, anesthesia, midwifery and women’s health.

You will learn different principles, procedures and research skills according to the specialization you have chosen. But overall, once you complete your studies, you will be able to provide excellent bedside care, clinical work, and training (for other prospective nurses). You will focus on pharmacological mechanisms, advanced physiology and health assessment, symptom management, disease prevention, pathophysiology across the lifespan, rehabilitation, the diagnostic process and the healthcare continuum from wellness to critical or acute care.

Here are some of the main course outlines that most MSN programs are focused on:

  • Foundations of Nursing Practice
  • Integrated Clinical Management
  • Risk Reduction Across the Lifespan
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Biostatistics for Evidence-Based Practice
  • The Research Process
  • Specialty Practicum (adult-gerontology, pediatric, etc.)
  • Clinical Judgment in Acute Care Nursing
  • Teaching Strategies in Nursing
  • Diagnosis, Symptom and Illness Management
  • Dying & Death
  • Leadership & Management in Healthcare
  • Program Development and Evaluation in Healthcare
  • Differential Diagnosis of Mental Disorders
  • Psychotherapeutic Frameworks & Modalities

How long does the program last?

A Master’s of Science in Nursing program usually takes up to 2 years to complete. There are a variety of factors that influence the length of the program, including the session layout, prerequisite courses, online vs. on-campus programs and whether or not you are studying full-time.If you opt for a part-time alternative, the completion time will increase to 3 or even 4 years, depending on the learning pace you are comfortable with. If you cannot afford to take time off work or you want to practice while furthering your education, an online option might be best for you. A distance learning program takes around two years to carry out, but you can find some that require fewer hours if you need to finish earlier.

Does the program require any clinical hours?

Yes, all MSN tracks require clinical hours. A standard program usually involves approximately 50 didactic credits and anywhere between 60 and 75 equivalent credits of clinical work. This means that you will have rotations and practice sessions with your colleagues and mentor, in which you will gain hands-on experience, see exactly how nursing procedures pertaining to your specialization are performed, as well as interact with real patients and staff members within the hospital or medical facility assigned to you. An MSN program requires a minimum of 600 clinical hours.

Are there any online options?

Of course. In fact, a vast majority of MSN programs are offered online. Even if you are looking for an APRN-oriented curriculum, you will still find most options online. And for a good reason: e-learning provides students with more flexibility, convenience, lower costs and personalized instruction by well-trained professionals. Remember that these types of studies still require clinical experience and, although most of your coursework and examinations will be done through an online platform, you still need to show up for clinical rotations at the hospital or healthcare institution to which you have been assigned.

Many nurses with a master’s degree become Certified Nurse Practitioners. This can include becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, Certified Midwife, Clinical Nurse Specialist or an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. Other nurses go on to open their own medical clinics or healthcare facilities. Some focus on hospital administration and healthcare management.

Getting a MSN degree online is the best way to move into nursing and healthcare administration. It prepares you for greater responsibility and leadership roles within the healthcare system. In turn, this can lead to a higher salary and put you in a position where to really influence the direction of healthcare and leave a lasting nursing legacy.

Once you have obtained your Master’s Degree in Nursing, you will have many more career options and the chance to earn a higher salary. So getting a Master Degree of Science in Nursing degree online is a good move if you want to move your nursing career forward but your days are already full.

The classes you will undertake while getting a Master of Science in Nursing degree online depend to a large extent on what you are specializing in. But expect to learn about advanced nursing theory and practice, healthcare administration and both the legal and moral issues associated with medical care.

Getting a Master of Science in Nursing degree online usually takes between 18 months and two years depending on the state you live in. You must already be a fully certified registered nurse (RN) and have your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree which takes four years to obtain and is often referred to as a RN-to-MSN program. You can gain credits for your nursing experience, but expect to spend around two years completing your online course to receive your MSN.

Students are usually required to complete their clinical hours in a hospital on-site to obtain the necessary experience looking after patients and working with physicians; this is common for all nurses. Until you have that experience and get a nursing certificate in your state, you will not be able to practice as a nurse.

Getting a MSN degree online is a lot less expensive. You can expect to pay about 30% less for studying for your MSN online than you would attending a private nursing school, college or university. Once you have completed your online MSN course, you can take the American Nurses Credentialing Center and American Nurses Association examinations to obtain your MSN degree and really boost your nursing career.

How much does the program cost?

The tuition for an MSN program typically consists of anywhere between $500 and $1,000 per credit hour. Sme universities charge up to $1,500 per credit hour adding up to approximately $100,000 for three semesters. Bear in mind that this is only the cost of attendance. There are other additional fees to take into account such as your health insurance (up to $3,000 every year), standardized testing (like the NCLEX), books, equipment, learning materials and so on. You will be asked to pay a transcript fee, clinical lab fee, graduate student activity fee, technology fee, health fee and graduate student services fee. To manage these costs, you can ask for guidance from a financial aid unit or look into grant, scholarship, student and private loan options.

What about accreditation?

All nursing schools should have accreditation to reassure both you and your future employer that you have studied in a legitimate, high-quality MSN program. Here are the main organizations that are eligible to authorize your chosen degree track: The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN), The American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM, for midwifery education programs) and The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA, for nurse anesthesia programs).

Where can you work with a Master’s of Science in Nursing degree?

An MSN will allow you to work in hospitals, emergency rooms, intensive care units, medical facilities, rehabilitation centers, private homes, physicians’ offices, research labs, outpatient settings and a wide range of other healthcare institutions. Here are the main job positions you can apply for with a Master’s of Science in Nursing degree:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
  • Adult-Gerontology FNP
  • Pediatric FNP
  • Nurse Researcher
  • Nurse Administrator
  • Public Health Nurse
  • Nurse Informaticist
  • Nurse Educator

How much will you earn with a Master’s of Science in Nursing degree?

According to The Advanced Healthcare Network for Nurses, the average salary for an MSN holder was $77,370 in 2012. Since then, both job prospects and income have drastically increased for nursing positions across the board. After finishing your studies, you can earn anywhere between $70,000 and $120,000. It all depends on the specialization you pursue. For instance, a Family Nurse Practitioner makes around $89,000 a year, whereas a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner has a median salary of $104,602.