MSN vs DNP programs

Can you combine an Masters in Nursing with a Doctorate in Nursing?

A Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) is often the next step for many students pursuing education in the nursing field. It is the master’s degree level. It is usually completed after a bachelor’s degree. Students may consider a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree as well. This is a doctoral level degree. Typically, it is completed after a master’s degree. However, some students may take courses specifically designed to combine both the MSN vs DNP education at one time. That may help them to obtain specific skills in areas of need.


An MSN tends to be the first step for many students after completing their bachelor’s degree. Then, many may go on to earn their DNP. When thinking about an MSN vs DNP, there are many things you may want to consider. Do you need both? Which one should you seek out? As noted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, AACN, there is no correct or wrong answer. It is up to you to choose what works for your needs and interests.

Those who are interested in advancing their education may be able to get started on their master’s degree after completing their bachelor’s degree. Or, they may be able to enter into the field and start working. There are many options to think about here.

This is where the DNP is typically a bit different for some students. This post master program may allow students to pursue more leadership style roles. The DNP simply tends to allow students to pursue more of what they are interested in as well as leadership opportunities. For many, this type of path may provide a wide range of benefits and opportunities for the student who wishes to move away from the bedside to influence healthcare in other ways.

What Is a Master of Science in Nursing or MSN?

An MSN is a master’s degree in the field of nursing that often allows a student to complete his or her education and obtain a concentration in a specific field that interests them. Students who complete this type of education may have more knowledge and skill in providing patient care. They may be more comfortable providing care and treatment to patients in a wide range of services. They still typically work to follow the directives of a nursing leader or a physician.

To enter into an MSN program, students must often first obtain their bachelor’s degree. This is typically a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) but it may be possible to use one of numerous bridge programs to achieve your goals. They may need to complete the GRE or other entrance exams to enroll in this educational program as well.

Most often, students are registered nurses (RNs) at this point. That may mean they have completed the necessary licensing requirements set by the state. Now, they are approaching educational opportunities again. This may be to allow them to gain more knowledge in an industry they are in. Or some students may want to seek out new career paths that interest them or new roles within their current path.

Those who work in the nursing industry may see the need for those who have a higher level of education. This may mean they handle more important roles or more complex cases. It may directly impact patient outcomes. With an MSN degree, a person may be able to provide a higher level of care in the field they choose.

What is the Salary and Career Outlook of a Nurse?

There may be a lot of opportunities for those who complete their Master of Science in Nursing. Depending on the job, the median yearly salary can reach over $129,400 according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The type of education and focus of education often plays a role in the jobs a person is likely to maintain. Those who wish to complete more of their nursing profession education may qualify for jobs like the following. Keep in mind that this information is from the 2022 BLS and may change over time.

Nurse Practitioner

According to the BLS, a geriatric nurse practitioner works primarily with senior citizens and their specific medical issues and problems. In many cases they work in a practice or a long term care facility.

2022 Median Annual Salary: $121,610 per year
2022– 2032 Growth: 45%

Nurse Case Manager or Health Services Manager

Per the BLS, in this position the nurse is responsible for planning and directing all of the business activities of the medical office.

2022 Median Annual Salary: $104,280 per year
2022 – 2032 Growth: 28%

Scope of Practice

Both degree programs may create numerous options for students. Those who have an MSN may wish to work in clinical practice in these areas or others.


As a pediatric nurse practitioner, you may learn a number of skills regarding how to care for children as an FNP. Pediatric primary health is often the focus, but other areas learned may be chronic illness care and treatment as well as treating adolescents. Treating and diagnosing children may be complex based on their age as well as how willing they are to communicate. These may occur either in a practice or a clinic environment.


As an oncology FNP the primary responsibilities are often to cancer patients. This may go from diagnosis to treatment. Other responsibilities may include making assessments, analyzing data and conducting tests. In this position working in a hospital or practice is most common.  There is a broad spectrum when it comes to dealing with cancer and a lot of different factors and possibilities exist when it comes to how to deal with it. There is typically much collaboration between other doctors and nurse practitioners as well to aid and assist the patients.


As a cardiac FNP responsibilities may include any of the following, interpreting labs, analyzing radiology tests, as well as assessing and diagnosing cardiac patients. The practitioner may want to focus on different areas of cardiology ranging from electrophysiology to heart failure and any of the other issues that may be associated with the heart. They may work in a doctor’s office or hospital. Many times, working and collaborating other doctors and nurse practitioners to reach a diagnosis. They may work with patients of all ages.


Some of the skills learned and practiced when specializing in becoming a dermatology FNP may be the diagnosing and treating of dermatological issues in patients. They may also learn to treat and manage common and complex issues following a diagnosis. Studying in this program you often deal with all types of issues relating to skin. This may be as simple as acne or as complex as psoriasis. Primarily work occurs in dermatologists offices, but hospital and clinic settings may be options also.

Neo Natal

When working as a neo natal nurse practitioner, you may work with infants in a variety of capacities. These may include in a hospital setting or in a practice. Other areas where this position is needed may be in clinics and in home care. In this position you may collaborate and work not only with other professionals in a neo natal capacity but general practitioners and surgeons as well depending on the case and the patient.

Adult Gerontology

When looking to become an adulty gerontology FNP, you may learn and master a specific set of skills. Skills that you may learn are the treating of adults and elderly as well as treating of adolescents. There are a number of issues that the elderly face and in some cases these may be debilitating to the family as well as the patient. Some areas where this specialty is working are internal medicine offices, specialty clinics and rehab centers.

What are program length and requirements for an MSN program?

The amount of time it takes to complete an MSN program may vary based on different factors. The number of credits as well as clinical hours required could affect how long the program may take. Factors such as course availability as well as the requirements for admission could also play a role in determining how long the program takes. Many programs offer a BSN to MSN option which may take anywhere from 20 to 36 months again based on the program and the focus area of the program.

Some students may wish to study full time. That is what these credits represent. Other options may exist. Students who wish to attend part time may be able to study at their own pace to get the nursing career they desire. Accelerated learning programs may also be an option. This often allows a student to work on their nursing education in an intense manner. It may mean longer courses. Sometimes it means studying more hours including in the summer. Depending on the graduate degree desired, an online MSN may be another way to speed up the learning process.

Enrollment and licensure play a role in the type of course students may be able to take. Most often, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a required first step before enrolling.

Certifications Required

With a nursing degree at the master’s level, students typically already have their nursing license. They completed their bachelor’s degree. The coursework they complete as a part of their MSN is often specific to an area they wish to focus on during their career. There are many ways to do this. Certifications are one.

Certification courses often allow a student to focus on a specific area of study within their nursing degree. This may happen after completing coursework. There are usually many such routes to take based on the career goals of the student. Here are some examples:

  • Adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner
  • Family nurse practitioner
  • Pediatric nurse practitioner
  • Nurse midwifery – nurse midwife
  • Emergency nurse practitioner
  • Women’s health nurse practitioner

Some students may want to expand their education into advanced practice nursing roles. These certifications could help make that possible.

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What Is a Doctor of Nursing Practice or DNP?

A Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal degree. That means it is often the completion of education for those in the nursing field. The DNP degree is often sought after by those students who wish to work in leadership positions in the field. Those who obtain education in this field typically work in fewer bedside positions. They may work in areas of health care policy or aim to advance nursing services within a community. As the highest level of education available to nursing students, these students may also have some leeway in what they study and how to use that in day to day practice.

Some areas of concentration in these nursing programs may include oversight of health care systems such as in executive roles. Some may take leadership roles within the community. They may aim to support public health. They may work in advocacy positions, encouraging improvement of health in local groups. Others work as a nurse educator. Some students work in nursing systems leadership within hospital systems. Others aim to work in government positions focused on population health.

They may still work in the nursing field at this doctoral level of study. The difference here is that they often work in leadership positions rather than providing individual patient care.

Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Nurse Practitioners
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$146,050680
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$131,4302,450
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA$129,040170
Stockton-Lodi, CA$127,330110
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA$123,5704,260

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top States for Employment for Nurse Practitioners
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York13,450$115,030

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary and Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) sheds light on some expectations for those in this field. It’s important to note there is a wide range of focus here. This depends on the nursing field the student pursues and level of education they take.

Health Care Executive

Per the BLS, as a top healthcare executive there may be a number of responsibilities. Most importantly is the planning and executing of strategies to improve the company on all fronts.

2022 Median Annual Salary:  $169,440 per year
2022 – 2032 Growth:  3%

Nursing Educator

According to the BLS, in this position you may be responsible for presenting and teaching patient care from a classroom perspective. Demonstrations from previous experience as well as the use of hands on tools may be required for this position.

2022 Median Annual Salary:  $100,090  per year
2022– 2032 Growth:  3%

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Per the BLS, as an APRN you may be responsible for a number of duties. This could range from patient histories to performing diagnostic tests. Diagnosing patients as well as providing prescriptions and solutions may also be a part of the position.

2022 Median Annual Salary:  $125,900 per year
2022 – 2032 Growth:  38%

Lobbyist or Political Scientist

According to the BLS, in this specific position your primary duty may be to work with politicians to improving healthcare as well as working for the organization you represent to get their viewpoints across. This position may require a lot of travel as well as working hand in hand with government officials.

2022 Median Annual Salary:  $128,020 per year
2022 – 2032 Growth: 7% through 2029

Clinical Researcher or Medical Scientist

According to the BLS, in this position the primary goal is to produce research to improve health. Whether it is through experimentation, observation or through the conducting of surveys there are many opportunities in this field. Here is where you may be working to develop new drugs or to learn how different diseases effect different people.

2022 Median Annual Salary:  $99,930 per year
2022 – 2032 Growth:  10%

Scope of Practice

Those completing a doctoral degree may have a wide range of options for their future. Take a look at some of the areas of focus. Also consider the leadership roles within these organizations that a person may maintain.


A pediatrics DNP program focuses primarily on the treatment and diagnosis of infants through young adults. This is a primary care position where the issues that affect children are often studied and treated. These positions are usually available at clinics, doctor’s offices, hospitals and private practices.


The family DNP often works primarily as a primary care provider. They may treat and diagnose chronic conditions as well as looking at clinical testing. This position is usually one that is at a doctor’s office or may be at a clinic or hospital. Those that study this specialty usually work primarily with families and work hand in hand with doctors and specialists to provide the best care for patients.

Psychiatric Mental Health

A psychiatry mental health specialty often focuses on the mental health of patients many of whom are already under primary care. Areas covered include but are not limited to assessments of mental health of patients of all ages from children through seniors. Those that complete this program may be able to diagnose, treat and prescribe medication for the areas of concern. Many positions may be available in practices, hospitals and even individual offices.

Women’s Health

In the women’s health concentration a DNP often focuses primarily on women’s health issues. This program aims to teach students about all portions of women’s health including pre-natal, postpartum, and all other aspects of the health of women. Those who study this specialty may find positions in practices, hospitals, and clinics.

Adult Gerontology

When looking to focus on adult gerontology while in pursuit of a DNP there are specific areas of study one may take. The primary goal of this area is usually to focus on treating those patients who are advancing in age. In this program the student performs health assessments, orders tests and creates diagnoses of patients.

Nursing Education

In the nursing education specialty, the student often prepares to teach future nursing students. This is one course of action where the student may have the plan to continue to stay in the classroom as an educator upon completion of the program. Many of these positions may be available at colleges and universities as well as in hospitals, technical and trade schools.

Program Length and Requirements

The amount of time it takes to complete a DNP online program varies based on different factors. The number of credits as well as clinical hours required affect how long the program takes. Factors such as course availability as well as the requirements for admission also play roles in determining how long the program takes. Many programs offer a BSN to DNP option which takes anywhere from 12 to 36 months again based on the program and the focus area of the program.

Certifications Required

There are no required certifications. Students may complete the same types of certification as they did for MSN paths. However, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) provides licensing and certification options for students. Keep in mind that some states set their own rules for certifications like this.

Post-DNP certificates are an option. There are a range of options for students to consider. Some of them include:

  • Nurse informatics
  • Nurse education
  • Forensic nursing
  • Nurse leadership
  • Nurse administration and management

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