Nursing Masters Degree Programs
Masters in Nursing programs are advanced post graduate courses of study that could lead to a Masters Degree in Nursing (MSN, also known as Master of Science in Nursing), and is the educational core to prepare students to become top advanced practice nurses. To reflect the vast nature of the nursing profession, a masters degree in nursing may be available in a wide range of areas, such as nurse practitioner programs, advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) specialist areas, nurse administration and more.
The top nursing programs will have a unique set of courses and requirements to help ready nursing students for both professional challenges and potential certification exams.
Masters Degree in Nursing Basics
Masters in Nursing programs typically highlight one specific aspect of nursing such as family care, psychiatric or gynecological nursing. Those who take part in an MSN program could also study clinical nurse leadership, nursing administration, or nurse education, among other areas. The coursework involved usually focuses on advanced nursing theories, nursing management, current research, social and physical sciences, and clinical practice.
MSNs For Nurses and Non-Nurses
Some of the best msn programs are often designed to help current RNs broaden their grasp of nursing science, and refine professional nursing skills based on career pursuits. These programs typically build on the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. That said, if you are not an RN, you could look for an MSN program that is designed to help you prepare to take licensure exams.
How many years to get a masters degree in nursing?
Earning a Master of Science in Nursing degree often require two years of full-time study. If this does not work for your schedule, some schools of nursing offer part-time and/or accelerated paths.
Masters in Nursing Curriculum
Most Masters in Nursing programs are built upon a core of theory, research and clinical practice. A MSN curriculum usually integrates these elements in a course of study that requires about 36 credits. These are often divided between 18 credits of core courses and 18 credits in a specialty area.
Inside a Core MSN Course Curriculum
Masters level nursing coursework often starts out with foundational topics. For instance, students could learn about basic concepts in anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology, as well as their applications in healthcare. These types of courses are often taught through faculty-led seminars and roundtable discussions. Other courses could help nurses hone professional skills, such as interpersonal communication and leadership. These classes are often taught by nurses who have hands-on clinical experience under their belts. Courses in research methods may discuss how evidence from nursing science could be used to inform health care practices. Any extended clinical work is typically based on the specialty track that a student pursues. These courses are usually taken in the second year, or after the required core is completed.
Some examples MSN core curriculum course topics are listed below.
- Health Policy
- Health Care Ethics
- Research Methods: Evidence-Based Practice
- Leadership and Role Development
- Epidemiology and Population Health
Most nurses choose to enroll in a Masters in Nursing program to enhance their expertise in a focused area. When students begin to focus their study in their clinical area, any number of courses that support that specialty could be taken. For instance, nurses who work towards their MSN in Gerontology could learn about acute care. Make sure to refer to individual graduate nursing programs for details.
How to get Admission into a Masters in Nursing Program
- Degree and GPA: Generally, applicants need a bachelors degree in Nursing from an accredited school, or to have successfully completed an RN-BSN bridge program. Accepted accrediting agencies could include the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. Some schools also set a minimum GPA requirement (e.g. 3.20).
- Nursing Licenses and Certifications: Aside from the degree and GPA, applicants are typically required to submit a copy of their current RN license. Some schools could also want to see a copy of valid CPR certification through the American Heart Association.
- Prerequisite Courses: Non-nurses and nurses with non-nursing degrees have special requirements in terms of prerequisite coursework. Post licensure MSN programs could require applicants to have taken courses such as biostatistics, nursing research, and physiology.
- Performance: Scores from the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) tests and computer literacy could be required.
- Program-Specific Requirements: Some Masters in Nursing programs also look at clinical work experience, and you might have to provide a resume. For instance, an applicant to a neonatal nursing program might need some work history in a neonatal unit.
The admission requirements for Masters in Nursing Degree Programs can vary a great deal in terms of what material you must provide and what an admission officer could look for. College transcripts, letters of reference, English Language Proficiency, and an essay are typically required. Also, once a student has been admitted at a school, they may be required to undergo a criminal background check, be fingerprinted, cleared for child abuse and drug-tested.
Entry Level Masters in Nursing Programs
An entry level Masters in Nursing program could be perfect for those seeking to join the nursing profession. These programs are pre-licensure programs, which means, unlike traditional MSN programs , you do not have to be a licensed RN to apply. Therefore, entry-level masters in nursing programs may be an option for students whose bachelors degree is outside of nursing.
Some entry level Masters in Nursing could require about two years of continuous enrollment. Participants tend to first study basic nursing skills, so that they might achieve licensure status before they start to work towards their masters degree. Those who complete their program could earn a Master in Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and be eligible to take the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX) to be licensed as registered nurses (RN). Graduates of some nursing programs might also be prepared to take the Clinical Nurse Leader Certification exam given by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. If this sounds like your goal, refer to individual licensure boards for more information.
Masters in Nursing vs. Nurse Practitioner Programs
Both Master of Science in Nursing programs and Nurse Practitioner programs could prepare students to take the Nurse Practitioner certification exam. The difference is in the type of student each program is designed for. A masters degree is considered the entry-level education required to take any of the NP exams.i Therefore a Masters in Nursing program with a Nurse Practitioner emphasis may be a great option for those who have not yet earned their MSN degree. Others may consider a Nurse Practitioner program. These are a postmaster's certificate programs for nurses who earn their masters degree in another area. Contact schools and certification bodies to confirm programs meet requirements if this is your goal.
List of Master's Degrees in Nursing
|Program Type||Program Overview|
|Accelerated Nursing Programs||Accelerated Nursing Programs bridge two or three different levels of study in a ‘faster track’. Fast-track master's degree programs generally take about 3 years to complete. Per the AACN, admissions standards tend to be high, and students must be prepared for a rigorous program that is often best-suited to those who do not work. RN-MSN tracks are usually designed for registered nurses who enter their program with a hospital diploma, associates degree in nursing, or a bachelors degree that is not a BSN. These programs may lead straight to an MSN - an accelerated MSN program. RN-BSN-MSN or BSN to MSN programs combine the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees and are designed for registered nurses who wish to attain both.|
|Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)||An Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) is a specific type of nursing designation. Those who complete this nursing program typically study one specific patient population. They may, otherwise, study one specific skill set. A nurse practitioner (NP) is a type of APRN. Other types of APRNs often include clinical nurse specialists, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists. Students who wish to work in this career typically earn a master’s or doctoral degree.|
|MSN / MBA Dual Degree Programs||Those who earn an MSN/MBA dual degree may have the skills to work in areas outside of just patient care. This may include working as a nurse leader, a director of nursing, clinical manager, or chief executive officer in healthcare settings. They typically work in a leadership role in a healthcare organization. Some work to manage a nursing practice as well.|
|Midwifery Programs||Masters in Nursing-Midwifery programs are sometimes offered in combination with a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner focus and/or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. These programs could prepare students to pursue roles as nurse-midwives, one type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). Nurse midwives often provide prenatal, birth, and postpartum care for women and their healthy newborns. Some midwives also provide gynecological and primary care services for women through menopause. Graduates of Masters in Nursing - Midwifery programs could be eligible to take the Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM) exam which is offered by the American Midwifery Certification Board and required for licensure to practice.|
|Nurse Anesthetist Programs||Nurse Anethetists programs could prepare students to provide anesthesia and related care before, during and after various procedures. As a prerequisite for admission to an accredited nurse anesthetist program, students typically must have 1 year of clinical experience. For instance, they may have experience working as a registered nurse in an acute care or critical care setting. Upon graduation, students may be ready to take the National Certification Examination (NCE) administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).i|
|Nurse Education Programs||A masters in nurse educator emphasis could help nurses acquire the skills and knowledge to teach other nurses and health care professionals. Courses often cover methods of instruction. For instance, nurse teachers may use a blend of demonstration and lectures. Other courses could help nurses plan curricula and assess and evaluate students.|
|Master’s Public Health Nurse Programs||Some students may wish to further their education with an MSN in public health nursing. Many times, students may complete their bachelor’s degree in nursing. Then, they could work towards the PHN degree at the master’s level. This may allow students to switch from patient care. They may begin studies to help them work in healthcare services that impact the community as a whole. Some may focus on nonprofit education as well.|
|Nurse Practitioner Programs||A nurse practitioner emphasis is designed for nurses seeking to meet the entry level education requirements to pursue this challenging role. Nurse Practitioners take care of patients across the lifespan. As Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), nurse practitioners could pursue primary care competency in several specialty areas. These are family, adult gerontology, pediatric or women’s health.iii APRNs typically need to pass a national certification exam and earn a license specific to a group of patients. For instance, Family Nurse Practitioner Programs could prepare graduates to sit for the Family Nurse Practitioner Certification exam offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).|
|Nursing Administration Programs||An MSN with a focus on nursing administration program could help nurses learn how to manage other nurses or clinical departments. Future nurse administrators could take courses in organizational leadership, systems thinking and health policy. Other courses might explore topics like finances and resource allocation. Students who pursue this track might also study evidence-based practice to promote the delivery of safe, effective, efficient, and quality patient care.|
|Nursing Informatics Programs||A Masters in Nursing Informatics program teaches nurses to navigate information and communication technology (ICT). Today’s healthcare industry relies on informatics to manage, store and provide data and information both to health professionals and patients. Nursing informatics links computer science, information science and healthcare. Courses could therefore cover topics such as epidemiology and health care data analysis. Some programs could also prepare graduates to sit for the Nurse Informatics board certification exam.|
|Nursing Specialties Programs||Masters in Nursing specialties also include areas in nursing such as neonatal, cardiac care, behavioral mental health, and critical care. Whatever area you choose – and there are many, courses could help you prepare to provide direct patient-care related to that setting. For instance, an Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP) program could prepare registered nurses to meet the unique needs of adult and geriatric patients with acute medical or surgical issues, and who may be critically ill or injured. To practice in a nursing specialty, graduates may be required to take and successfully pass exams.|
There are a variety of Masters in Nursing Programs to choose from in order to earn a masters degree in nursing. Whether your goal is to lead, teach, manage, or be on the forefront of clinical patient healthcare, there may be a nursing masters program designed for you. You could also look for a format to suit your lifestyle. For instance, some universities offer online MSN programs or a combination of online/on-site courses and for those who are looking for an MSN without a BSN, direct entry msn programs are available.
Why Consider Nursing Masters Programs?
The Master of Science in Nursing could serve several purposes. For one, it is the minimum education required for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) to work as nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified clinical nurse specialists, and certified nurse anesthetists. Even amongst today’s medical and health services managers, a masters degree is common.
Pursue a DNP or PhD in Nursing Degree
Graduates of MSN programs who wish to earn a terminal degree in nursing might pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing degree. While some doctoral nursing programs accept applicants with a BSN, many programs do require an MSN. There could also be programs available to non-MSN-holders that might culminate in a dual MSN-DNP degree.
A nursing masters program could play a key role in achieving certification as an APRN. In all states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, registered nurses must have a nursing license. And most states recognize all the APRN roles. In these states, APRNs must have an RN license, complete an accredited Masters in Nursing program (or bridge to DNP) and pass a national certification exam. Each state's board of nursing can give details, and it is best to inform oneself to ensure you meet all requirements.
written by Rana Waxman
|State||Employment||Annual Mean Wage|
Schools with Masters Degree in Nursing
GradSchools.com offers 470 Nursing Masters Degree Programs
Western Governors University
Grand Canyon University
Colorado State University Global
Purdue University Global
Fairleigh Dickinson University
Seton Hall University