Masters of Science in Nursing Degree

MSN degree programs are designed for experienced nurses who wish to deepen their knowledge in a specific area of nursing and pursue more advanced roles. Therefore, most programs ask students to choose a concentration. All MSN programs cover core knowledge, such as how to perform physical exams, diagnose various health problems, and give patients medication and treatment. However, courses in a focus area may dive deeper into specific topics in the field. Some of the possible concentrations include health informatics, nursing education, and nursing leadership, among others.[i]  

Did You Know?

As of 2016, there were more than 222,000 nurse practitioners (NPs) licensed in the U.S.[i]

MSN Degree

What is a MSN?

A MSN, or masters of science in nursing degree, is an advanced degree typically focused on a specific area of nursing. Most students may expect to earn an MSN degree with two years of full time study. However, this varies by program.

While earning a MSN nursing degree, students study a number of important nursing functions through a combination of coursework and clinical and practicum hours. Clinical hours provide a chance for students to learn from experience in hands-on situations with an experienced preceptor, or mentor.   The specific amount of clinical hours varies, depending on focus area and school. However, normally the number ranges from 120 to 160. Some programs though may require as little as 11 hours. Follow up with specific programs for details.

EXPERT INSIGHT 
We asked Lynn Cronin about how enrolling in an MSN degree program helps your career:

"It is crucial for nurses to earn an MSN degree because it provides them with a more global awareness of healthcare, elevates their level of practice and introduces them to evidence practice and the role of nursing. I would recommend other nurses consider receiving their MSN degree to progress in our profession and to become part of the solution." 

~ Lynn Cronin, MSN ‘11, Curry College, is Vice President of Nursing and Chief Nursing Officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital Milton

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MSN Degree Concentrations

Many MSN nursing programs offer a number of focus areas, or concentrations. By focusing your course of study, programs may be able to dive deeper into a specific area of nursing.  Typically, curriculum is also tailored to prepare students for specific certification exams in that field. While not every school offers every focus area, many schools offer a variety of options. Some of these are listed below.

  • Health Systems Management
  • Public Health Nursing
  • Nursing Education
  • Health Informatics
  • Nursing and Health Care Leadership
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Orthopedics
  • Gerontology
  • Family Nurse Practitioner

 

There may be other concentrations available. Check out a few schools to find a perfect match for your goals.

Common MSN Degree Curriculum

Depending on the concentration you choose while pursuing a masters of science in nursing degree, your course of study may vary. However, courses generally focus on developing student’s abilities to handle the rigors and demands of nursing. For example, MSN degree programs may prepare students to integrate health care research into practice or apply evidence-based practices to help prevent diseases and promote proper health care.

Some common courses while earning a MSN nursing degree include those listed here.

  • Population Health in a Global Society
  • Managing Complex Health Care Systems
  • Pharmacology for Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Factors Affecting Healthcare
  • Advanced Physiology Across the Lifespan
  • Physical Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning in APN
  • Advanced Practice Nursing in Primary Care Adolescents and Adult Patients
  • Ethics for Advance Practice Nursing
  • Health Informatics Theories and Issues
  • Advanced Principles for Anesthesia

 

These are only a sample of courses that you may take. Each school and concentration may have different courses. To find a perfect match for your goals, check out a few schools and their unique structure.

MSN Degree: Admissions Requirements

While admissions requirements vary, many schools ask that you’ve earned a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited university with a 3.0 GPA or higher.  Other admissions requirements may include the following.

  • GRE scores
  • Personal Statement
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • Current RN license

Check with preferred schools to find specific requirements.

RN to MSN and Other Bridge Programs

For those without a BS in Nursing, schools may offer bridge programs in nursing. The RN to MSN bridge program is the most common. This program is designed for RNs who have an undergraduate degree in a field other than nursing. Instead of having to spend another three or four years earning a bachelors degree in nursing (BSN), the “bridge” portion of the program covers important material that would have been taught.

When choosing an RN to MSN program, it is important to note that some don’t award a BSN in addition to the MSN degree. They award a bachelors equivalency instead. However, some states may not accept that to meet licensing requirements.

Other potential bridge program options may include the LPN to BSN, LPN to RN, and BSN to DNP. Program offerings vary, so follow up with preferred schools for details.

Important Accreditations for MSN Degrees

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is the national voice for baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs. They offer an accreditation through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The goal of the CCNE is to hold nursing programs accountable to the nursing profession and the public. This is done by ensuring that programs have mission statements, goals, and curriculum appropriate to prepare graduates for expected roles.

Another accrediting body is the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Their goal is to strengthen educational quality through the evaluation of programs’ functions, processes, and research. Accreditation through the ACEN is voluntary, and achieved through a self-regulatory, peer-review process. When reviewing MSN nursing programs, it may be helpful to look for these accreditations.

Different Masters of Science in Nursing Formats

To accommodate a wider range of student needs, schools may offer masters of science in nursing degrees in different formats. Each may have their own unique benefits and could be better suited for one concentration or another. Consider each of these factors when deciding which is a good fit for you.

  • MSN Online Programs: Online programs may offer you the flexibility to perform coursework at your convenience. This could make it a great option for those with full-time jobs. Depending on the school and the focus area, you may have to go to campus or a local facility to perform clinical study and hands-on assignments.
  • On-Campus MSN Degree: Many traditional, on-campus programs could provide access to state-of-the-art facilities. This type of format may also provide more opportunities to interact and develop relationships with professor and classmates.
  • Hybrid MSN Programs: Hybrid programs combine both online and on-campus formats, which is why some students have called it a perfect option. Sometimes, courses are only offered entirely online or on-campus. Other times individual courses combine the two formats.

 

Some MSN programs offer all three different options, while others only offer one or the other. Check out a few schools to find a match for your learning style and goals.

What Can You Do with a MSN Nursing Degree?

The most common careers pursued by those who have earned a MSN degree are as advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs. These include, but aren’t limited to, the professions listed here.

  • Nurse Midwives
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Nurse Anesthetists

 

These positions typically require a masters degree in the specific concentration. Other requirements may include a state license and passing a national certification exam.[i] The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the number of APRNs to increase 31% during the ten years from 2014 to 2024.[ii] In 2015, the median annual salary for APRNs was $104,740.[iii]

Certifications in Nursing

In addition to an MSN degree, there are also a number of certifications in specific nursing fields that graduates may need to practice. However, specific requirements may vary from state to state.  Fortunately, many MSN programs provide a course of study to prepare students for these certifications. However, you should check with each school. Some of these certifications include those listed here.

  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANPCP)
  • American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  • National Certification Corporation (NCC)
  • Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
  • American Midwifery Certification Board
  • National Certification Examinationii

 

Take the Next Step!

Take the next step to earn your MSN degree. Click on any of the sponsored listings on this page to learn more about each school. There, you can read program descriptions, course of study, and admissions rules. You can even contact the schools you like directly to request more information.


Source: [i] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-4 | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-6[iii] | bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-5 | i] aanp.org/all-about-nps/np-fact-sheet

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