Masters in Nursing 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 best educational core to prepare students to become 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. Each program 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
Nursing masters 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.
We asked Senior VP/Chief Nursing Officer Sue Penque on how earning a Masters of Science in Nursing prepared her:
"As I reflect on the nursing degree program, the most significant experiences were related to my work in Change Theory and Systems Thinking. Both prepared me for healthcare."
~Sue Penque, Senior VP/Chief Nursing Officer at SNCH
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.i Even amongst today’s medical and health services managers, a masters degree is common.iv
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.v 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.i
Masters in Nursing: Take the Next Step
Yes, there are many great Masters in Nursing programs to choose from. To help make it easier for you to decide which degrees in nursing to investigate, here are a few pointers. Narrow your preferences with the menu to filter by type of program (e.g. nurse educator or nurse practitioner). Then, refine by program format. Online MSN programs could be convenient for you if you are an at-work nurse. Or, since, nursing is human-centered, you might prefer to look for nursing graduate schools by city, state or country. Each search you start could yield a variety of sponsored nursing masters programs to compare. Find a few that motivate you? Great. Right away send off a form to each school directly. Take the next step now!
[i] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm | [ii] aacnnursing.org/Students/Accelerated-Nursing-Programs | [iii] aacnnursing.org/Portals/42/AcademicNursing/pdf/Criteria-Evaluation-NP-2016.pdf | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm | [v] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
Advance your nursing career into an educator, leadership, or management position with our fully-online M.S.N. program, designed for registered nurses with Bachelor's degrees.
Sacred Heart University
Move up to a leadership role with a sought-after credential. Offering four specializations in Clinical Nurse Leadership, Nursing Management & Executive Leadership, Nursing Education, and Family Nurse Practitioner.
University of Saint Mary
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University of Southern California
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Nursing@Georgetown delivers the online MS in Nursing program from Georgetown University. In as few as 19 months, RNs with a BSN can earn their degrees to pursue certification in an APRN specialty.
Nova Southeastern University
Our non-clinical M.S.N. degree supports nurses and professionals seeking leadership, technology and educational roles in healthcare. Plus, we offer a bridge course that allows you to enter our program without a B.S.N.
Seton Hall University
Seton Hall’s M.S.N, H.S.A. program prepares students to successfully perform as executive nurses in today’s healthcare reform environment.
Grand Canyon University
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California Southern University
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Saint Xavier University
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- Costa Mesa, CACosta Mesa, CA
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Purdue University Global
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University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences
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Indiana Wesleyan University
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Spring Arbor University
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University of New England
As the only program in Northern New England that awards a Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia, we are proud of our rigorous curriculum and of our relationships with more than 30 hospitals across the region.
- West Hartford, CTWest Hartford, CT
University of Hartford
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Fairleigh Dickinson University
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University of Saint Joseph
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Colorado Technical University
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