Graduate Nursing Programs
Graduate Nursing Programs are courses of study that could lead to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, PhD, or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. In Masters in Nursing (MSN) programs, the emphasis is to generally to prepare registered nurses to pursue top advanced nursing practice roles such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator, nurse administrator and for doctoral study.
Doctor of Nursing (DNP) programs typically stress the translation of research into practice, leadership, and more advanced nursing practice. By contrast, the focus of PhD in Nursing programs is often to develop nurse scientists and clinical scholars who might best lead in expert clinical practice, teaching and research.
written by Rana Waxman
Types of Graduate Nursing Programs
When it comes to graduate nursing programs, there are many options that consider diverse nursing education levels and career goals. You could look for programs that are available by degree level (BSN-MSN, MSN, PhD, DNP, Certificates) and further narrow your choices by nursing specialty (e.g. Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Education). Or, if you do not yet have a bachelor of science in nursing, you might find Accelerated Nursing programs that could serve as a bridge to a nursing graduate degree. Below are a few examples of the types of nursing degrees that might be found at the graduate level.
Average Length to Completion
|Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Master of Science in Nursing||B.S.N. - M.S.N.||2 years|
|Master of Science in Nursing||M.S.N.||2 years|
|Doctor of Nursing Practice||D.N.P.||2 to 3 years|
|Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing||Ph.D.||3 years minium|
Masters in Nursing (MSN) Programs
The AACN calls the masters degree in nursing “the educational core that allows advanced practice nurses to work as nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified clinical nurse specialists, and certified nurse anesthetists.” Most Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs include both coursework and clinical experience. While program lengths and time to completion varies, a full-time student might be able to complete their program in about two years. From there, graduates might be prepared to sit for national certification exam(s) in their chosen area of nursing. If this is your goal, you can check with a state’s board of nursing for more information.
MSN Degree Program Curriculum
Most MSN programs start out with a series of core courses. Concepts from nursing and information science could help nurses think critically, make ethical judgements and grasp the complexities of health care policy. Courses in research methods usually cover data analysis and statistics to help nurses promote public health to communities and populations. Other courses could help students build practical skills such as communication. They might also help nurses learn to collaborate or resolve conflicts whether with colleagues or patients. Finally, students might take several support courses that could cover advanced health assessment, pathophysiology and pharmacology .
MSN Nursing Specialties
Nursing masters programs provide key nursing education for advanced practice nurses (APRN) to be eligible to pursue licensure as nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified clinical nurse specialists, and certified nurse anesthetists. Beyond these roles, there are MSN programs that with emphasis in nurse educator, nurse informatics, nurse executive and more. While some nursing graduate schools may offer the general Master of Science in Nursing, most expect students to focus their studies on one of these areas, and coursework will reflect this.
Did You Know?
APRNs must first have a registered nursing (RN) license before they pursue the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree ii
Why Consider Graduate Nursing Programs?
Most graduate nursing programs aim to augment a nurse’s knowledge, boost professional development and refine clinical skills. Nursing graduate programs are often characterized by clinical and classroom education. One of the goals is to help nurses learn to conduct research and grasp trends in healthcare, such as health policy and the role of technology. Then, to apply concepts from nursing science into the acute care provided to individuals and communities. Another aim is to help nurses positively impact patient outcomes through clinical expertise and compassionate nursing care.
Support Advanced Practice Nursing
The appeal of graduate nursing programs might extend to nurses who want to pursue advanced practice roles and to non-nurses who hold degrees in other disciplines. While the entry-level education for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) is the masters degree, this might be in the process of shifting. In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) called for a change. They proposed that the current level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice move from the master’s degree to the doctorate-level by the year 2015. The AACN's position statement calls for APRN’s (Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Certified Nurse-Midwives, and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists) and other nurses seeking leadership/organizational roles to be educated in DNP programs.
MS in Nursing Programs: Professional Insight
Obtaining my MSN enhanced my career beyond anything I could have imagined. The knowledge and skills I gained in my clinical experiences and courses gave me everything I needed to provide primary care to patients in my community in a way that I couldn't as an RN. Beyond this, it positioned me to become a leader in healthcare and make an enduring impact through legislative change and advocacy.
Finding a Nursing Graduate School for Graduate Nursing Programs
The plethora of graduate nursing programs may seem daunting, however, you can refine your search to narrow down your choices is you search by location, or you could even pursue direct entry msn programs. Use the city, state or country tabs to determine whether the program you are looking for is offered nearby or whether relocation will be necessary.
Online Nursing Programs That Could Be Completed in 15 Months or Less
|University||# of Credits Required||Start Dates||Minimum Months to Complete||Clinical Hours|
|Duquesne University||45||3 Starts Through the Year||N/A||N/A|
|Sacred Heart University||54||6 Starts Through the Year||N/A||348|
Career Outlook for Nursing
The BLS projects a 31 percent employment growth for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners to the year 2026. This high demand is due to multiple factors that include an aging baby-boom population and emphasis on preventive care. In terms of salaries for APRN roles, the median annual wage for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners was $110,930 in 2017.
Admission to MSN Programs
Admission to Masters in Nursing programs vary a great deal. Traditional MSN programs are those that build upon the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Some of the best nursing schools with these MSN programs typically require candidates to have earned their BSN in a college accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. Applicants might also need to have a valid state RN license, GRE scores, letters of reference, essay and nursing experience.
Ways to get an MSN Degree
The scope of MSN programs is broad. Other MSN programs are often known as bridge programs and may also be offered in an accelerated format. These programs could have their own requirements. Aside from the degree pathway, some programs may allow students to select an emphasis. It should also be noted that students usually must successfully complete one segment before they move onto the next.
- Entry-level MSN programs: Designed for non-nurses. These students hold a bachelors degree in an area of study outside of nursing and seek to pursue a career as an RN
- RN to MSN Programs: Designed for RNs with their BSN degree
- BSN to MSN Programs: Basic programs for all RNs nurses that want to complete their MSN in an accelerated way
- ADN to MSN programs: Students first study to earn their BSN and then continue to the MSN degree
- Direct entry MSN programs: Designed to quickly and effectively help students enter the nursing profession without earning a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN).
Graduate Nursing certificates are courses of study that could add onto existing nursing skills. Often just a few courses and credits (e.g. 12 credits), nurses could study to gain clinical competency and apply evidence-based practices.
Admission criteria is largely dependent on the program. Sometimes, applicants are evaluated to see if there are any gaps they need to fill through prerequisite courses. Students could also need valid state RN licensure, minimum GPA and experience in the area pursued . Of course, each school has its own requirements, so keep an eye out for one that addresses your goals and current education level.
- Post-masters nursing certificates are often stand-alone credentials. These could be designed for registered nurses and advanced practice nurses who want to refine, or even switch nursing specialties after they have earned their MSN degree. For instance, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner might want to diagnose and treat pediatric acute and chronic care conditions
- Post-bachelors nursing certificates are typically taken alongside a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, since students could enter a DNP program with a BSN degree. This type of certificate could help nurses to add onto the type of acute care they provide. For example, a nurse in a DNP Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner might pursue an HIV primary care certificate to explore diagnosis and care needs for this population
What are the Costs Per Credit for a Masters Degree in Nursing?
|University||Degree Name||# of Credits Required||Cost Per Credit||Tuition Cost|
|Grantham University||Master of Science in Nursing - Administration||36||$325||$11,700|
|Benedictine University||Master of Science in Nursing - Education||39||$650||$25,350|
Doctorate Nursing Programs
Doctorate of nursing practice programs in fall into two principal types: research-focused and practice- focused. These two types of doctoral programs differ in their goals and the skillsets of their graduates. They also represent alternate approaches to the highest level of educational preparation in nursing. Furthermore, there are various areas that could be used as anchor points for either research or clinical practice. Sometimes, a nursing grad school offers MSN tracks (e.g. nurse-midwife, family nurse practitioner and women’s health care nurse practitioner) with a companion Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs
The Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP, is a practice doctorate and terminal degree in nursing. The objective of a DNP program, per the AACN, is to “prepare nurse leaders at the highest level of nursing practice to improve patient outcomes, and translate research into practice.” DNP programs are generally designed to prepare graduates with competencies in eight areas that are outlined by the AACN. These range from public health care policy advocacy to inter-professional collaboration and systems thinking. DNP nurses are also expected to have advanced skills in health assessment, pathophysiology and pharmacology. Aside from courses, students might need to complete a DNP project at the end of the program. This is intended to help nurses synthesize the coursework and demonstrate their increased knowledge in their practice areas. The type of project varies. For instance, it might include a practice portfolio with a focus on evidence-based practice, a pilot study, a program evaluation or other practica.
Pathways to the DNP
There are two entry points to DNP degree programs, and each nursing graduate school sets its own admissions requirements for these paths.
- BSN to DNP: For students who have completed their BSN, the BSN to DNP track could lead to a Doctor of Nurse Practice (DNP). Students earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) along the way
- MSN to DNP:The MSN to DNP is designed for students who have completed a Master of Science in Nursing. Most post-masters DNP programs are designed for certified APRNs who aim to improve skills in leadership, clinical scholarship, evidence-based practice and clinical evaluation
Other admission requirements could include an RN license in the state of residence, letters of reference, CV, background check, essay and possible interview. Since these are variable details, refer to individual schools for more information.
PhD in Nursing
The PhD in Nursing is a research doctorate and terminal scholarly degree in nursing. Essentially, PhD programs are designed to prepare nurse scientists and scholars. With an emphasis that relies heavily on scientific content and research methodology, students are typically required to produce an original research project. Also, they usually must complete and defend a dissertation or linked research papers.
Admission to some PhD Nursing programs could entail a Master’s degree in nursing from an accredited university, a grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale, and a current, unrestricted RN license to practice in the United States.
Accreditation for Graduate Nursing Programs
Whatever format you select, nursing graduate programs are often available at regionally or nationally accredited universities. Beyond that, there are two major organizations that offer accreditation–the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which is affiliated with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).
What does it mean to be an accredited nursing program? A nursing graduate program or school of nursing that is accredited has proved that their curriculum meets certain standards set by the accrediting body. These agencies also make sure there are support systems in place that could help students achieve their goals. Things such as financial aid, library services, transfer credit and so on.
Top 130 Graduate Nursing Programs
- Other programs available: Nursing Education, Nursing Informatics, Nursing Leadership
- Online degrees in business, counseling, education, health administration, human services, information technology, nursing, public health, psychology and social work.
- 97% of alumni agree FlexPath provided the flexibility they needed to pursue their degree (Alumni Outcomes Survey 2017)
Northcentral UniversityDoctor of Education - Nursing Education
Sacred Heart UniversityRN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Master of Science in Nursing Doctor of Nursing Practice RN-BSN-MSN - Nurse Education Master of Science in Nursing - Nursing Education Master of Science in Nursing - Nursing Management and Executive Leadership RN-BSN-MSN - Clinical Nurse Leader RN-BSN-MSN - Nursing Management and Executive Leadership Master of Science in Nursing - Clinical Nurse Leader Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner
Benedictine UniversityMaster of Science in Nursing - Nurse Executive Leader Master of Science in Nursing - Nurse Educator Master of Science in Nursing Dual MBA-MSN
Nova Southeastern UniversityDNP MSN - Nursing Informatics MSN - Executive Nurse Leadership MSN - Nursing Education RN-MSN - Nursing Informatics RN-MSN - Nursing Education RN-MSN - Executive Nurse Leadership
Loyola University ChicagoBSN-DNP Doctor of Nursing Practice
Grand Canyon UniversityM.S. in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems M.S. in Nursing: Nursing Education (Bridge) M.S. in Nursing with an Emphasis in Leadership in Health Care Systems (Bridge) M.S. in Nursing with an Emphasis in Public Health Nursing M.S. in Nursing: Public Health (Bridge) M.S. in Nursing: Nursing Education M.B.A. and M.S. in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (dual degree) Doctor of Nursing Practice with an Emphasis in Educational Leadership Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
Rivier UniversityMaster of Science in Nursing: Leadership in Health Systems Management RN to MSN: Family Nurse Practitioner RN to MSN: Nursing Education Doctor of Nursing Practice Master of Science in Nursing: Family Nurse Practitioner RN to MSN: Leadership in Health Systems Management Master of Science in Nursing: Nursing Education
Northern Illinois UniversityMaster of Science in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner Master of Science in Nursing - Nurse Education Online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice Online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice
Baylor College of MedicineNurse Anesthesia Nurse-Midwifery
Walden UniversityMS in Nursing (from BSN) - Psychiatric & Mental Health NP MS in Nursing (from RN) - Psychiatric & Mental Health NP MS in Nursing - Bridge for Registered Nurses - Education MS in Nursing (from BSN) - Family Nurse Practitioner MS in Nursing (MSN from RN) - Public Health Nursing MS in Nursing (MSN from BSN) - Public Health Nursing MSN-BSN, Public Health Nursing MS in Nursing (from BSN) - Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner MS in Nursing (from BSN) - Nursing Informatics MS in Nursing - Bridge for Registered Nurses - Adult & Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
Purdue University GlobalExecutive Leader Graduate Certificate Accelerated BSN to MSN MSN - Nurse Informatics M.S. - DNP Adult Nurse Practitioner M.S. - DNP Path (Doctor of Nursing Practice) M.S. in Nursing MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner Primary Care Population Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) M.S. - DNP Family Nurse Practitioner Family Nurse Practitioner Primary Care Certificate
South UniversityRN to Master of Science in Nursing FNP MS in Nursing FNP PGC in Family Nurse Practitioner
Colorado Technical UniversityMaster of Science in Nursing - Nursing Education Doctor of Nursing Practice Master of Science in Nursing - Nursing Administration Master of Science in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner
Grantham UniversityMaster of Science in Nursing - Nursing Education Master of Science in Nursing - Nursing Management and Organizational Leadership Master of Science in Nursing - Case Management Master of Science in Nursing - Nursing Informatics RN to MSN Bridge Program Option
Capella UniversityMSN - Nursing Leadership and Administration (CCNE-accredited) MSN - RN-to-MSN Nursing Leadership and Administration (CCNE-accredited) MSN - RN-to-MSN Nursing Informatics (CCNE-accredited) DNP - Doctor of Nursing Practice (CCNE-accredited) MSN - RN-to-MSN Nursing Education (CCNE-accredited) MSN - RN-to-MSN Care Coordination (CCNE-accredited) MSN - Nursing Education (CCNE-accredited) MSN - Care Coordination (CCNE-accredited) MSN - Nursing Informatics (CCNE-accredited) PhD - Nursing Education