Career Outlook for Nursing
The BLS projects a 31 percent employment growth for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners to the year 2024. 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 $107,460 in May 2016.iii
Campus or Online Nursing Graduate Programs?
Today’s nurse could choose to pursue their graduate nursing degree on-campus or online. Typically, online nursing graduate programs are designed to address some of the needs of busy, at-work nurses. Distance students might access courses on their own schedule while they maintain their other responsibilities. To balance out the independent study, some nursing schools offer optional residency programs where students might collaborate with classroom peers and faculty. Other times, students could be required to head to campus for role play exercises or to be supervised while they practice clinical skills. On the other hand, on-campus nursing programs, students might find it easier to work with a nurse mentor or feel part of a nursing community. There’s also the demonstration component. For some, there is nothing like sitting at a round-table, or watching your teacher show you right then and there, how to use equipment or provide patient-centered care. As with any decision, you should reflect on how you learn best, what features you need to stay on track, and what you could afford. You might be surprised at what is available in any format you choose.
Types of Nursing Graduate Degrees: MSN PhD DNP Nursing Certificates
When it comes to graduate nursing programs, there are many options that consider diverse 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.
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 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
Masters in Nursing programs provide key 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.
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). Nursing grad 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
Pathways to the 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: are 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: are designed for RNs with their BSN degree
- BSN to MSN Programs: are 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
Graduate Nursing Certificates
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 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
Doctorate Nursing Programs
Doctoral programs in nursing 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 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.
Sources: (i) aacnnursing.org/News-Information/Fact-Sheets/DNP-Fact-Sheet | (ii) aacnnursing.org/Nursing-Education-Programs/Masters-Education | (iii) bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm | (iv) aacnnursing.org/Nursing-Education-Programs/DNP-Education