In 2023, the opportunities for masters-prepared nurses have skyrocketed due to the aging U.S. population and staffing shortages. A higher education level of a nurse improves patient outcomes while reducing health care costs. Nurses with Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees can work as consultants, educators, administrators, advanced practice nurses (with some additional training), clinical nurse leaders and more. If you have a bachelor’s degree and are looking for a meaningful career, a master's in nursing program could open up doors for you.
Advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners (NPs), are in high demand. A nurse with an MSN degree can do some additional training specifically tailored to the NP role and become an independent practitioner. Nurse practitioners are the highest occupation growth category in the United States, with a projected growth rate of 46% between 2021 and 2031. Advanced practice nurses can diagnose and treat patients when they are sick as well as maintain health. RNs and aspiring nurses returning to school to get an MSN degree will find they have many opportunities to specialize in settings both outside and inside the hospital.
Nursing education programs are becoming increasingly more flexible to bring more MSN-prepared nurses into the workforce. You no longer have to commute to campus for lectures; with online technologies, you can attend class virtually from home. Clinical experiences in hospitals and clinics can be conveniently secured in your local area. Lab and simulation classrooms allow for hands-on skills practice, developing your clinical skills and confidence ahead of clinical placements.
Masters Entry to Nursing Practice programs (MENPs) and hybrid or online formats create further education opportunities for adult learners who are unable to relocate. If you are considering changing professions and already have a bachelor's degree, taking the direct path to the MSN can save time and money.
What Are the Benefits of a Master's Degree in Nursing?
The benefits of a master's degree in nursing include flexibility, autonomy, higher salary and leadership opportunities. Gallup has rated nursing as the most ethical and trusted profession in the United States for the past 21 years. This recognition highlights nurses' impact and ability to bring purpose to their communities and patients' lives. Many jobs do not provide the level of satisfaction and respect which nursing offers—nurses touch every aspect of a person's life, from birth to death. Shannon Wilder made a career change from corporate America to a clinical nurse leader and has no regrets.
“Becoming a nurse made my life more meaningful by knowing I am actually making a difference in the lives of others. Human connection is now my purpose.”
Four benefits of becoming a master’s educated nurse include:
An MSN opens the doors for a career that allows for more flexible hours as an educator or consultant. Hours can be more traditional during the day with holidays and weekends off. These flexible hours can assist with child care or continuing your education. Working as a clinical instructor for pre-licensure nursing programs for a university is a great opportunity to work during the daytime hours. The school schedule often allows for weekends and summers off. A clinical instructor requires a minimum of a master’s degree for education preparation.
An MSN can open up career advancement opportunities, allowing you to perform more autonomously. Nurse consultants can become private business owners and become their own bosses. Nurse entrepreneurs can create and patent products to help maintain health. Control over your work schedule allows you to work when you are most productive.
3. Leadership Opportunities
Popular roles that require a master’s in nursing include chief nursing officers, unit directors and clinical managers. Administrative directors have the knowledge and training to lead teams and improve experiences for patients on a shift-to-shift basis. Successful nurse leaders are innovators. MSN-prepared nurses are able to influence and strategically advise others to reach a common goal. They collaborate with many other professionals to lead teams to improve patient outcomes and positively impact policy.
4. Purpose in Life
A survey of 4,600 workers in July and August 2021 reported 49% cited “wanting a more meaningful and fulfilling career.” Nursing touches every aspect of life from birth all the way to death. Nurses have the privilege of helping people on the worst and best days of their lives. Not many careers provide you with such a strong sense of purpose.
Career Paths For MSN-Trained Nurses
MSN-trained nurses can lead the nursing profession as nurse administrators, clinical nurse leaders, informatics experts, educators and consultants. With some additional schooling, an MSN-educated nurse can obtain post-graduate certification to practice as an advanced practice nurse.
MSN-prepared advanced practice nurses fall into the following three categories:
1. Nurse practitioners (NPs): Education for a nurse practitioner traditionally involves a master's degree several years after graduating from a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. NPs assess, diagnose and develop management plans including prescribing medications.
2. Certified nurse midwives (CNMs): Independent practitioners who deliver babies, manage prenatal care and maintain women's health throughout life. CNMs are holistic practitioners who view patients as unique individuals with individualized needs.
3. Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs): Experts in specific patient populations who develop protocols, order sets and quality improvement initiatives. In some states, they can diagnose medical conditions and prescribe medications.
|Job Title||Median Annual Salary (IL)||Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)|
|Certified Nurse Midwife||$112,110||21%|
|Clinical Nurse Specialist||$100,610||9%|
*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
MSN careers that are not advanced practice roles include:
1. Nurse entrepreneur: MSN-prepared entrepreneurs combine their medical knowledge with business acumen. They can design products, obtain patents and market their business. The public trusts nurses, creating an instant competitive advantage in business.
2. Informatics nursing: Are you good with technology? Informatics integrates technology, mainly electronic medical records, into institutions. They design the programs while incorporating the needs of the patients and staff. The usability of the technology is vital to success. Informatics nurses know how to balance patient needs with technology.
3. Clinical nurse leader (CNL): A CNL is a newer role for MSN-prepared nurses. The clinical nurse leader provides nursing leadership at the bedside. They are responsible for ensuring quality care and leading care initiatives. The skill set necessary to be a CNL includes problem-solving and collaboration.
4. Nurse educator: MSN-prepared nurse educators train nurses at the bedside of a hospital or in pre-licensure nursing programs. They are experts in curriculum-learning theories and can determine competence in life-saving skills. Although academia prefers professors to have doctorate degrees, MSN educators work in clinical settings and labs with pre-licensure (associate or bachelor's degree) nursing students.
5. Legal nurse consultants: Legal nurse consultants work with lawyers to review patient records to determine if the health care provided was within the accepted standard of practice. Legal nurse consultants work with lawyers to evaluate medical charts. They work for both the patients and the health care facilities.
6. Public health MSN: Public health nurses work on community issues such as low socioeconomic status causing food insecurities, disease prevention such as diabetes and preventing infectious diseases from spreading. These nurses may work with local public health departments, non-governmental organizations or even with insurance companies focusing on population health.
|Job Title||Median Annual Salary (IL)||Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)|
|Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)||$85,972||9%|
|Legal Nurse Consultant||$85,858||N/A|
|Public Health MSN||$85,163||11%|
**job outlook and salary for a nurse entrepreneur will vary on the individual's success
Types of MSN Programs
Online Master's Entry to Nursing Practice (MENP): This degree is specifically designed for applicants with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field and no nursing experience. You graduate from this program with a Master of Science in Nursing degree. Suppose you would like to continue your education to become a nurse practitioner. In that case, you have an advantage because you already have a master's degree. All you need to become certified is a post-graduate certificate as a nurse practitioner. This pathway can save career changers time and money compared to obtaining a BSN and then obtaining an MSN.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): The most traditional way to go for your master's is after completing a bachelor's degree in nursing. This route takes the most time, with progression taking up to six years.
RN to MSN: Designed for practicing registered nurses with an associate's degree in nursing (ADN). Instead of earning a bachelor’s degree before going on to an MSN, students can bridge directly to the MSN. Specialty tracks to choose from include nurse educator, nurse practitioner, nurse administrator and clinical nurse leader.
|Program||Eligibility||Duration||Prerequisite Courses Required||Clinical Hours Required||Focus|
|MENP||Bachelor's degree in any field||2-3 years full-time||Yes||500-1000+||Entry-level nursing education, clinical experience|
|BSN to MSN||Bachelor's degree in nursing||2-3 years full-time||No||500-1000+||Advanced nursing education, clinical experience|
|RN to MSN||Registered Nurse (RN)||3-4 years part-time||Yes (for non-BSN programs)||500-1000+||Advanced nursing education, clinical experience|
In conclusion, getting a master's in nursing is a solid investment in your future. Masters-prepared nurses earn more money, have more job opportunities and may have more flexibility than BSN-prepared nurses. A career in nursing is a vocation in caring for the most vulnerable of our society. Working with the knowledge that you are helping others provides internal job satisfaction while earning a significant income.
Elmhurst University’s online MENP provides a fast-paced pathway to earn your MSN degree in just 20 months. This online prelicensure MSN for non-nurses provides an immersive educational experience that allows you to complete your coursework online, while also emphasizing hands-on clinical practice with one campus residency and clinical placements in your home community.
Upon graduation, you will be prepared to sit for the registered nurse licensure exam (the NCLEX-RN) and clinical nurse leader (CNL) certification exam. You’ll also have the ability to advance your education after graduation by bridging to a nurse practitioner through post-graduate certification programs or a doctor of nursing practice program.
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