The career options for registered nurses seeking a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) are as diverse as the healthcare industry itself, and there’s no sign that the need for advanced nursing skills will decline anytime soon. Advanced practice nurses are working to increase access to care by working as nurse practitioners and midwives. Others choose to become nurse administrators, developing care models that increase the quality and lower the costs of patient care. Registered nurses may also pursue a master’s degree to become nurse faculty members or to conduct research for public health. Nurses who hold advanced degrees are instrumental in meeting the needs of a rapidly expanding healthcare industry. Moreover, many online RN to MSN programs have been designed for working nurses, allowing RNs to achieve their educational and professional goals within a flexible format.
Why a Master’s Degree?
In 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics projected that the healthcare industry would create 28 percent of all new jobs in the nation, making it the fastest growing sector in the U.S. economy. Today, registered nurses are in high demand, especially in medically underserved areas. However, a more pressing nationwide need for clinical nurse specialists has recently developed. Medical offices and hospitals across the nation are preparing for millions of patients who will receive health coverage under the Affordable Care Act in 2014. To accommodate these new patients, the healthcare industry will rely on nurses with advanced degrees to provide primary and specialized care to patients. Common areas of specialization for advanced care nurses are family care, maternal-child care, and gerontology.
Getting Into a Master’s Degree Program
While some RN to BSN programs will admit students who have not yet passed the RN exam, an RN licensure is absolutely necessary to receive admittance into an RN to MSN program. Read more about common admission requirements below:
- Official transcripts of all schools and colleges attended.
- Minimum undergraduate GPA established by the program.
- A current, unencumbered RN license.
- An associate degree in nursing from an accredited institution.
- Professional and/or academic letters of recommendation.
Inside an RN to MSN Degree Program
An RN to MSN degree program is a type of accelerated degree program that allows students to complete undergraduate and graduate work in a single, comprehensive curriculum. RN to MSN programs are typically divided into undergraduate and graduate courses that are completed in two separate phases. The undergraduate phase consists of 20 to 30 credit hours, and students are awarded a BSN after completing the necessary coursework. Students are also required to take upper-level courses as a “bridge” to their graduate studies. These courses are taken in lieu of electives.
The graduate coursework in an MSN program will vary based on the student’s area of specialization. Common specializations offered on the RN to MSN track include nurse leaders, patient service administrators, or nursing educators. Some of the core courses of an MSN include health care policy and ethics; theory and professional roles for nurses; principles of health care research; and evidence-based practice for quality care. Unlike the BSN, earning a master’s will require an extensive practicum in which students will gain clinical and professional experience in their specialized fields. Those who are earning an RN to MSN online will work with their program to find a suitable practicum partner within commuting distance.
What’s Next for Master’s in Nursing Degree Holders?
Nurses who hold master’s degrees may provide specialized care as nurse practitioners, midwifes, or nurse anesthetists. Nurses may also specialize in cardiac care, gerontology, or respiratory care. Another important role for registered nurses with advanced degrees is that of nurse faculty member. Nurse educators keep other nurses up-to-date on best practices. Additionally, nurse administrators and policy advisors create care systems and policies to improve healthcare practices.
After earning a master’s degree, registered nurses are positioned to enter higher paying career fields. Survey data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that nurse practitioners earned an average income of $91,450 in 2012. The BLS found that midwives earned an average income of $93,402, and nurse anesthetists earned $154,390. Medical and health service managers reportedly earned an average wage of $98,460.