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Master of Science (MS): Nursing Degree Overview

Oct 15, 2019

An MS in Nursing degree program allows registered nurses to increase their skills and specialty knowledge within the field and work in advanced nursing roles. Continue on for details about the program, certification, salaries and continuing education.

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Essential Information

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) usually takes two years to complete and is designed to prepare registered nurses (RNs) for advanced nursing roles in an area of specialization, such as family care, adult care, critical care, nurse-midwifery, women's health or pediatrics. Nurses can also learn how to develop community education programs or train a nursing staff. In addition to coursework, students complete clinical rotations and practica in outpatient clinics, local and state health departments, doctor offices or hospitals.

In order to apply for this program, prospective students must already be licensed RNs with a bachelor's degree, often with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Submission of GRE standardized test scores is a common requirement, and some schools may expect undergraduate coursework in statistics or computer literacy.


Master of Science in Nursing

Once enrolled, core subjects in an MSN program emphasize nursing research and ethics. Students then take courses to develop their patient care skills. Courses may include:

  • Advanced nursing theory
  • Patient diagnosis
  • Illness prevention
  • Pharmacology
  • Perinatal or primary family care
  • Pathophysiology

Popular Career Options

Depending on the program, graduates can take on clinical responsibilities as nurse practitioners or pursue specialty roles as an administrator or teacher. Some possible job titles are listed below:

  • Nurse practitioner
  • Clinical nurse specialist
  • Nurse midwife
  • Public health nurse
  • Health systems manager

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has predicted that advanced practice nurses, such as nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners and nurse midwives, will see job growth of 26% from 2018 to 2028. As of May 2018, the BLS reported the median annual salaries for these nurses as follows:

  • Nurse anesthetist: $167,950
  • Nurse practitioner: $107,030
  • Nurse midwife: $103,770

Continuing Education and Certification Information

Many state nursing or health departments require nurse practitioners to become certified. Earning this credential often involves holding a current nursing license, completing a master's degree program and passing a written exam administered by a state board of nursing or a national certification organization, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Graduates of MSN programs can find continuing education options in the forms of seminars and conferences. A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is also available to students who want improve their clinical skills and develop new nursing procedures. Those who want to learn how to design nursing research projects can pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing.

Registered nurses who choose to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing are commonly interested in more specialized and advanced careers. Students can choose an area of focus, such as nurse anesthetists, family nurse practitioners or nurse-midwifery, and often complete clinical rotations in addition to meeting classroom requirements. Numerous states require nurse practitioners to be certified, so students should be aware of that when seeking a degree and a specific career.

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