Master's Entry Level Nursing Programs: Requirements & Courses

Sep 17, 2018

Direct-entry MSN programs provide training in the nursing profession to students who hold a bachelor's degree in another field. Students can pursue a number of career opportunities after graduation.

Professionals looking to change careers may want to consider a position in nursing. Nursing is a quickly-growing profession with employment options available in a wide range of practice areas. For adults who are considering changing careers, earning a direct-entry Master of Science in Nursing, or MSN, is one potential avenue into this career.

Master's Entry-Level Nursing Program Information

Direct-entry MSN programs are designed for individuals with a bachelor's degree in an area other than nursing. Requirements for program entry typically include the submission of undergraduate transcripts, essays, recommendations, and GRE (Graduate Records Examination) scores. Science-related prerequisites, including human anatomy, chemistry, and statistics, must be taken in advance of enrollment.

These specially designed MSN programs can be completed in approximately two years. Some programs are offered in a hybrid format where some courses are taken online, with clinical education occurring during residencies on campus. Candidates are expected to hone clinical skills through simulation labs where they can apply their skills in a life-like setting and in clinical rotations under the supervision of a preceptor.

Upon completing a direct-entry MSN program, graduates are prepared to sit for the NCLEX exam, which is the national qualifying exam for nurses. Continuing education programs to earn certification as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or other specialist are also an option.

Some courses that candidates might expect to take during a direct-entry MSN program include:

Health Assessment

In a health assessment course, nurses are prepared to take health histories and complete physical examinations. Changes across the lifespan may be considered. Instruction can consist of a didactic component followed by hands-on experience conducting assessments in a lab course.

Mental Health Theory

In this course, nurses consider the manifestations of mental health concerns and how such diagnoses may be managed. They might also consider mental health rehabilitation services as they relate to the care of individuals and communities. This course of study can be accompanied by a practicum.

Clinical Leadership

Clinical leadership courses prepare MSN students for leadership roles in nursing care. Candidates might consider how to apply quality assurance and improvement initiatives to a clinical practice setting. Instruction often involves the use of case studies.

Community and Population Health Nursing

In this course, nurses consider how to reduce risk factors and promote health for both individuals and communities. They learn to collect and assess the quality of health data and incorporate it into their practice. They might also consider public health regulations and laws.


Pharmacology courses prepare nurses to ensure patient safety as it relates to prescribed medication. Information regarding administration of medications and drug interactions is an important part of this study. Students also examine how drugs interact with different body systems.

Career Options for Direct-Entry MSN graduates

MSN graduates can find a range of opportunities both in clinical practice and in non-clinical nursing roles upon graduation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, opportunities for registered nurses at any degree level are expected to grow 15% from 2016-2026.

Emergency Room Nurse

Upon graduation, many new nurses wish to engage in direct clinical practice. One opportunity to do so is through a position as an emergency room nurse. ER nurses experience tremendous variety in their day-to-day practice. They may triage patients to ensure appropriate care, conduct examinations of patients upon entry to the emergency department, administer medications, and maintain emergency room equipment. According to (September 2018), emergency room nurses with an MSN have an average salary of $69,650.

Public Health Nurse

Another area of practice available to MSN graduates is that of a public health nurse. These nurses focus on educating underserved communities on how to prevent illness and promote wellness. Public health nurses may provide educational programming and community outreach. Public health nurses holding an MSN can expect an average salary of $82,434 according to (September 2018).

Nursing Instructor

A role that may be of interest to MSN graduates is a nursing instructor. Nursing instructors supervise students studying to be nurses in clinical or instructional settings and evaluate their performance. As per (September 2018), a nursing instructor with an MSN earns an average salary of $61,085.

Legal Nurse Consultant

Legal nurse consultants are primarily employed by insurance companies and attorneys. They may provide consultation regarding claims for disability, analyze the merits of legal cases, prepare medically-related trial exhibits, and consult with expert witnesses. Nurses with an MSN who work as legal nurse consultants earn an average salary of $77,230 according to (September 2018).

Clinical Nurse Leader

Graduates of MSN programs may consider leadership roles within the nursing field. One option is as a clinical nurse leader. These professionals are responsible for the leadership of clinical nurses within a hospital or other health care organization. They may evaluate patient outcomes and efficiency of clinical services provided. According to (September 2018), clinical nurse leaders with an MSN have an average salary of $81,229.

Bachelor's degree holders who seek to enter the nursing profession can do so through a direct entry MSN program. These programs include the nursing theory coursework and clinical experience required to earn licensure and enter the profession in a variety of clinical and educational roles.

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