If you want to earn an advanced practice degree—such as a Nurse Practitioner (NP) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), among others—you will need to get a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. But there are many other reasons to have one as well.
Last year, Laura Browne, MSN, RN, CNL, a second-career nurse, graduated from Georgetown University with her MSN-CNL. This means she went through a master’s-entry to nursing program with a specialty in becoming a clinical nurse leader.
Browne works as a preop and recovery nurse in the Austin, Texas, area and provides content for an informational dental care website called Smile Prep.
“In general, MSN programs offer nurses the opportunity to grow their careers in various ways, whether applicants are new to the nursing field or established nurses looking for a change of pace,” says Browne. “A major benefit of master’s-level nursing education in specialties outside of the NP role, beyond coursework at an advanced level and deep exposure to evidence-based practice (EBP) projects, is the flexibility it affords you in your career. As a nurse with a master’s degree, you meet the education requirement to be a clinical preceptor for nursing students at many universities. This is a great opportunity if you are interested in nursing education.”
Sometimes, nurses know exactly what they want to do when entering nursing school. Such is the case with Nick Angelis, CRNA, MSN, owner of Ascend Health Center and author of How to Succeed in Anesthesia School. “I started nursing school with the goal of becoming a nurse anesthetist, which requires at least an MSN,” he says. The MSN degree is “a springboard to better opportunities. In some cases, it allows nurses to continue in the place where they currently work but receive better compensation. This is most worth it if an employer provides tuition reimbursement. Specializing as an NP or CRNA allows for better compensation and better work/life balance. Most outpatient clinics are open 9–5 and closed on weekends and holidays.”
Kate Rowe, MSN, CNM, DNP, a certified nurse midwife, says, “For those nurses who wish to work more in nursing education, nursing/healthcare research, academia or advanced practice, an MSN is for you. MSNs can specialize in several different fields depending on your field of interest. Women’s health, psychiatric care, adult/gerontology, midwifery, public and community health, and emergency medicine are just some potential avenues for providers to take.”
Angelis says that before earning his MSN, he worked the night shift, doubles, and traveled from hospital to hospital. “Now I take the time I need with each patient and make my schedule. I can immediately see the effects of my anesthesia as I take patient’s pain away and safely guide them through complex surgeries. I can also collaborate with therapists, physicians, and everyone else on the care team,” he says.
As for how long earning an MSN will take, that depends on whether you’re working part-time, full-time, or not. Rowe says that they typically take two years to earn, but there are accelerated programs that can take as little as five quarters.
While working full-time, Angelis says he took his core MSN classes. When he began taking anesthesia clinicals, he would take occasional nursing shifts. “Most MSN specialties allow students to work through school. Anesthesia school is unique in the massive amount of time and effort required for several years, including up to 40 hours a week in hospitals providing anesthesia. Accelerated online programs are available for some MSN specialties and can be completed within 18 months,” he explains.
The amount of work to earn an MSN is worth it, says Rowe. She adds, “The greatest rewards of earning an MSN involve the ability to give back to your community and positively impact the lives of your patients through all the hard work in graduate school and then again when you are in practice.”
Read the October issue of Minority Nurse focusing on the MSN and Magnet Hospitals here.
Nurses have an embarrassment of riches to choose from when planning their nursing education journey and professional career in healthcare. From entry-level Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) to a terminal degree like a PhD or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), there are a myriad of pathways in the nursing profession.
For many nurses, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is an achievable goal worth the effort in terms of the return on investment it can offer. But how can you measure the potential value of earning your MSN?
Why the MSN?
With nursing becoming increasingly complex in this new millennium, nurses are expected to have a broader scope of knowledge, more skill and expertise, and the ability to be dynamic leaders within a multidisciplinary industry, whether that leadership comes from an official title or simply through a nurse’s words and deeds.
An MSN is an advanced degree that can open many doors for an ambitious nurse seeking increased knowledge and expertise. Often, but not always, more nursing education brings a relative increase in career opportunities and earning power, and the MSN is no exception.
Having a master’s degree creates a certain level of credibility in the eyes of patients, nursing, and non-nursing colleagues, and the value of professional credibility cannot be overstated.
Damion K. Jenkins, MSN, RN, is a nurse educator, nurse career coach, mentor, and author. He states, “My MSN in nursing education provided me with essential insight, knowledge, and skills that have been imperative throughout my career as a nurse educator.”
In terms of any further return on investment for earning his MSN, Jenkins adds, “My education has offered me many opportunities to position myself into nursing leadership positions where I can make tremendous positive impact in all areas of nursing practice. From bedside nursing to academic nursing to clinical administration, I have fully leveraged everything my MSN education and training offered. I’m not so sure I’d be as successful as I am today without the privilege to receive this extremely valuable education.”
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) also says it well:
“Beyond the professional opportunities nurses gain through graduate education, there are some tangible benefits to one’s quality of life. Nurses with advanced preparation typically enjoy more opportunities to impact the overall design and implementation of care. As education increases, salaries follow suit. Nurses with master’s degrees can command six-figure salaries and often rise to the top of healthcare’s leadership ranks. With new practice opportunities emerging and the demand for highly specialized nursing skills rising, the time is right for you to begin your graduate-level nursing education. The earlier in your career you complete your formal education, the longer your professional life and the higher your lifetime earnings will be.”
The AACN is a cheerleader of the drive toward a growing body of master’s-prepared nursing professionals. They continue:
“The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) encourages all nurses to strive for higher levels of education to advance their capacity to enhance the quality of care available to our nation’s diverse patient populations. Calls for more nurses with graduate-level preparation are coming from inside and outside the profession from authorities as diverse as the Institute of Medicine, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Now is the time to invest in your future and begin your journey into graduate nursing education.”
There is no question of the potential value of the MSN. But what about the value of the MSN for you?
The MSN: What’s in it for You?
What can an MSN mean for you? There’s a lot to chew on since the number of choices is growing. Let’s examine a few.
The rising importance of nurse practitioners (NPs), also known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), cannot be denied. That said, there are multiple roads a nurse can choose as an APRN, including:
Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP)
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP-AC)
Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP-PC)
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
For a non-APRN MSN, there is another dizzying array of choices, including, but not limited to:
MSN, Public Health Nursing
MSN, Nursing Education
MSN, Health Informatics, or Nursing Informatics
MSN, Health Care Quality & Patient Safety
MSN, Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems
MBA & MSN, Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems
MSN, Care Coordination
MSN, Nursing Leadership and Administration
Informatics, leadership, systems, safety, and quality are areas where many nurses are making a difference, and an MSN is a pathway to these types of positions.
Show Me the Money
In terms of earning power and job growth, we can attest from the data that a master’s degree in nursing can increase the amount of money a nurse can make, especially for APRNs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the breakdown shows us the reality:
Registered nurses earn a median annual salary of $77,600, a mean hourly wage of $37.31, and have projected job growth of 6% (as fast as average) through 2031.
For other MSN roles, Indeed reports that a nurse manager earns an average of $78,474 per year, and a research nurse earns an average of $79,610. From these numbers, we can see that the earning power of an APRN far outstrips that of the nurse manager or nurse researcher, who earns the same annual salary as a registered nurse despite a higher level of education and potentially a much higher level of debt in student loans. (We are, of course, assuming that the researcher and manager have an MSN.)
Numbers are approximate for some regions of the country and every facet of healthcare and related industries, and there are always opportunities outside of the norm.
We can say with much clarity that, when considering pursuing an MSN, you’ll want to do your homework in terms of what your earning potential will be, what opportunities exist for that nursing specialty, and how satisfied you might be in the particular role that your chosen MSN program will prepare you for.
Networking, speaking with school representatives, working with a career coach or counselor, and doing your due diligence and research are all prudent uses of your time and energy before you sign on the dotted line and enter an MSN program.