Master’s in Nursing: Four Questions to Ask Yourself

Master's of Nursing

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

June 23, 2022

Master’s in Nursing (MSN) programs prepare Registered Nurses (RNs) to better serve their patients by training in advanced skillsets as well as offer opportunities for more responsibility and higher earnings. Graduate-level nursing courses cover topics such as ethics, public health, leadership, healthcare practice, and clinical skills. Here are four questions to ask yourself as you consider MSN programs.

Roles that require a MSN:

Nurse Practitioners (NPs): NPs meet with patients independently, diagnose and treat conditions and prescribe medication. Depending on the state you live in, NPs may work independently or in collaboration with a physician.

Nurse Anesthetist: Certified registered Nurse Anesthetists are qualified to educate patients about anesthesia, administer anesthesia for invasive procedures, monitor patients and their vital signs.

Nurse Midwife: Certified Nurse Midwives care for patients throughout pregnancy. They perform gynecological exams, deliver infants, and educate new parents.

Nurse Educator: Nurse Educators demonstrate and teach patient care to nursing students in both classrooms and clinical units. They may also do a combination of teaching and research.

Healthcare Administrator: Healthcare Administrators and managers plan, direct, and coordinate the business activities of healthcare providers, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and group medical practices.

What is my specialty?

Besides more advancement opportunities and earning potential, the major benefit of a MSN degree is that it allows you to specialize in the role and/or patient population that most interests you. For instance, you can choose to specialize in a clinical specialty track as a Nurse Practitioner (NP), or choose a role as a Nurse Educator or Healthcare Administrator. Because each specialty is different, not all MSN degrees are the same. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, over 500 colleges across the US offer more than 2,000 options to pursue an advanced degree in nursing. Knowing your specialty is an essential first step in deciding what program is right for you.

Does my track record support my specialty?

Like all graduate programs, MSN programs are competitive. It is wise to accumulate experiences that match the area of interest you hope to pursue. If your interests lean more towards a clinical specialty as an NP, it is important that your nursing experience, and your references, give evidence that you can succeed in that specialty. For example, an applicant to a nurse anesthetist program will be more competitive if they have experience working in an operating room or ICU.

Different specialties will look for different qualities in their applicants. Let’s say you have discovered that you want to remain in healthcare but would prefer to move into education or administration. If you apply for a MSN/MBA dual degree in healthcare administration, your resume, essays, and recommendation letters should show clear evidence of administrative experiences. On the other hand, an individual wanting to become a Nurse Educator should demonstrate their ability to design and teach courses to practicing nurses or nursing students in clinical rotations. As such, your experiences, references, and essays will need to show that you can successfully manage the transition from clinical work to a classroom setting.

Part-time or full-time?

In addition to assessing your specialty and career objectives, consider the time commitment that you will need to make towards completing your MSN. The majority of candidates for the MSN pursue their degree part time while working full time, with options to study online or in a hybrid mix of online and on-campus instruction. Depending on the specialty, it can take between two and four years to complete the degree part-time. A full-time program, on the other hand, can take 15 months to two years to complete.

To decide what might be best for you, ask yourself: Will my personal and work schedules be flexible enough to balance classes with a demanding job? Will my employer reimburse me for all or some of the costs? Am I so committed to transitioning to a new work situation that I am ready and able to go to school full-time? And most immediately, do I have the time and other resources to successfully navigate both the admissions process and the transition back to learning?

Do I have the prerequisites covered?

In addition to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), MSN programs also have common prerequisites like statistics, physiology, microbiology and psychology. Some programs may also require standardized test scores, notably the GRE. It is important to assess your readiness to apply by reviewing prereqs and taking practice GRE tests (if required) to see where you land. You will then need to give yourself enough time to take any prereqs as well as study and achieve your best test scores.

In conclusion, the MSN is one of the more demanding master’s programs, even for nurses with significant work experience. It can be an intellectually and financially rewarding journey, for a nurse who can balance career, personal commitments and costs to reap the full rewards.

Roles that require a MSN:

Nurse Practitioners (NPs): NPs meet with patients independently, diagnose and treat conditions and prescribe medication. Depending on the state you live in, NPs may work independently or in collaboration with a physician.

Nurse Anesthetist: Certified registered Nurse Anesthetists are qualified to educate patients about anesthesia, administer anesthesia for invasive procedures, monitor patients and their vital signs.

Nurse Midwife: Certified Nurse Midwives care for patients throughout pregnancy. They perform gynecological exams, deliver infants, and educate new parents.

Nurse Educator: Nurse Educators demonstrate and teach patient care to nursing students in both classrooms and clinical units. They may also do a combination of teaching and research.

Healthcare Administrator: Healthcare Administrators and managers plan, direct, and coordinate the business activities of healthcare providers, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and group medical practices.

 

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