Degrees Defined: What Does MSN Mean?

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Registered nurses check patients’ charting records.

The United States is “graying” — a term used by the U.S. Census Bureau to describe the large population over age 65, which is expected to reach 78 million by 2035, outnumbering children. As the population ages and grows, chronic disease becomes more prevalent and digital technology advancements emerge, thereby increasing the demand for health care, according to a 2019 Deloitte report. Advanced practice — whether it pertains to chronic disease, elder care, or technology implementation — is fast becoming a prominent and necessary feature of U.S. health care.

Professionals capable of providing advanced practice care are needed to fill crucial gaps in health care organizations dealing with the increasing number of patients. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) prepares nursing professionals to provide the best possible advanced care. What does MSN mean? There are many different aspects of the degree to consider, such as industry importance, benefits, career opportunities, and how it may affect a nursing professional’s career path.

The Importance of MSN Degrees

The nursing profession is facing shortages across the U.S., according to a study published in StatPearls. These shortages are likely to worsen as the gap between expected job openings in the nursing profession and actual graduates capable of filling those roles widens. This growing need makes highly qualified nurses with advanced nursing degrees such as an MSN particularly valuable. MSN programs allow nursing professionals to gain specialized knowledge and advanced skills they can then apply to specific patient populations. For example, Regis College’s online MSN program prepares students for the advanced practice nursing focus of their choice: family care, women’s health, adult-geriatric care, pediatrics, or psychiatric mental health.

Benefits of Earning an MSN

An important aspect of what an MSN means to nursing professionals is how earning such a degree will affect their career potential. The MSN expands the types of nursing careers they can pursue, potentially boosting their employability and earning power.

Increased Employability

One benefit of earning an MSN to become an advanced practice nurse (APN) is increased employability. While both registered nurses (RNs) and APNs are needed in health care, the outlook for nursing careers that require a master’s degree (APNs) is higher compared with those requiring just a bachelor’s degree (RNs).

For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects RN positions to increase by 15% from 2016 to 2026 but predicts several APN positions to increase much faster during that same period: 16% growth for nurse anesthetists, 21% growth for nurse midwives, and 36% growth for nurse practitioners. These numbers indicate that nursing professionals who enter the APN field with a master’s degree before 2026 may benefit from increased employment opportunities.

Potential Salary Increase

Both RNs and APNs hold an RN license and provide nursing care. However, because they have completed a postgraduate education, APNs are capable of taking on more complex work, which is often reflected in an increased salary.

For example, RNs earned a median annual wage of $71,730 in 2018, according to the BLS. In comparison, nurses with master’s degrees, such as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, made a median annual wage of $113,930 that same year. To put those figures into perspective, the difference in annual pay between RNs and APNs is $42,200 — a pay increase of almost 60% for nursing positions requiring master’s degrees, according to BLS figures.

Career Opportunities

Many professionals want to know what an MSN means for their career opportunities. An MSN can allow graduates to be considered for numerous APN roles, such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, and nurse educator.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are APNs dedicated to lifetime care, with patients ranging from babies to seniors. According to, two-thirds of NPs provide primary care. Within the family care realm, NPs often choose to specialize in families (66.9%), adults (12%), adult-gerontology (6%), acute care (4.8%), pediatrics (4%), adult-gerontology acute care (3.1%), women’s health (2.7%), or psychiatric/mental health (2%), according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). NPs can diagnose, treat, and offer health advice to their patients.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical nurse specialists are APNs who usually have a postgraduate degree in a specific area of nursing practice, according to They focus on diagnosing, treating, and preventing illness within their areas of expertise. Clinical nurse specialists work with injuries or disabilities in an area specific to a population (e.g., pediatrics or women’s health), disease (e.g., diabetes or oncology), setting (e.g., critical care or emergency room), or care type (e.g., rehabilitation or mental health). The clinical nurse specialist career has an excellent job outlook, according to

Nurse Educator

Nurse educator is another APN position with an excellent job outlook, according to Most nurse educators have vast professional experience in addition to their advanced education and often continue to practice nursing while training others in the field. Nurse educators may teach general courses or focus on a specialization, such as pediatric, informatics, or geriatric nursing. A major part of this role is understanding cutting-edge health care technologies and current best practices in nursing specializations.

An MSN Boosts Potential

An MSN allows nursing professionals to sharpen their skills to serve specific patient populations and become advanced practice nurses. For example, students in Regis College’s online Master of Science in Nursing program can specialize in one of five NP areas: family care, pediatrics, psychiatric mental health, women’s health, or adult-geriatric care. For more information about how an MSN degree can help you advance your nursing career, contact Regis College today.

Recommended Readings
Future of Nursing: Trends in a Demanding Industry
A Day in the Life of a Nurse Practitioner
Climbing to the Top: A Look at Nurse Levels

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NP Fact Sheet
Deloitte, “2019 US and Global Health Care Industry Outlook”, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Nurse Educator, Nurse Practitioner
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing Adult-Geriatric Nurse Practitioner
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner Program
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
StatPearls, “Nursing Shortage”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Nurse Anesthetics, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Registered Nurses