The MSN Degree Definition

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nurses stethoscope, pen and clipboard

Hospitals and health care employers are looking for well-educated and qualified nurse professionals to care for patients. The health care industry is quickly changing, and the supply of qualified health care workers is struggling to meet demand: a shortage of 42,600 to 121,300 primary care physicians is predicted by 2030. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree may be a solution to providing quality care for an aging population while attempting to close the primary care workforce gap.

MSN Degree Requirements

Postsecondary education with a valid registered nurse (RN) license is a requirement of all MSN programs. The MSN degree definition is broad, and nurses entering the MSN program will need to select a program track to specialize in. Another requirement of many MSN programs is experience. After working for a few years, most RNs will likely know their preferred field of concentration.

The three points of entry into the MSN program are as follows:

  • RN with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN to MSN)
  • RN with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree (BS to MSN)
  • RN with an associate degree (RN to MSN)

MSN programs focus on theoretical application and clinical experience. Depending on the nurse, the program can take between 18 and 24 months to complete. While having a BSN degree is not a requirement for all nurses, the concepts covered in the MSN program’s initial coursework are similar to those covered in a BSN, and a nurse without a BSN degree may need more time to understand the ideas presented. Whether additional time for clinical studies is required depends on the specialty.

MSN Degree Careers

Nurses with a master’s degree are known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). APRNs can typically choose one of two broader career paths: nurse practitioner (NP) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS).

Nurses should consider the subtle differences between an NP and a CNS. An NP typically provides primary care for a patient’s overall health. An NP also can fulfill some of the duties of a doctor — prescribing medications, for example. An NP can work in many specialties, including the following:

  • Family health – Family nurse practitioner (FNP)
  • Gerontology health – Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP)
  • Psychiatric-mental health – Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP)

A CNS can provide direct care to a patient but is focused on a specific age group, a health care site, or a disease. A critical difference between an NP and a CNS is that a CNS may not be able to prescribe medications. A CNS can work not only in many of the same areas as an NP but also in the following areas:

  • Gerontology health – Adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist (AGCNS)
  • Women’s health – Certified nurse midwife
  • Surgical – Clinical registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)

MSN Degree Advantages

Completing the MSN program can be challenging, especially for RNs who work full time to get additional experience while paying for the program. Many nurses are rewarded for their hard work with increases in salary, job security, and careers filled with personal satisfaction.

An immediate advantage for an APRN is a significant increase in salary. APRNs earn a median salary of $110,930, compared with $70,000 for RNs. While salary ranges may depend on the geographical region and industry, clinical nurse anesthetists can earn upwards of $160,000 as one of the most sought-after nurse specialties in the U.S.

APRNs will typically have opportunities to lead units and teach new students as nurse educators. Nurse educators can take part in shaping the curriculum for new nursing students, impacting the profession and improving the quality of new nurses coming out of MSN programs.

Learn more

Many nurses who decide to further their careers with an MSN degree can look forward to a demanding but rewarding career path with a great employment outlook. Learn more about our online Master of Science in Nursing curriculum and start planning your career today.


Recommended Reading

FNP vs. PNP Careers: What’s the Difference?

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner: Exploring the Field of Pediatric Nursing

Comparing Careers: Nursing vs. Physician Assistants


American Association of Nurse Practitioners

American Association of Colleges of Nursing

Houston Chronicle

National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists

Bureau of Labor Statistics

US News and World Report