There’s no question that it’s a big decision: Should you pursue a master’s degree in nursing? The arguments can be compelling. On one hand, it could be your key to advanced nursing work, leadership potential, higher salary and more job opportunities. On the other hand, if you’re already a nurse, you’re wondering about the cost of earning a master’s degree, whether you’d attend school full- or part-time, and how you’d even go about getting more information.
Benefits of a Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN)
If you are wondering, “why should I get a master’s in nursing degree?”, there are a few things to consider. A master’s degree usually takes two more years of study. But graduate degrees can also be earned online, meaning you may not have to leave your current job while you study. There are many positive reasons to consider an advanced degree, whether you’re in nursing school now or are mid-career and thinking of returning to school.
Here are some potential benefits of a master’s degree in nursing:
- Positions of higher responsibility and authority: With a master’s degree (or higher), you may be qualified to pursue a variety nursing career paths:
- Nurse practitioner: Providing health care to clients one-on-one, ordering diagnostic tests and treatments, and prescribing medications. Nurse practitioners are qualified to do many things that registered nurses are not.
- Nurse midwife: Specializing in women’s reproductive health during pregnancy and childbirth.
- Nurse anesthetist: Administering and/or monitoring anesthesia during surgery or diagnostic procedures.
- Nurse administrator: Representing, scheduling, hiring and supervising other nurses.
- Clinical nurse specialist: Working with doctors and patients within a specialty.
- Nurse educator: Teaching courses at universities, hospitals, medical centers and corporations.
- Research nurse: Focusing on research-oriented tasks as part of a team.
- Nursing consultant: Providing advice to companies, legal firms or community organizations.
- Job opportunities: Advanced nursing jobs—nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists—are expected to add 62,000 jobs, a growth rate of 26% in the same time period. And data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) shows that by 2032, there will be a shortage of physicians numbering somewhere between 46,900 and 121,900 positions. Certified nursing practitioners can help fill those critical health care needs.
- Higher salary potential: In 2019, the median pay for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners was $115,800, according to the BLS.
- Possible Career Autonomy: In some states, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), are qualified to provide health care in more ways—including the authority to write prescriptions— without the supervision and/or collaboration with a physician. Be sure to check your state’s Nursing Practice Act for more information..
- Expand your education: All nursing skills are valuable. That said, it’s possible that providing the same level of nursing care for 10, 20 or 30 years could make you feel stuck (especially if you max out at a hospital’s pay level). An advanced practice nursing degree may open up new challenges and opportunities by way of exposure to advanced courses and clinical hour experience in different practices.
- The ability to choose a specialty: With a master’s degree in nursing, you can choose an area of medicine that you’re truly passionate about. These possibilities include family care, adult-gerontology primary care, adult-gerontology acute care, neonatal care, pediatrics and psychiatry. These types of programs may help prepare you for APRN certification in these areas.
- Potential for leadership: With an advanced degree and the work experience it makes possible, you may choose to follow an administrative, leadership or management track in the health care field.
- The possibility of earning a doctorate: We know, you’re just now considering a master’s degree. But should you find that a certain specialty has become your passion, you can pursue it at an even higher level after a master’s degree.
How to Earn a Master’s in Nursing
If you’re already a licensed registered nurse (or are in the process of becoming one), you’ve taken the first step. You’ll want to think about your possible future degree pathways, depending on where your primary interests lie. Some things to consider when making this decision:
- Are there jobs that match up well with your personality? Some people thrive on adrenaline; others prefer the calmer pace of research.
- Are you a people person? Introverts might be happier in consultant, research, education or case-management roles; extroverts might prefer the role of family nurse practitioner, intensive care or pediatrics.
- Is there a job setting that most appeals to you? In addition to hospital jobs, nurses are employed in public health departments, schools and universities, physicians’ offices, corrections facilities and research labs.
- What level of stress are you comfortable with? Is the specialty or position you’re considering compatible with a level of stress you are able to handle?
- What is the salary potential for the specialty or position you’re considering?
- Will you need additional certifications? Some specialties require certifications and specific training in addition to a degree.
The basic steps of earning a master’s degree in nursing to consider are:
- Research schools and programs you are interested in. Focus on areas of study, program format, program length and financial aid.
- Prepare application materials. Some schools will require undergraduate transcripts, essays, letters of recommendation and test scores. Know what the program you are applying to requires. Keep in mind that most MSN programs will require a RN license that is active and unencumbered.
- Apply to programs. Choose the programs that best fit your career goals.
There’s no question that graduate school is expensive. But financial aid may be available.
In addition to financial aid that might be available to you from the school you choose, nursing scholarships are available. Many are sponsored by health care organizations—including the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, American Addiction Centers, the Dermatology Nurses’ Association, and the Society of Gastroenterology.
Scholarship amounts vary and some are state-specific. There are scholarships available to undergraduate students, graduate students, minority students and those studying certain specialties. There also are a number of grants and fellowships available. Additionally, some employers may help you repay loans after you graduate.
Information on this page was retrieved in June 2020.