What Can You Do With a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)?

Many higher-level nursing jobs require more responsibility and, therefore, more education. Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) may lead to more competitive compensation and more autonomy with patients. This type of degree may be ideal for those who wish to take on leadership or management roles or who want to pursue licensure as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

So, what can you do with a master’s in nursing? There are many options. This guide will outline some of the potential career paths for individuals with an MSN degree.

Possible Careers With an MSN Degree

There are a lot of opportunities and possible careers with an MSN degree. Jobs that require an MSN degree are likely leadership roles or positions that require more advanced patient care.

Through this graduate nursing program, MSN students are likely to increase their clinical knowledge and develop important skills like close attention to detail, critical thinking, problem-solving and communication.

By earning their degrees from accredited on-campus or online MSN programs, nursing professionals can open the door to a variety of MSN careers in clinical and administrative roles. These roles are referred to as advanced nursing careers, and they include nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives.

It may be a great time to consider this career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 40% job growth rate for nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner (NP) has many advanced nursing career opportunities. In addition to earning a graduate degree, nurse practitioners must also maintain a license through an approved licensing body, such as a state licensing board or an approved national organization.

Because they have completed a nurse practitioner program, nurse practitioners tend to earn a higher salary than registered nurses (RNs) who hold an undergraduate degree. Nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $123,780 in 2021, according to the BLS. In comparison, registered nurses earned a median salary of $77,600 in 2021.

Nurse practitioners are also in demand. As stated above, the projected job growth rate for nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists is 40%, compared to 6% for registered nurses.

Job responsibilities of a nurse practitioner include overseeing primary patient care, diagnosing and treating acute and chronic issues, and, in some states, prescribing medication. Nurse practitioners can also specialize in other fields, such as primary care for families, women’s health, acute care and mental health. 

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

Nurses who wish to specialize in care for families, from children to older adults, may become a family nurse practitioner (FNP). FNPs educate families on developing healthy habits and disease prevention. They can also diagnose, treat and manage symptoms. Because FNPs focus on the care of patients in varying age groups, they tend to fall under general care providers.

FNPs are a type of APRN and require an MSN and active nursing license. There are many online FNP programs to help you prepare for board certification and for a career as an FNP.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)

Nurses who would like to focus exclusively on women’s health may become a women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP). A WHNP offers primary care for women in all stages of life, typically beginning in adolescence. Services may include gynecological, prenatal, postnatal and preventive care, along with diagnosis and management of acute or chronic illnesses.

WHNPs typically need a master’s degree with a women’s health specialization, and many states require these practitioners to work under physician supervision.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)

Nurse practitioners who specialize in acute care focus on the short-term care of a patient, either through recovery of an injury or another health issue, and may become acute care nurse practitioners (ACNP). ACNPs will typically specialize in pediatrics or adult-gerontology care

Acute care nurse practitioners typically work in emergency rooms or hospital settings and perform a wide range of duties, such as developing treatment plans, performing intubations and prescribing medication.

ACNPs may typically complete an ACNP program with a focus on adult-gerontology or pediatric acute care.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

Nurses who wish to specialize in mental health may become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). This type of nurse practitioner provides holistic healthcare tailored to patients with mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorder.

Some PMHNPs may be sole practitioners. However, certain states may require these nursing professionals to work under the supervision of a physician. PMHNPs may be employed by hospitals, mental health facilities or correctional facilities, among other practices.

PMHNPs must complete an on-campus or online nurse practitioner program with a specialization in psychiatric and mental health.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

A nursing professional who specializes in women’s reproductive health, including prenatal care, childbirth and postnatal care, may want to become a certified nurse midwife (CNM). Although many people associate nurse midwives with home births, CNMs also work in hospitals, outpatient care centers and private practices, according to the BLS.

A BSN degree or similar degree is required to become a nurse midwife. Explore certified nurse midwifery (CNM) program options.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are responsible for the administration of anesthesia and other medications to patients. They also monitor patients’ responses to anesthesia. CRNAs often work in hospital settings or outpatient surgical clinics and work with physicians, surgeons and other healthcare professionals to provide care.

CRNAs must earn a national certification and hold at minimum a master’s degree in nursing with a focus on nurse anesthesia, though some states or hospitals may require a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

Certified Nurse Educator

Nurse educators use their advanced knowledge, skills and nursing experience to educate current and future nursing professionals. Nurse educators typically have years of clinical experience but work as teachers and professors in a classroom setting, usually at a hospital or university.

While educators may oversee students’ clinical experiences, they typically are not providing direct patient care. This is different from other advanced nursing roles. To become a nurse educator, individuals must be licensed and earn an MSN degree, a PhD in nursing or a DNP degree.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

A clinical nurse specialist is an advanced practice role for registered nurses. They may use their advanced education and training in specialized areas such as geriatric care, pediatric care and women’s health. A CNS may be an expert clinician, educator, researcher and consultant. Clinical nurse specialists may also work in a variety of healthcare settings.

To become a CNS, you must be a registered nurse. Once you’ve become an RN, you may start applying to advanced nursing programs, which must be completed at the master’s or doctoral levels. 

Before you take the CNS exam, you must complete 500 faculty-supervised hours in your specialized field. After you pass the exam, you’ll need to apply for certification in your field. Certification requirements may vary by state.

Clinical Nurse Leader

A clinical nurse leader (CNL) is a role developed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) for master’s educated nurses who are trained to work within any healthcare setting. At the point of care, CNLs may focus on care coordination, risk assessment, quality improvement, outcomes measurement, transitions of care and implementation of best practices based on evidence. A CNL may need a high level of clinical expertise and act as a resource for the clinical nursing team.

To become a CNL, you must be a nurse, earn your master’s and pass the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Certification Program organized by the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC).

Nurse Administrator

A nurse administrator or clinical administrator is typically a registered nurse who manages or oversees other nurses. They may supervise staff and ensure that all regulations and policies are followed. Additionally, nurse administrators may be asked to perform administrative duties such as performance reviews, develop training and personnel procedures, attend meetings and much more. Nurse administrators may work in a variety of healthcare settings.

The journey to becoming a nurse administrator may vary depending on your leadership experience, but, generally, you’ll need to obtain an RN license and earn a BSN degree. However, some employers may prefer that you hold an MSN degree.

Post-MSN Certifications

Besides the above careers you may pursue with an MSN degree, you may also want to obtain certifications in your desired specialty. These are some of the post-MSN certifications available. Note that this list is non-exhaustive.

  • Adult Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist: ACCNS-AG is an entry-level advanced practice certification for clinical nurse specialists. Candidates for this program must complete a graduate-level advanced practice program as an adult-gerontology CNS at a nationally accredited school of nursing. 
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) Post-Professional Certificate: The NNP is designed for graduate nurse practitioners who are looking to expand their knowledge. An NNP may be prepared to handle healthcare for high-risk infants, their families and children up to the age of two.
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP): This certificate program prepares psychiatric mental healthcare nurses to care for patients with psychiatric disorders at a rudimentary level of practice. Once you’ve completed the program, you may be eligible to take the PMHNP national board certification exam. 

Continue Your Education From an MSN to a DNP

Going from an MSN to DNP may help you expand your knowledge and explore additional career options than what you may find with a master’s degree. A Doctor of Nursing Practice or DNP degree is a terminal degree, the highest possible degree in the field of nursing. Earning a DNP may help prepare you for a wide range of advanced clinical nursing roles in clinical research trials as well as executive positions in patient care. 

FAQs About MSN Careers

Interested in learning more about MSN degrees? This may help answer some of your questions.

What careers can I pursue with an MSN degree?

There are a lot of career options available for nurses with an MSN degree. Some career paths may include nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, certified nurse midwife, certified registered nurse anesthetist and nurse administrator. Check the sections above for more information regarding career options with an MSN. 

Can you become a nurse practitioner with an MSN?

Earning an MSN degree is one of the first steps to becoming a nurse practitioner (NP). Additionally, you’ll need to acquire and maintain a license through an approved licensing body, such as a state licensing board or an approved national organization.  

How long does it take to earn an MSN?

How long it takes to earn an MSN may vary depending on the school and program you choose. Most MSN programs last two years. However, you may choose an accelerated program that may take as little as 20 months.

What can you do with an MSN in nursing education?

An MSN in nursing education gives you the opportunity to pursue a career as a certified nurse educator in a classroom setting. You can also work at a hospital or university, typically in a research role.

Last updated in November 2022