Master’s in Nursing Programs: Expanding the Roles of Nurses

Master's in nursing programs

A master’s in nursing is designed to prepare nurses who have already earned bachelor’s degrees to pursue advanced nursing roles. Nursing master’s programs train students in certain specialties so they can delve deeper into their areas of interest. A master’s degree in nursing is also currently required
in order to become an advanced practice nurse. If you would like to take your nursing career to the next level, read on to discover what a nursing master’s degree entails.

Prerequisites for Nursing Master’s Programs

It takes approximately two years of full-time study to complete a nursing master’s degree program. The most traditional master’s degree in nursing is designed for students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). However, there are RN to MSN degrees, which are combined bachelor’s and master’s programs for students who have earned either their diploma or associate’s degree in registered nursing (ADRN), but have not yet earned their bachelor’s degree. There are also direct entry BSN and MSN programs, which combine bachelor’s and master’s programs for students who have no prior nursing experience, as well as accelerated master’s programs in nursing, which are for students who have already earned their bachelor’s degrees in an unrelated area, but now wish to become registered nurses.

Admissions requirements for master’s degree programs in nursing vary significantly from school to school. The prerequisites for practicing nurses typically include a bachelor’s degree in nursing, GRE scores, a minimum cumulative undergraduate GPA, a current nursing license, and letters of recommendation. Those who have no nursing experience must have a bachelor’s degree in any field, as well as fulfill prerequisite course requirements such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, human growth and development, nutrition, and statistics.

Master’s programs can typically focus on one or more nursing specialties, such as gerontology, diabetes, psychiatrics, pediatrics or obstetrics, or it could it could concentrate on the business side of nursing, such as public health, nursing administration, nursing leadership, nursing informatics, and nursing education.

Currently, there are also advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) programs at the master’s level, which could qualify individuals to diagnose and treat illnesses independently or as part of a healthcare team, in roles such as clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, nurse-midwife, and nurse practitioner. However, by 2015, schools offering APRN master’s programs are required to convert the degree to the doctoral level.

Master’s Degree in Nursing Coursework

Master’s programs are available both online and in traditional classrooms. The first stage of a master’s degree program focuses on core coursework, while the second stage focuses on a student’s chosen area of concentration. Programs also include laboratory time and supervised clinical experience. Although the core curriculum will vary greatly by specialty, courses may cover the following topics:

  • Physiology
  • Informatics
  • Leadership
  • Pharmacology
  • Healthcare ethics
  • Foundations of health systems and policy
  • Advanced health assessment

If you are not yet a registered nurse, after completing your master’s degree, you will be eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Registered nurses are required to be licensed in all fifty states. There are also a variety of voluntary certifications in different nursing specialties, such as ambulatory care, pediatrics, and nursing leadership, which could enhance employment prospects. APRNs are required to pursue additional certification in their chosen specialty.

Nursing Career Opportunities

While you can have a great career with a bachelor’s degree in nursing alone, an advanced degree will give you access to expanded job prospects and more earning power. A nursing master’s program also provides students with the foundation to pursue a doctoral degree in nursing. The benefits of earning a nursing master’s degree include increased income, flexibility, and autonomy.

Pursuing a graduate education in nursing, although challenging and time-consuming, is a worthwhile venture because of the myriad of opportunities it offers. Most nurses start out their careers as staff nurses in hospitals, but with the right education and experience, they can move on to careers as nurse educators, nurse administrators, nurse managers or public health nurses, among others.

Overall, the job outlook for nurses is excellent. Employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 26% from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2012, the state with the highest employment level for RNs were California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania, and the median annual salary for nurses was $65,470. The bottom 10% earned $45,040, and the top 10% earned more than $94,720. Get your master’s in nursing today, and take your nursing career to new heights.