Master’s Degree In Nursing: What Are The Different Types?

Master's Degree in nursing
Getting a Master's Degree in Nursing can open up a lot of career opportunities. Learn about the different types, specialities, and benefits.

Share This Post

Are you thinking about a Master’s degree in nursing?

An MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) degree can open the doors to a wide array of opportunities for prospective nurses. From higher salaries to the chance of landing more advanced clinical roles and leadership positions, there’s a lot to be said for the benefits of an MSN. 

Apart from the noticeably higher compensation and larger number of positions you’ll become eligible for, you’ll also find that an MSN gets you more respect from colleagues. 

Of course, none of this would be worth much in practice if there wasn’t demand for the positions that require a Master of Science in Nursing. Luckily, the supply and demand projections are likely to remain favorable for nurses for a long time. This is according to projections from the Tri-Council for Nursing. 

Recently, they’ve released statements encouraging nurses to pursue graduate education. They point to visible trends in nurse employment.

If you want your career to reach the next level, you’ll find that nurses with more advanced education are in high demand. They serve in a wide variety of roles such as:

  • Top administrators
  • Specialists
  • Faculty
  • Primary care providers
  • Scientists

With this in mind, we’ve created a comprehensive guide with all of the information you’ll need to properly pursue your MSN. We’ll take a look at why an MSN degree is a great choice, what pursuing one entails, and any additional considerations you should make before making your decision. 

What Is A Master’s Degree In Nursing?

It’s important to note that the graduate-level degree gives you both the credentials and the ability to thrive in non-clinical and clinical settings.

You’ll be able to work both as a part of a team and independently. Also, you’ll be better equipped to make crucial healthcare decisions.

There are plenty of various duties fulfilled by MSN nurses, including but not limited to:

  • Certified nurse midwives
  • Nurse administrators
  • NPs (Nurse practitioners)
  • Nurse educators
  • Clinical nurse specialists
  • Clinical nurse leaders
  • Nurse informaticists
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists

Essentially, nurses with a Master’s degree in nursing are able to work in any kind of medical environment which requires hands-on healthcare. They can also work in roles related to healthcare:

  • Leadership
  • Policy
  • Technology

The Growing Demand For Nurses With A Master’s Degree In Nursing

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the projected change of employment for MSN nurses in clinical settings will be over 30%. Better yet, that growth rate will be even higher for careers outside of strictly patient care settings. 

For instance, estimates from the American Medical Informatics Association show that there will be demand for around 70,000 nurse informaticists over the next couple of years. Demand is similarly high across all roles that can be filled by MSN-degree nurses. 

Because of this, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has been calling for more aggressive expansion of programs to satisfy the country’s need for a larger nursing workforce. 

All of this points towards an incredible wealth of job opportunities and options you’d have with an MSN.

4 Benefits Of A Master’s Degree In Nursing

In general, nursing is one of the most in-demand career choices available. The rewarding nature of this career can only be enhanced if you obtain a Master of Science degree in Nursing. 

Several satisfaction reports on nurse careers show that Advanced Practice Nurses (those with Master’s degrees in nursing) say their top sources of job satisfaction are:

  • Being great at their job
  • Patient relations
  • Genuinely liking their work

On top of that, they’ve also mentioned reasons like higher earnings and a wider variety of work settings to choose from. We’ll go over these reasons in more depth below. 

1. Potential For Higher Earnings

It’s not hard to believe that an MSN degree significantly increases your earning potential.

On average, nurses with graduate degrees earn over 30% more compared to nurses with only undergraduate degrees.

The average annual salary of an MSN nurse is around $90,000. Meanwhile, the average annual salary for college-educated nurses is a little over $65,000. That’s an increase of about $22,000.

2. More Choices Of Specialization And Position

As we’ve mentioned above, nurses with a Master of Science in Nursing degree have a wider array of options when it comes to choosing their work positions and areas of speciality.

They’re able to select positions in both non-clinical and clinical settings. Also, they can choose their specialty depending on their specific areas of interest. 

There’s a wealth of opportunities available here, including becoming:

  • Informaticists
  • Educators
  • Nurse administrators
  • Advanced practice registered nurses
  • Clinical nurse leaders

3. More Advancement Opportunities

Obtaining an MSN requires a fair bit of work. It’s definitely not a career path for the unambitious.

However, nurses who care about having advancement opportunities will find that pursuing this type of graduate degree helps them establish themselves as dedicated medical professionals. 

Plenty of hospitals and other healthcare facilities are actively looking for MSN-degree nursing staff to fill vital positions, so you’ll have many opportunities to advance your career as an MSN graduate.

These positions include nurse leaders and nurse managers. When hospitals have more of these types of nurses, it helps them hospitals qualify for the coveted Magnet Hospital status. 

4. Better Patient Outcomes

At the end of the day, it’s all about caring for patients. That’s another reason why getting a Master’s degree in nursing is a great choice.

Research by various esteemed medical institutions has all reached the same conclusion: MSN-degree nurses make a huge, positive impact on patient outcomes.

In fact, the facilities that house MSN nurses have lower failure-to-rescue and mortality rates. 

Master’s Degree In Nursing Options

There are lots of different options when it comes to earning a Master’s degree in nursing. There are even bridge programs designed for RNs without a bachelor’s degree in nursing, as well as dual master’s programs. 

The more traditional paths are intended for nurses that already have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN). However, there’s plenty of flexibility when it comes to nursing master’s degrees.

Every nurse has a viable education path towards this degree, regardless of their interests or previous academic background.

These days, plenty of nursing master’s programs also provide hybrid or online options. This allows nurses to earn advanced degrees without relocating, quitting their jobs, or traveling. 

We’ll explore the four available paths below.

Baccalaureate to Master’s Degree In Nursing

The Baccalaureate to MSN path is the most traditional one. It’s intended for RNs with a BSN. 

The majority of nurses that pursue a Master’s degree in nursing already have a traditional BSN degree. They also have at least minimal clinical nursing experience.

So, these BSN-to-MSN degree programs tend to last two or three years. However, the specifics depend on the student’s enrollment status and the curriculum itself.

A lot of graduate programs for nurses offer a part of their courses online. There are also some that are completely web-based.

Generally, distance learners who enroll in online-only programs complete their clinical requirements at local facilities in their communities. 

MSN Bridge Program

MSN bridge programs are for RNs that have an associate degree. 

If you fall into that category, this is the best way to earn your Master’s degree in nursing without having to complete a BSN beforehand.

Essentially, these bridge programs are a combination of the final two years of a BSN program and the nursing curriculum of a master’s program. 

Bridge programs typically last 3-4 years. You can also get this type of nursing Master’s degree in a hybrid format or online. The hybrid format includes some on-campus components. 

Direct-Entry Master’s Degree In Nursing

There are many learners that have a non-nursing Bachelor’s degree. The direct-entry Master’s degree in nursing is designed for them. You still need a Bachelor’s degree, but it doesn’t have to be in a nursing field. 

These direct-entry programs leverage your previous college credits towards the MSN. Depending on the type of degree you have, your direct-entry MSN program can last anywhere from a year and a half to 3 years.

It also comes in all formats:

  • Classroom
  • Online
  • Mixed

Dual Master’s Degree In Nursing

The dual Master’s Degree in nursing is reserved for RNs who intend on pursuing advanced roles. This includes positions like manager of clinical informatics or chief nursing officer.

As the name suggests, a dual master’s degree combines two related programs. For example, you could combine a Master of Business Administration with a Master’s degree in nursing.

This dual degree program is specifically designed to prepare candidates for more advanced leadership roles. In most cases, these roles require a deep understanding of healthcare administration and nursing practice. 

Besides the MSN/MBA dual program, there are other options. The most common ones are MSN/MPH for public health and MSN/MHA for health administration.

As a BSN holder, you will need 3-4 years to finish these programs. Just like the ones above, there are options that are:

  • On-campus
  • Online
  • Hybrid

Types of Master’s Degree In Nursing Specializations

When it comes to specialized options for a Master’s degree in nursing, there are plenty of interesting choices. These include APRN (advanced practice registered nurse) programs and specializations in education or research.

Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that nurse anesthetists will be required to hold a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) degree by 2025. 

The APRN programs include paths for:

  • Certified registered nurse anesthetists
  • Certified nurse midwives
  • Clinical nurse specialists
  • Nurse practitioners

Choosing a great graduate nursing program that’s in line with a student’s interests and desired career path helps them land a job in their preferred work setting. It also helps them obtain their desired salaries.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the degree specializations you can choose from.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse Practitioners (NPs), unlike Registered Nurses (RNs), can prescribe medication and diagnose conditions. NPs may be required to have a physician’s supervision in some states. However, in many states, they’re allowed to practice independently. It all depends on your location.

Prospective NPs will find that their master’s curriculum includes subjects like:

  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Treatment
  • Diagnosis
  • Nursing practice

The average salary for this specialty in nursing is around $115,000.

While a majority of NPs end up specializing in family practice, others are certified in:

  • Pediatric
  • Gerontology
  • Psychiatric
  • Neonatal
  • Women’s health

Certified Nurse Midwife

A certified nurse midwife is a type of APRN that provides care for childbirth and pregnancies.

They are allowed to oversee both hospital and home births. In many cases, they also supervise nursing assistants and RNs.

Furthermore, CNMs assist in educating pregnant individuals on the healthiest infant care and birth practices.

Their average annual salary is similar to that of an NP. 

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical nurse specialists specialize in:

  • Treatment
  • Diagnosis
  • Ongoing management of patient health

When you enroll in a CNS program, you will receive knowledge that emphasizes:

  • Diagnosing and identifying health conditions
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Various treatment options

Much like NPs, a CNS can choose to focus on:

  • Gerontology
  • Adult practice
  • Pediatric practice

Depending on the local state regulations, a CNS may be required to have physician supervision or be allowed to work independently.

Their average salary is around $91,000, though it varies based on their:

  • Location
  • Experience
  • Responsibilities

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) have some of the highest salaries among all APRNs. Their average yearly earnings are around $189,190.

That’s because of their delicate role of administering anesthesia and providing pain management after medical procedures.

Like other APRNs, they can also describe medication, including controlled substances. However, the latter does depend on your state, which may impose additional requirements.

By 2025, new CRNAs will need a DNP as well. 

Nurse Educator

Nurse educators mostly teach in healthcare organizations and nursing schools.

Generally, nurse educators with a DNP or a Ph.D in a related healthcare field are strongly preferred or required by:

  • Universities
  • Four-year colleges
  • Academic medical facilities

On the other hand, many schools (particularly ADN programs) tend to go with candidates that have a Master’s degree in nursing and substantial teaching and clinical experience. 

Public Health Nurse 

Disease prevention is the main specialty of public health nurses. This is especially true when it comes to communicable diseases. Their importance cannot be overstated, particularly in a post-COVID era.

These nurses frequently educate relevant stakeholders and the general public on disease and health. This includes topics like proper sanitation and hygiene practices.

These stakeholders include:

  • Public event administrators
  • Public transportation management
  • Workplaces
  • Legislators

Public health nurses often find work in non-clinical settings, such as:

  • Community centers
  • Government agencies
  • Nonprofits

However, they also work in typical healthcare centers, such as:

  • Clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Physicians’ offices

As we’ve mentioned above, the recent pandemic has definitely brought this type of nursing education back into the spotlight. Their role will likely be far more prominent in the long run. 

Nursing Informatics

Nursing Informatics is an incredibly interesting and fast-growing field. These nurses improve nursing efficiency and quality using:

  • Data analytics
  • Information science
  • Cutting-edge technology

Nurse informatics programs tend to examine topics in:

  • Business analytics
  • Data science
  • Statistics
  • Data quality management

Some courses in such programs provide training in:

  • Predictive analytics
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Machine learning
  • Data visualization

This training is then combined with concepts in healthcare administration and nursing. 

Frequently, nurse informaticists work with various teams, including:

  • Health systems and hospital administration
  • Nursing units
  • IT departments

Nurse Administrator

Generally, nurse administrators work in health systems or hospitals. However, some also work for:

  • Clinics
  • Government agencies
  • Insurance companies

Their job is to provide supervision to nursing departments and make sure nurses’ needs are represented in the wider organizational planning. 

As we’ve mentioned above, some nurse administrators have a dual master’s degree combining both an administrative discipline and nursing.

On the other hand, some have degrees from specific nursing Master’s programs that have an administrative track. These tracks explore:

  • Finance
  • Leadership
  • Technology
  • Organizational development

In many cases, nurses make the transition from a purely clinical role to working in nursing administration once they realize their ability to lead teams.

Also, nurse administrators are perfectly positioned to make positive changes to:

  • Practice
  • Policy
  • Healthcare systems

Community Health Nurse

Much like public health nurses, community health nurses are there to educate all stakeholders and the public on disease prevention and health.

However, community health nurses do more work in providing members of the general public with healthcare related to both non-communicable and communicable diseases. 

They focus on the most vulnerable populations in any community. This is why they often work in government agencies and clinics.

The community healthcare nurse curriculum includes courses on:

  • Health promotion
  • Social causes of health
  • Cooperation with marginalized populations
  • Health education for individuals with various levels of health awareness 

Clinical Nurse Leader

Clinical nurse leaders provide oversight to nursing care in various healthcare settings, but primarily hospitals.

Their job is to monitor patient outcomes and specify any changes that are necessary. The courses for these master’s programs include:

  • The surveyance of clinical treatment
  • Research
  • Data analytics
  • Advanced outcome monitoring

The coursework also contains:

  • Risk management
  • Risk assessment
  • Evidence-based practices

In terms of salary, their annual average earnings are between $80,000 and 85,000. 

Diabetes Nurse

Unfortunately, diabetes remains one of the most prevalent health issues across the United States. If left untreated, it can cause disability and even lead to death.

The American Diabetes Association points out that Americans spend over $300 billion every year on diabetes treatment. That means there’s plenty of demand for diabetes nurses with advanced clinical training in treating this condition in children and adults.

Furthermore, diabetes nurses also educate their patients on the importance of:

  • Exercise
  • Dieting
  • Proper medication

Since this disease is more frequent among Hispanic, Black, and Native American populations, these nurses also often receive training in culturally-competent care. 

Nurse Researcher

Typically, nurse researchers work at academic healthcare centers, such as teaching and research hospitals. However, they’re also employed by businesses that conduct medical research. This includes medical equipment and pharmaceutical companies. 

Nurse researchers often monitor results and look after patients who are participants in some kind of medical study. However, some also conduct original research on their own. This is especially true when it comes to improvements in nursing quality.

Their curriculum puts emphasis on:

  • Advanced data analysis and gathering
  • The ethical treatment of human research subjects
  • Practices and principles of medical research
  • Statistics
  • Risk management
  • Evidence-based practices

Master’s Degree In Nursing Career Outlook

It’s worth pointing out that the career outlook for any kind of nurse is quite high.

The demand for RNs with MSN degrees will definitely grow even more in the coming decade. Right now, it’s likely that there will be a need for a million new RNs by the end of the decade. This is both to fill new positions and replace people who leave the field and retire. 

Additionally, there’s a huge range of healthcare and other environments in which RNs with MSNs can work. These include:

  • Community centers
  • Hospitals
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Schools
  • Pharmacies
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Support services
  • Home healthcare services
  • Educational services
  • Offices
  • Urgent care centers
  • Patients’ homes
  • Government agencies

RNs that earn a Master’s degree in nursing are also able to work in a wide variety of healthcare specialties, such as: 

  • Geriatric care
  • Oncology
  • Home health
  • Labor and delivery
  • Family medicine
  • Surgery
  • Anesthesia
  • Emergency
  • Pediatrics
  • Public health
  • Radiology
  • Substance abuse
  • Rehabilitation
  • Hospice
  • Psychiatry

3 Things To Consider Before Getting Your Master’s Degree In Nursing

We’ve gone over the huge number of excellent opportunities that open up to RNs that pursue a Master of Science in Nursing degree.

However, we should also point out that this is a big decision. You shouldn’t approach it without careful consideration. Here are a couple of things you should keep in mind while deciding.

1. It’s A Time Commitment

On average, working towards a Master’s degree in nursing takes two to three years. However, it’s also worth keeping in mind that this investment in your future is a substantial time investment.

It will take a lot of learning and hard work, but it does pay off. These additional years you spend on education make a vast difference in your skills and knowledge. 

This won’t just be evident from the way you treat patients, but also in:

  • Your upward mobility in the field of nursing
  • Earning potential
  • The respect you receive from your peers

2. It’s Not Easy

MSN programs have one thing in common with all other nursing programs: they’re becoming increasingly competitive.

Achieving everything that’s necessary to qualify for program acceptance takes a lot of dedication. However, if you do, the rewards are quite palpable.

Nursing is a very well-respected profession, and climbing onto its higher rungs is always a good idea. Doing so with more education and training is even better. 

3. It’s Expensive

Though MSN programs are pricey, we should point out that their cost can be reduced by working with organizations that provide students with resources and financial aid.

Plus, the difference in tuition can be made up quite quickly once you graduate. Advanced degrees bring higher salaries and more attractive job offers. 


Every student can consider a Master’s degree in nursing, regardless of their:

  • Strengths
  • Career goals
  • Academic background

BSN nurses will definitely have an advantage when it comes to pursuing a MSN. However, RNs that don’t have a BSN or candidates that come from non-nursing Bachelor’s degrees may also benefit from various bridge program options. 

One thing is clear: obtaining a Master’s Degree in Nursing will open up a lot of opportunities, but it’s not a decision you should take lightly.

Get The Latest Nursing News In Your Inbox

Stay on top of the latest word that affects your career.

More To Explore

It's time For the next step

Whether it's a new a job, or continuing your education, is your career partner.