Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree opens up a vast array of opportunities which simply aren't available to nurses who only hold a bachelor's or associate's degree. MSN degree programs provide specialized training and in-depth instruction in nursing science and patient care. Nurses who complete these programs become eligible for many career advancement opportunities in such specialized areas as research or advanced clinical training.

Nurses with MSN degrees are known as Advanced Practice Nurses (APNs). APNs are qualified to provide treatments and services which, in the past, were only administered by medical doctors. APNs can usually be classified under one of the following four categories:

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP)
  • Certified Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

MSN Programs
Most MSN degree programs can be completed in 1 to 2 years. Some schools offer joint degree programs, which allow students to combine an MSN degree with a master's degree in public health, healthcare administration, or business administration. These joint degree programs are especially useful for nurses with specific career goals.

Applicants of MSN programs, typically, must be licensed RNs and must hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited nursing program. Additionally, applicants must have earned a minimum GRE score and/or undergraduate GPA. Some programs only accept applicants with a certain amount of relevant work experience.

Different Types of MSN Degree Programs
There are four different types of MSN degrees:

RN-to-MSN - RN-to-MSN programs are usually tailored to the student's specific needs. They are designed for registered nurses who already hold a BSN degree and who want to earn an MSN degree. Students can apply credit from their BSN program toward their MSN degree.

Direct Entry MSN - These programs are designed for students who already hold a bachelor's degree in a field unrelated to nursing, and who want to start a nursing career. These students can apply credit from their previous bachelor's degree toward their MSN degree. Direct Entry MSN programs can be completed in 3 years, typically. In the first year, students complete entry-level nursing coursework in such subjects as patient care and nursing science. In the last two years, students are trained to become RNs in a specialized area of nursing.

Post-Master's Certificate - These programs are intended for RNs who already hold an MSN degree, but who want to further their education with an additional specialized credential. These certificate programs provide specialized training, and can lead to career advancement opportunities and higher earning potential.

Post-Certificate Master's - In the past, nurses could become advanced practice nurses with only a bachelor's degree and on-the-job training. Now, most organizations in most states require APNs to hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Post-Certificate Master's programs allow APNs who don't already have their MSN degree to earn one as quickly as possible. APNs can earn graduate-level credit for relevant knowledge and experience.

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