Getting started on the path to an advanced nursing degree takes careful planning. Choosing the best program for your life, professional goals, and schedule requires that you ask the right questions and have them answered fully before you dive in to a Master of Science in Nursing program. Not sure where to begin? Consider the following top 10 questions to build your MSN know-how.
1. What Is a Master of Science in Nursing?
A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a “master’s in nursing,” is an advanced postgraduate program offered by an accredited educational institution to students who hold an undergraduate degree in nursing. Master’s programs train nurses in advanced topics that include physical assessment, theory, research, education, and leadership.
Nurses are eligible to apply for a master’s program once they have completed a bachelor’s degree and hold at least an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN). Admission requirements and eligibility will vary from school to school.
Nurses who complete an MSN degree are uniquely prepared to provide advanced services in a variety of settings including acute care as nurse practitioners, in the classroom as educators, and in executive roles as leaders and health care administrators.
2. Why Get a Master of Science in Nursing?
The path to a master’s degree usually begins with a diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree in nursing. Nurses who start with one degree and advance their education soon learn the benefits of moving ahead. RNs with a master’s degree know this firsthand as they cross the threshold into increased autonomy, better pay, and more opportunities for leadership that were not present with any previous nursing degree.
Getting a master’s degree today is easier than ever with online MSN programs like the one here at Sacred Heart University. These flexible programs allow busy nurses with full-time jobs and families to advance their degrees rapidly with bridge programs and accelerated formats.
As millions of Americans access health care through the Affordable Care Act, advanced practice nurses will be essential in the delivery of safe, quality care for this booming population. In addition, more nurses with associate and bachelor’s degrees will be needed, and nurses who hold an MSN degree and higher will be educating future health care leaders. Career opportunities for advanced practice nurses are expected to grow 31 percent by the year 2022 — much faster than other career fields.
Those with a Master of Science in Nursing degree may choose to work with a defined patient population. This specialization allows nurses to learn focused skills during their education and then apply this knowledge to research, education, direct patient care, and others areas of the health care system.
Areas of nursing specialization vary widely, and include clinical nurse leaders, nurse managers and administrators, family nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and many others.
Career Advancement and Better Pay
In addition to hospital work, the changing face of health care is opening doors for leadership and career advancement for nurses with master’s degrees. More MSNs are taking jobs in clinics and outpatient centers, or as administrators over home-care settings. Others are taking autonomy to its max as they start their own practices — treating patients and ensuring quality care from a variety of locations. Nurses with master’s degrees can expect to make several thousands of dollars more per year than they did without the degree.
3. What Are the Career Opportunities for an MSN degree?
A Master of Science in Nursing opens doors for a variety of career opportunities. Some of them include:
- Nursing administrator — a broad term that applies to nurses who employ leadership practices of the nursing profession in management, leadership, or executive titles.
- Nurse practitioner — diagnoses and treats patients across the lifespan and may focus on acute or chronic illness, disease prevention, and health promotion.
- Clinical nurse leader — works with nurses and other health care professionals to coordinate and manage care for patients in an effort to ensure safe, high-quality care.
- Nurse educator — educates and trains future nurses, designs curricula and education plans, and assesses individual learning performance in clinical and classroom settings.
- Nurse anesthetist — provides pain control and sedation to patients in a hospital or outpatient setting.
- Nurse informaticist — integrates nursing and computer sciences to manage and communicate data, information, and knowledge to consumers and health care professionals.
4. What Is the Typical Salary for Someone With a Master’s Degree in Nursing?
Newly graduated nurse practitioners can expect a starting salary of $60,000 to $90,000 per year. These numbers can vary greatly depending on the nurse’s geographic location, specialization, and work setting. A small rural clinic will pay less than a large urban hospital, and specialty areas like nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives often make six-figure salaries.
5. How Long Does an MSN Degree Take?
Program length will vary from school to school. Most graduate from our program in two years, but it may take longer if the student takes fewer classes or time off for personal reasons.
Online programs make obtaining an MSN degree easier than ever. Because classes may be recorded or viewed on mobile devices from a variety of locations, nursing students find increased flexibility and freedom to attend classes and maintain a work-life balance.
Core classes will include advanced physical assessment, pharmacology, research, leadership, and many others. Class sessions are eight weeks long, and we suggest you plan on spending between twelve and fifteen hours each week for a three-credit course. Students will also complete several hundred hours of clinical time — working directly in their area of specialization under the guidance of an approved preceptor.
6. What Are the Clinical or Practicum Requirements for a Master of Science in Nursing?
Clinical or practicum experience is a requirement of every Master of Science in Nursing program. During this training, students are joined with a preceptor in their specialty area and supervised as they apply the theory, knowledge, and skills they have gathered. Some programs will require students to participate in the practicum from the beginning with just a few hours each week, and work up to 30 hours or more per week by the time they are ready to graduate.
Practicum hours will vary by educational institution, but students can expect to spend between 100 and 600 hours or more with a preceptor during the course of their education. Practicum sites must meet specific criteria and be approved by the school, and preceptors will need to submit proof of education, credentials, and additional paperwork to be considered. Some schools will link students with preceptors and others will require the student to find their own.
For the best experience, students should find a preceptor who is passionate about their career and committed to teaching and mentoring. The student and preceptor should also be free of personality conflicts. Students should also consider utilizing more than one preceptor or practicum site to build a well-rounded clinical experience.
7. How Much Does a Master of Science in Nursing Degree Cost?
Cost of education will vary widely between educational institutions, but most students can expect to pay between $35,000 and $60,000 to complete an online master’s in nursing.
There are several ways to help fund a MSN degree. Students with a military background may be able to access tuition assistance for a graduate degree. Federal student loans and public service loan forgiveness programs are also available. In some cases, an employer may offer tuition reimbursement plans, or pay for a percentage of tuition in exchange for the nurse’s commitment to work for the organization for a set period of time after graduation.
8. What Scholarship Opportunities Are Available for MSN Programs?
Scholarship and grant funding for a Master of Science in Nursing is possible. There are a variety of resources across the Web that can lead applicants to potential financial assistance. Many professional organizations, state-specific private sources, and even employers may offer scholarships. Some resources to explore include:
- Discover Nursing’s state-by-state scholarship list
- The American Association of Colleges of Nursing
- The Research Foundation MSN in Nursing Education
9. What Are the Admission Requirements for a Master of Science in Nursing?
Every school will have its own set of admission requirements. The most common include:
- A current, unencumbered RN license
- A bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0
- Undergraduate transcripts
- Professional resume
- Statement of professional goals
- Proof of malpractice insurance
- Two letters of recommendation
Students who wish to transfer from another graduate program may be able to transfer all or a portion of their credits. Talk with our school’s admission staff for more information.
10. How Do I Get Started?
Getting started is as easy as exploring our program online. Admission staff will be able to help — just make sure you know what to ask. Write out a list of questions and make sure you get them all answered up front. If possible, talk to the professors in the nursing department and if you are local, come by for a visit. Here are a few questions you may want to ask:
- Is the program accredited?
- What is the class size?
- What is the class schedule like?
- What are the types of class assignments? Are lectures recorded for viewing later?
- What is the cost per credit hour and how many hours are required in class and in practicum? Can you complete your clinical hours locally, or is there a residency?
- What are the admission requirements? Is the GRE required?
- What support is available if I have a question or technical issue?
- Is the institution regionally accredited?
Find out more about obtaining your Master of Science in Nursing online from Sacred Heart University. Call us today at 877-791-7181 or visit us online for more information.