Online masters in nursing for advanced practice or management

By Clare Kaufman

A master's degree in nursing can bring access to employment opportunities such as administration, advanced practice nursing or specialized health care careers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects excellent job opportunities for registered nurses, and it includes advanced practice nurses with master's degrees in this category. Due to growing demand for health care services and an aging population, the U.S. should see 581,500 new registered nurses between 2008 and 2018.

The online Master of Nursing

The master's degree in nursing is a gateway to the top careers in the field. The MSN generally takes two years to complete, and is available online or on campus. The bachelor's degree in nursing is a prerequisite for this graduate program. Aspiring master's degree students must also pass the national licensing examination, NCLEX-RN, to obtain a nursing license. Students with a bachelor's degree in another field can accelerate their nursing education with a combined bachelor's and master's degree in nursing; these programs take three to four years to complete and earn both the BSN and MSN degrees.

The Master of Science in Nursing degree features specialized training in advanced practice nursing roles, such as clinical nurse specialist or nurse practitioner. Specialty areas include forensics nursing, geriatrics, rural health, family and child health, neonatal nursing, psychiatric nursing, and clinical informatics.

For more extensive study in certain specialties, some universities offer combined degrees like these:

  • Master of Nursing and Public Health, or MSN-MPH
  • Master of Nursing and Business Administration, or MSN-MBA

Some schools differentiate between a Master of Science in Nursing, which may be more focused on research, and the Master of Nursing, or MN, which is an advanced clinical practice program.

Master of Nursing: health care advanced training

Master's degree programs in nursing combine classroom instruction, supervised clinical experience and, in some cases, research. To facilitate the hands-on component of the course, online master's degree programs may help arrange a local internship or clinical rotation.

MSN degree programs offer instruction in advanced nursing practice, theory and research methodology. Typical courses at the master's degree level include these:

  1. Clinical pharmacology
  2. Health assessment and measurement
  3. Diagnosis and treatment
  4. Pediatric care
  5. Geriatric care
  6. Community or public health nursing
  7. Statistical methods in nursing or public health
  8. Epidemiology

Depending on the specialty, online nursing master's degree programs may incorporate courses in biostatistics, health informatics, forensic examination, case management and health care systems management.

Advanced practice careers for master's degree graduates

A master's degree in nursing often leads to a career as an advanced practice nurse, in one of the four chief specialties: clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife or nurse practitioner. Advanced practice nurses work independently and provide some primary care. Many nurses develop a specialty within advanced practice. Clinical nurse specialists, for example, may focus on psychiatric care, pediatrics, geriatrics or forensic nursing.

Online master's in nursing for health care management

Administrative nursing careers are another option for graduates of master's programs. Students from an online grad school who want to be nurses may take on management responsibility, working as a case manager, health informatics specialist, nursing unit manager or chief of nursing. The BLS reports that hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and managed care organizations hire nurses with master's degrees for health planning and development, quality assurance and policy development.

A master's degree in nursing typically affects compensation rates. The BLS estimates a mean 2010 salary of $67,720 for registered nurses, including advanced practice nurses as well as those without graduate education. Salary.com lists significantly higher salary averages for graduate-level nursing specialists:

  • Certified nurse anesthetist, $155,840
  • Certified nurse midwife, $91,130
  • Nurse practitioner, $89,677
  • Clinical nurse specialist, $87,759
  • Head nurse or nursing manager, $88,652

Overall, the BLS expects employment of registered nurses to grow 22 percent in the 2008-2018 period, with high demand for the four advanced practice specialties, especially in underserved areas such as inner cities and rural areas.

Notable nurses with graduate degrees

Some of the most distinguished nurses in the field got their start from a graduate program. Examples include pioneering pediatric nurse Florence Guiness Blake (1907-1983), who completed a Master of Science in Nursing degree before launching a career as a nursing educator and advocate for graduate-level nursing education. Hazel Johnson-Brown, the first African-American woman general, leveraged her training at West Chester School of Nursing to become chief of the Army Nurse Corps and dean of the Walter Reed Army Institute School of Nursing. Jeanne Prentice, a certified nurse midwife, used her graduate professional training to promote natural childbirth via the PUSH! initiative. And Virginia Avenel Henderson forged her reputation as the "first lady of nursing" and pioneer of nursing theory after receiving a master's degree in nursing education from Columbia University.

An online master's degree program in nursing is a stepping stone to opportunity, helping registered nurses make a difference in the lives of patients and the well-being of communities.

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