What Can You Do with a Master’s in Nursing?
Nursing is one of today’s most versatile and opportunity-rich professions. With increasing diversification in health care, along with intensifying needs for highly qualified providers, nurses are discovering a myriad of career pathways.
Global health care leader Johnson & Johnson celebrates the nursing profession by championing the “innovation, compassion and grit” of nurses. The company’s dedicated website, J&J Nursing, identifies almost 100 different nursing specialties.
As you explore the possibilities for your career and consider how advanced education might be part of the plan, you may be asking, “What can you do with a master’s in nursing?”
Benefits of Advanced Nursing Education
A master’s in nursing equips you with the skills, current knowledge and hands-on experience for specialized nursing roles and health care leadership. Earning an advanced degree is essential for many of the highest-demand career opportunities as a nurse.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) explains how a master’s degree is the entryway to advancement in nursing. The organization has served as a voice for quality standards in nursing education for more than 50 years and regularly tracks trends in education and employment for nurses. AACN identifies these specific nursing roles that open up to MSN-prepared nurses:
- Providing advanced nursing care
- Conducting research
- Educating future nurses
- Addressing public policy matters
- Leading at a macro level in health care
- Advising organizations
- Applying evidence-based solutions for innovation in health care
Movement to higher levels of nursing practice also correlates with higher salary potential. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the median annual salary for a registered nurse is $77,600. Average salaries for advanced nursing roles, however, typically range from around $90,000 to more than $130,000, as identified more specifically throughout this blog.
Nurses with advanced degrees may pursue non-clinical roles in leadership, research and education or clinical roles with high levels of responsibility in patient care.
Non-Clinical Career Opportunities in Nursing
Modern health care organizations rely on MSN-prepared nurses to lead and enhance clinical work through non-clinical nursing roles. Nurses in these non-patient facing roles provide vital support for the teams providing direct patient care. A search for “non-clinical nursing” on major job sites generates a wide array of results. Let’s take a look at some leading career opportunities.
Equipping the next generation of nurses requires continual investments in nursing education. Nurse educators design curriculum, provide academic and clinical instruction and lead in shaping educational policies and practices. Nurse educators may work in colleges and universities, technical schools or clinical settings, ensuring that the nurses providing the care are up-to-date with the latest evidence-based care recommendations and have an opportunity for professional development. According to salary data from the job site Indeed, the average salary for a clinical nurse educator is $89,078.
Also known as a nursing informaticist specialist, a nurse informaticist is a registered nurse who develops and manages technology for optimizing patient care. Career advice from the job site Indeed describes vital qualities for a nurse informaticist: leadership, research and communication skills, combined with clinical and technical skills. In this role, a nurse plans projects, analyzes data, builds electronic health record features, and provides training for other professionals. The reported average annual salary for a nurse informaticist, according to Indeed, is $115,819.
As the highest-ranking nurses in organizations, executive nurse leaders, nurse administrators, chief nursing executives and chief nursing officers direct nursing systems and contribute to shaping health care organizations. A nurse executive manages teams, leads training and professional development and implements procedures for quality improvements. According to salary data from Indeed, the average salary for a chief nursing officer is $130,833. Salaries for chief nursing executives—who lead at the highest levels—run significantly higher.
Medical and Health Services Manager
MSN-prepared nurses may also consider broader roles in health care, such as medical and health services management. Medical and health services managers and directors work in hospitals, physician’s offices and other health care centers planning and directing the work of a department or facility. Also known as health care executives and health care administrators, these managers focus on efficiency and quality, managing daily operations and human resources to ensure staffing and budgetary goals are met.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies medical and health services manager as a field growing at a much faster rate than average, with a 28% expected increase in jobs from 2021 to 2031. BLS data shows the median annual salary for a medical and health services manager is $101,340.
Advanced Clinical Nursing Roles
As health care providers across the country scramble to respond to nursing shortages, nurse leaders are taking action to place more nurses in service. The American Nursing Association (ANA) has petitioned the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to declare the shortage a national crisis. A recent survey by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) showed that organizations are offering higher pay and benefits like flexible scheduling to attract and retain nurses.
In particularly high demand are advanced nursing roles, such as nurse practitioner, which require master’s level preparation or higher. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is currently projecting a 46% increase in jobs from 2021 to 2031 for nurse practitioners.
Let’s take a look at some leading career opportunities for MSN-prepared nurses working on the front lines with patients.
Clinical Nurse Leader and Nurse Manager
Based on years of research in quality improvement, the position of clinical nurse leader (CNL) has emerged in recent decades as an increasingly vital component in patient outcomes. A master’s-level generalist, the CNL directs the care of an identified group of patients utilizing evidence-based practice approaches and interprofessional leadership. The Clinical Nurse Leader Association (CNLA) describes the role as having a “microsystem focus.”
Similarly, a clinical nurse manager oversees the work of other nurses and operates with a strong administrative emphasis on managing patient care. The nurse manager is often involved in hiring, training and supervising along with handling budgets and record-keeping. Nurse managers, like CNLs, are also vital leaders in collaboration with other health care professionals.
According to data from Lightcast Labor Insights, the annual median salary for a clinical nurse leader for September 2021–September 2022 was $93,184. In the same report, the annual median salary for a clinical nurse manager was $94,976.
Clinical Research Nurse
A clinical research nurse (CRN) cares for patients who are part of research studies. The National Institutes of Health has taken the initiative to define and advance this area of specialty, elevating the prominence of the role. CRNs are responsible for administering treatments and collecting data as they deliver experimental medications and procedure trials.
According to Indeed, the average annual salary for a research nurse is $92,329.
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse
Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) provide specialized direct patient care at a higher level than other RNs. Because they are qualified to offer many of the same services as physicians, APRNs are a significant part of making quality care accessible to more people.
Clinical Nurse Specialist
As APRNs, clinical nurse specialists diagnose and treat patients in a specialized area of practice. As nurse leaders, they influence improvements in health care organizations and implement evidence-based practices. Certifications currently available to clinical nurse specialists include:
Additionally, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses offers these CCNS certifications in acute/critical care:
- Adult/Critical Care
According to Indeed, the average annual salary for a clinical nurse specialist is $136,523.
Like clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners are leaders in health care, providing advanced levels of specialized care in diagnosing and treating patients. NPs are team leaders who impact health care systems. Compared to a CNS, a nurse practitioner is often more focused on direct patient care and in some states will have more practice authority. Certifications for nurse practitioners include:
- Adult—Gerontology Primary Care
- Psychiatric Mental Health
- Acute Care
- Pediatrics—Primary Care
- Adult—Gerontology Acute Care
- Women’s Health
- Pediatrics—Acute Care
Two nurse practitioner specializations with exceptional career opportunities in today’s health care landscape are family nurse practitioner and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner—with demand driven by an aging U.S. population, physician shortages and increasing levels of mental health issues.
A family nurse practitioner (FNP) manages primary care for patients across the age span, developing care plans, performing exams and prescribing medications and therapies. With shortages of family practice physicians, especially in underserved geographic areas, FNPs are filling gaps in health care.
According to Indeed, the average salary for an FNP is $144,250.
To learn more, read “How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner.”
A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) diagnoses mental health conditions and addictions, prescribes medications and provides therapeutic interventions. In a recent study reported by the National Institutes of Health, nearly half of Americans have experienced symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the need for specialized care.
Indeed identifies the average annual salary for a PMHNP as $138,149.
For more information, see “How to Become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.”
Unsure if the FNP or PMHNP path is right for you? Read "FNP vs. PMHNP: Which Nurse Practitioner Program is Right for You?"
What Are My Options for an Online Advanced Degree in Nursing at Marymount University?
Marymount’s online advanced nursing degree programs offer personalized student support with expert faculty focused on servant leadership. Marymount advisors handle your clinical placement at no additional charge to you.
Learn more about FNP and PMHNP degree paths at Marymount University Malek School of Nursing Professions Online and take the next step on your career path in nursing.