The field of nursing is growing and changing. Nurses have worked hard over decades to create highly professional and educational standards. Choosing to earn a graduate degree in nursing is a great choice for RNs who want to make a big impact on patient care.

The Master's of Science degree in Nursing, or MSN, creates opportunities for working registered nurses and for those who have never worked in healthcare at all. MSN-educated nurses are among the highest paid in the field and are in a position to influence patient care in a whole new way.

MSN Degree Programs

Across the country, more than 2,000 graduate programs exist from more than 500 nursing schools. With so many options there is a good program for every student. While most MSN programs take approximately three years, many finish much sooner. The current trend for APRN programs is to combine the MSN and DNP programs so that graduates can earn a Doctorate degree in addition to a Master's degree. This is not true for every program and is not required at this time to begin practicing.

MSN degree programs include:

Direct Entry or Accelerated MSN

The Direct Entry (also commonly referred to as a Master’s Entry to Nursing Practice – MENP) or Accelerated MSN program is available to students with a non-nursing Bachelor's or graduate degree. These programs assume general education requirements have been met and do not require repeating those courses. This program is for those without a degree in nursing.

For APRN programs, upon completion of the first year, students will be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam which allows licensure and is a requirement to begin working as an RN. However, most programs are much too time-consuming to balance both work and school so working is not recommended.

This course is typically 60-75 credit hours and requires clinical hours. Clinical hours are required to become licensed as an RN by the State and consist of one-on-one healthcare experience with an instructor.

Direct Entry or Accelerated MSN Tuition

Tuition varies greatly by school, but typically runs about $500-$1000 per credit hour. Generally, the requirement is 60-75 credit hours.

RN to MSN Bridge Program

For current RNs with an Associate's degree or diploma, the RN to MSN bridge program is a convenient option. These programs are less common than BSN or Bachelor's to MSN programs but some schools do offer them for a more affordable rate.

For students with an Associate's degree, many schools offer programs with as little as 51 credit hours.

RN to MSN Bridge Program Tuition

Credit hour cost varies considerably. Some programs offer a difference between lower-level and bridge courses while others have a flat fee for every course. Courses range from $500-$1000 per credit hour.

BSN to MSN Online Degree Program

For working RNs with a Bachelor's who want to advance to a higher level of education a bridge program is popular. The BSN to MSN program is available from many schools as in-classroom, online, and a combination of both formats.

Clinical hours are required for APRN roles because these require state licensure. Preceptor hours are not necessarily required by the State for indirect patient care specialties even though most schools will require them.

Online BSN to MSN program

For many BSN to MSN programs courses are offered 100% online. Clinical hours or preceptor hours are in-person and often required. Each state requires clinical hours for APRN specialties, which require state licensure. Many schools require preceptor hours so the student can gain "real-world" experience even if the specialty does not require state licensure to practice. Many online schools require the student to arrange clinical or preceptor hours independently in his/her hometown.

Popular Online BSN to MSN Programs Include:

  • Leadership and Management
  • Nursing Education
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner

With a Bachelor's degree in hand, many online schools offer MSN programs that require as few as 36 credit hours.

BSN to MSN Degree Program Tuition

Tuition for the BSN to MSN program is similar to that of the RN to MSN program which is $500-$1000 per credit hour.

MSN Degree Prerequisites

Dual Master's Degrees

For many graduate study specialties, a dual Master's degree is beneficial to be competitive in today's job market.

Dual Master's Degree Programs in Nursing Include:

  • Master's of Science in Nursing/Master's of Business Administration (MSN/MBA)
  • Master's of Science in Nursing/Master's of Health Administration (MSN/MHA)
  • Master's of Science in Nursing/Master's of Public Health (MSN/MPH)


This program is designed for nurses who want to be Chief Nursing Officers (CNO), Director of Nursing, nurse manager, or nurse executive. Graduates may work in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, long-term care facilities, outpatient settings, and others. To uphold or gain the ANCC's Magnet status, nurse managers in hospitals are required to hold an MSN degree.

Grand Canyon State University has a relatively short MBA and MSN in Nursing Leadership and Healthcare Systems.

This dual Master's program is 18 credit hours and offers 5-week courses. The 6 required courses are:

  • NRS-430V: Professional Dynamics
  • NRS-434V: Health Assessment
  • HLT-362V: Applied Statistics for Health Care Professionals
  • NRS-433V: Introduction to Nursing Research
  • NRS-427V: Concepts in Community and Public Health
  • NRS-410V: Pathophysiology and Nursing Management of Clients’ Health

Be sure to choose an accredited school. This ensures credits will be accepted by other schools and signifies a level of prestige as it pertains to education. Grand Canyon State University is accredited regionally by the Higher Learning Commission, Accreditation Council Business Schools and Programs, Arizona State Board of Education, Arizona Department of Education, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, and the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education.

Learn more about Dual MSN/MBA programs.


Master's of Science in Nursing/Master of Healthcare Administration is designed for nurses who want to be a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or other healthcare administrator. Working on the administrative side of healthcare settings such as hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, long-term care facilities, and outpatient settings.

The University of Phoenix offers an online program and is accredited by the CCNE which allows the graduate to take the ANCC certification exam.

Coursework includes finance, healthcare policy, and healthcare informatics. Required credit hours are based on location.

Learn more about Dual MSN/MHA programs.


The Master's of Science in Nursing/Master's of Public Health is designed for nurses who want to work in leadership roles in public health. The educational focus is around epidemiology, health policy management, and social/behavioral science.

Johns Hopkins University in Maryland offers a joint MSN/MPH program that can be completed on a part-time or full-time basis. Enrolled students only need to complete one 8-week term onsite – the remaining courses are completed online.

Learn more about Dual MSN/MPH programs.

Dual Master's Degree Tuition

Credit hours for the Dual Master's programs range from 18 to 60. Tuition is usually per credit hour but may be a flat rate. Financial aid is available from accredited schools.

  • Requirements for MSN Degree
  • Cumulative GPA 3.0
  • Negative drug screen
  • BLS CPR Certification
  • Negative background check
  • Completion of Bachelor's or Associate's degree from an accredited school, where applicable
  • Many schools, but not all, require taking the GRE exam 

MSN Degree Curriculum

MSN curriculum can be very different depending on which specialty is chosen. APRN roles provide direct patient care so they have a curriculum that teaches the nurse to be a direct patient care provider. Learn more about APRN roles.

APRN classes may include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Advanced Practice Geriatric, Pediatric, Adult, and Newborn Nursing
  • Nursing Ethics
  • Research
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Public Health

Nursing specialties that are not APRN specialties include several different classes that vary by specialty. Classes for these specialties may include:

  • Healthcare policy
  • Technology in nursing
  • Community health applications

Exam and Licensing

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association (ANA). They are the authority on nursing certifications.

"ANCC’s Certification Program enables nurses to demonstrate their specialty expertise and validate their knowledge to employers and patients. Through targeted exams that incorporate the latest nursing-practice standards, ANCC certification empowers nurses with pride and professional satisfaction."

After graduation, APRNs are required to take the appropriate certification exam to be eligible for state licensure. Graduate's of non-APRN degree programs are necessarily required to take the exam but it is highly recommended to be competitive.

From the ANCC website, available certifications include (note: some are "retired"):

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist Certifications
    • Adult Health CNS
    • Adult Gerontology CNS
    • Adult Psychiatric–Mental Health CNS
    • Child/Adolescent Psychiatric Mental Health CNS
    • Gerontological CNS
    • Home Health CNS
    • Pediatric CNS
    • Public/Community Health CNS
    • CNS Core
    • Diabetes Management—Advanced
    • Read more about CNS

APRN Exams

The NP certification exam is computer-based and consists of 200 questions, 25 of them unscored. The cost ranges from $270-$395 depending on whether the candidate is a member of the ANCC or not.

The CNS and most other certification exams from the ANCC are computer-based and consist of 175 questions, 25 of them unscored. The cost is $270-$395 depending on whether the candidate is a member of the ANCC or not.

Eligibility for APRN Certification

Eligibility for the ANCC varies by specialty but some basics are:

  • Current RN license in good standing
  • Graduate from a Master's program which has been accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) (formerly NLNAC | National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission)
  • Completion of the required amount of clinical hours, usually 500 clinical hours
    • State requirements may differ but the higher of the two must be satisfied
    • Completion of specific classes within the Master's program
      • Listed by certification

What Are the Roles of an MSN Nurse

MSN educated nurses are able to work from the top down to change healthcare policy, behind the scenes to advance research and technology, and side by side with patients as a provider, and many other roles.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Working bedside RNs are able to change to a provider role as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse or APRN. "Bedside" means working side-by-side with patients and carrying out a physician or practitioner's orders. But with a graduate degree, instead of taking orders, the APRN writes them. Read more about APRN careers.

The term APRN is an umbrella term for 4 types of MSN specialties:

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

Specializes in diagnosing, treating, and managing a variety of patient populations with both chronic and acute disease processes. FNPs work with patients to promote disease prevention, wellness, and longevity. This is the most popular MSN degree path and FNPs are in high demand. The student is able to specialize in neonatal, pediatric, adult, and geriatric populations.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

Working with both gynecologic and obstetric patient populations the CNM largely focuses on sexually transmitted disease prevention in the community as well as the health of the newborn and mother before, during, and after birth.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

CRNAs provide anesthesia and related care to surgical patients, including epidurals and emergent intubation to non-surgical patients.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Emphasizing research and evidence-based practice for the improvement of care, the CNS focuses on the prevention and treatment of diseases.

But if direct patient care is not the ultimate goal many other roles are available for MSN-educated RNs.

Nurse Researcher

At the forefront of medical research, scientific nurse researchers are helping to test, monitor, record, and create cures for illness and disease.

Nurse Educator

Nurse educators teach nursing students and professional nurses about patient care and safety through quality education. The type of working environment varies depending on the area chosen.

Public Health Nurse

Public health nurses help prevent diseases within the community through education and treatment.

Nurse Informaticist

Technology and information are a cornerstone of the future of healthcare and nurse informaticists create, monitor, and maintain software development and healthcare systems.

Public/Health Policy

Creating healthcare policies within the government affects all patients, and health policy nurses work hard to promote and create policies that will be beneficial for patients both current and future.

Nurse Administrator

Working from the top to build policy and procedures for many patients, as opposed to helping just one at a time. Nurse administrators ensure the quality of care and good workflow for bedside RNs. They may hire and fire and maintain order in a nursing unit.

Clinical Systems Leadership (CNL)

The CNL role was created to meet the American Association of Colleges of Nursing's (AACN) call for higher quality and improved safety of patient care. Working with administration, but not as a part of it, the CNL communicates and monitors patient care along with the interdisciplinary team. Nursing education, coordination of care, collect and evaluate patient safety data to improve quality of care.

MSN Jobs

As providers, nurses with an MSN degree choose a specialty, and this dictates where they will work.

A student can become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) which is an umbrella term for 4 different MSN specialties:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

These are roles that provide direct patient care and providers may work in a variety of healthcare settings.

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
    • Private practice
      • Pediatrics
      • Geriatrics
      • Behavioral health
      • Women's health
    • Hospitals
      • Acute care
    • Urgent care
    • Community health
    • Long term care facility
    • Skilled nursing facility
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
    • Birthing Center
    • Hospital
      • Labor and Delivery
      •  Mom/Baby
    • Private Homes
    • Community health
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
    • Hospitals
      • Operating Room
      • Trauma
      • Labor and Delivery
    • Outpatient Surgical Center
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
    • Hospital
      • Critical Care
      • Acute care
    • Community health
    • Adult health settings

Indirect Care MSN Jobs

Degree programs that are not included in the APRN umbrella are considered indirect patient care roles. Indirect patient care means the nurse does not work at the patient's bedside. These roles do not require licensure to practice and because of that many of these programs are offered 100% online with preceptor or clinical hours arranged by the student in his/her hometown.

  • Nurse Researcher
  • Nurse Educator
  • Public Health Nurse
  • Nurse Informaticist
  • Public Policy
  • Nurse Administrator
  • Clinical Systems Leadership

Jobs for these roles include:

  • Nurse Researcher
    • Laboratory
    • Private research firm
    • Pharmaceutical company
  • Nurse Educator
    • University
    • Hospital
      • All areas
    • Community college
    • Private Colleges
  • Public Health Nurse
    • Community health
  • Nurse Informaticist
    • Hospital
    • Insurance company
    • Healthcare device company
    • Software company
  • Public Policy
    • Health services research firm
    • Public office
    • State legislature
  • Nurse Administrator
    • Hospital
      • Chief Nursing Officer (CNO)
      • Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
      • Nurse Executive
      • Director of Nursing
      • Healthcare Administrator
    • Skilled Nursing Facility
    • Long Term Care Facility
    • Outpatient settings
    • Public Health
  • Clinical Systems Leadership (CNL)
    • Hospital
    • Skilled Nursing Facility
    • Long Term Care Facility
    • Outpatient centers

Find an RN Job.

APRN Licensure

Advanced-practice registered nurses (APRNs) provide direct patient care and are therefore required to be licensed by the State in which they will be working. Once the certification exam is passed the APRN will be able to apply for licensure.

Each state has its own eligibility criteria but generally:

  • RN license in good standing
  • Graduation from MSN program
  • National certification exam passed
    • ANCC
  • Criminal background reported and free of incidents which will affect fitness to perform the role


Earning a master's degree in nursing is a momentous step in a nurse's career. However, some nurses who earn an MSN do not wish to leave bedside nursing. After all, caring for patients directly is why many nurses got into the field of nursing in the first place. So, does earning an MSN mean that nurses have to move up the clinical ladder and away from direct patient care?

The answer is not necessarily. While many MSN-prepared nurses earn the degree to move up the ladder into management, executive, educator, or practitioner roles, not all have those goals in mind. Some nurses simply wish to expand their knowledge base to improve their bedside care. For example, a nurse can earn an MSN in education to be able to utilize their skills when teaching patients. MSN-prepared nurses can also become nurse practitioners and assume the role of a primary care provider for patients.

Additionally, healthcare is continuously changing. MSN-prepared nurses are skilled in changing along with it and identifying healthcare-related issues along the way. They are proficient in problem-solving using evidence-based solutions. What better way to identify concerns than being on the front lines? In short, nurses can improve their bedside care dramatically by earning an MSN.

An MBA and MSN in Health Systems Management are similar in that with both, nurses are considered advanced-level nurses, practicing at the executive level. Both roles involve supervising and developing healthcare-related workflows to improve both patient care and efficiency. However, there are differences between the degree types.

A Master’s in Business Administration is a business degree, not a nursing degree. However, while the initial approach is broad and can encompass many types of businesses, nurses can earn a dual MSN/MBA degree to apply advanced-practice and executive-level nursing to the business aspect of healthcare.  Nurses with this degree type can become chief nursing officers, responsible for the oversight of large organizations.

Those with an MSN in Health Systems Management are also in the nursing leadership chain. However, their focus is not only on budgets and cost. MSN-HSM nurses look at ways to develop and improve electronic medical records as well as utilize the latest research to develop and implement workflows and improve clinical decision-making. They also focus on project improvement, identifying risk concerns, and developing ways to improve quality.

MSN Salary

Salaries for MSN educated nurses vary by specialty and years of experience but below is the general range according to several commercial and government sources.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
$74,034 – $106,904

Nurse Practitioner (NP)
$77,000 – $111,385

Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP)
$72,629 – $115,152

Adult Nurse Practitioner (ANP)
$77,633 – $118,252

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)
$81,768 – $113,612

Nursing Manager
$69,105 – $118,258

Registered Nurse (RN)
$46,659 – $95,143

Certified Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Certified Registered Nurse Anestethist (CRNA)
$96,364 – $188,288

Certified Nurse Midwife
$62,000 – $120,500