Is a Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN) Worth It?

Review the different aspects of an MSN degree to help you determine whether it can be a valuable asset to your nursing career.
Two nurses shake hands with a business person

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree can be the gateway to new career opportunities, higher pay scales, and advanced skill sets for nursing professionals. However, weighing the pros and cons of pursuing this degree is crucial before investing time and resources into the program. This article explores the different aspects of an MSN degree to help you determine whether it can be a valuable asset to your nursing career.

Understanding the MSN Degree

If you are a registered nurse (RN) looking to advance your career, pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree could be an excellent choice. An MSN degree can help you develop a range of skills and knowledge, including advanced clinical skills, leadership skills, and the ability to conduct nursing research.

Definition and Scope of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a graduate-level degree that prepares RNs to take on advanced roles in nursing practice, education, research, and leadership. MSN programs typically require students to complete core courses covering topics such as nursing theory, healthcare policy and ethics, research methods, and advanced clinical practice.

Types of MSN Tracks and Specializations

As mentioned, MSN programs offer different tracks and specializations to meet students’ diverse needs and interests. Some of the most common MSN tracks and specializations include:

  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Nurse Anesthesia (NA)
  • Nurse Education (NE)
  • Nursing Leadership (NL)
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

Requirements for Pursuing an MSN Degree

To pursue an MSN degree, you must meet specific requirements, including:

  • A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited nursing program
  • A current and active RN license
  • A minimum GPA of 3.0 (varies by program)
  • Letters of recommendation from professional or academic references
  • A personal statement or essay outlining your career goals, interests, and experience
  • Pre-requisite courses such as statistics, health assessment, and pathophysiology
  • Standardized tests such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) (varies by program)

Comparing MSN to Other Nursing Degrees

The most common advanced degrees in nursing are the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These degrees share many similarities and differences.

The MSN degree is designed for students who have completed their BSN and want to specialize in a specific area of nursing. Students earning an MSN degree will usually receive advanced education in evidence-based practice, leadership, and healthcare systems.

The DNP is the highest level of nursing education available. While both the MSN and DNP degrees provide advanced training in nursing practice, the DNP degree focuses primarily on evidence-based practice and healthcare outcomes.

Differences Between BSN, MSN, and DNP

The BSN degree is among the most popular and well-respected undergraduate degrees in nursing. It is designed to give students the necessary knowledge and skills to become registered nurses (RN) and pass the national licensing exam.

The MSN degree is designed to provide RNs with specialized knowledge in clinical practice, leadership, education, research, and healthcare systems.

The DNP degree is terminal for nurses who want to specialize in advanced practice nursing. It is designed to provide nurses with the necessary knowledge and skills to use research and data to improve healthcare outcomes.

Job Roles and Responsibilities for Each Degree Level

BSN-educated nurses often assume staff nurse, charge nurse, care coordinator, nurse case manager, or patient educator positions. They are responsible for direct patient care, medication administration, patient assessment, education, and documentation.

MSN-educated nurses often assume positions such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator, nurse administrator, or nurse researcher. They are responsible for providing advanced patient care, designing and implementing clinical programs, and teaching the next generation of nurses

DNP-educated nurses often assume nurse practitioner, nurse executive, nurse informaticist, or nurse consultant positions. They are responsible for leading healthcare teams, designing and implementing clinical programs, analyzing healthcare data, and conducting research.

Potential Income and Career Advancements

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for registered nurses was $77,460 in May 2019. However, nurses with advanced degrees often earn significantly more.

For example, the median annual wage for nurse practitioners was $109,820 in May 2019. The median annual wage for nurse anesthetists was $174,790 in May 2019.

Nurses with advanced degrees can assume higher-level management positions, conduct research, teach, or become healthcare consultants.

Professional Opportunities with an MSN Degree

An MSN is a valuable degree that can open doors to leadership positions, advanced practice roles, and countless other fulfilling career options in the healthcare industry. It can offer you the chance to specialize in a particular area of nursing and gain expertise in your chosen field.

Career Paths for MSN Degree Holders

One of the main benefits of an MSN degree is the vast array of career paths you can pursue after graduation, such as:

  • Nurse Practitioner: As a nurse practitioner, you would take on a more advanced role in patient care by diagnosing and treating illnesses, prescribing medications, ordering tests, and managing overall patient care.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist: Clinical nurse specialists are experts in a specific area of healthcare, such as wound care, diabetes management, or critical care.
  • Nurse Educator: They work in academic settings, teaching nursing students the knowledge and skills they need to become successful nurses.
  • Nurse Researcher: They are responsible for conducting studies and analyzing data to help advance the nursing field.

Impact of MSN on Leadership and Expertise

An MSN program will help you develop advanced skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making, all essential qualities of a successful leader in healthcare.

In addition, an MSN degree can help you gain a deeper understanding of healthcare policy, research, and evidence-based practice, which can further enhance your ability to lead and make informed decisions.

Demand for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of APRNs is projected to grow 26% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

By obtaining an MSN degree and pursuing an APRN role, you can help bridge the gap between the demand for quality healthcare and the shortage of providers in certain areas of medicine.

Financial and Time Considerations

Prospective students must consider the financial and time commitments required before enrolling in an MSN program. Tuition and other expenses can be significant factors in deciding whether to pursue an MSN degree. The good news is that many financial aid options are available, including scholarships, grants, and loans. In addition, some employers offer tuition reimbursement programs that can help offset the cost of pursuing an MSN.

Students should also consider the time commitment required. MSN programs typically take 18 months to two years to complete and may require significant coursework, clinical hours, and other hands-on experiences.

Cost of Pursuing an MSN Degree

The cost is one of the most significant factors to consider when deciding whether to pursue an MSN degree. Tuition costs can vary greatly depending on the school and program, so it’s essential to research and shop around for the best options.

According to a recent report from Nurse Journal, the average cost of tuition for an MSN degree is around $30,000 to $40,000. However, this can vary greatly depending on location, type of program (online vs. in-person), and whether you attend a public or private institution. In addition to tuition, there are other costs to consider, such as textbooks, fees, and living expenses.

Time Commitment and Program Flexibility

Another critical factor to consider when pursuing an MSN degree is the time commitment required. MSN programs can take 18 months to two years to complete. While this can be a significant time commitment, many MSN programs offer flexibility in scheduling and format. Some programs offer online classes and coursework, which can be completed on your schedule.

Return on Investment and Loan Forgiveness Programs

While pursuing an MSN degree can be a significant investment, many nurses find it can also lead to a high return on investment (ROI) regarding career opportunities and salary potential.

According to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the average salary for registered nurses with an MSN degree is over $100,000 per year. This is significantly higher than the average salary for RNs without an MSN degree, which is around $73,000 per year. In addition to higher salaries, pursuing an MSN degree can lead to loan forgiveness programs and other financial incentives.

Summarizing the Pros and Cons of Pursuing an MSN

Some potential benefits of pursuing an MSN degree include:

  • Higher salary potential
  • More career opportunities
  • Development of valuable skills and knowledge
  • Credibility and respect in the nursing profession

However, there are also potential drawbacks to consider, such as:

  • High cost of tuition and other expenses
  • Time commitment required
  • Potential for burnout or overwhelm

Evaluating Personal Goals and Aspirations in the Nursing Profession

Some questions to ask yourself when considering an MSN degree might include the following:

  • What are my long-term career goals?
  • Am I looking to advance my career within my current organization or explore new opportunities?
  • What are my areas of interest or expertise within the nursing field?
  • What type of patient population do I feel most passionate about working with?
  • How vital is salary potential to me?

By carefully evaluating your personal goals and aspirations in nursing, you can better determine whether pursuing an MSN degree is the right choice for you.

FAQs Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN)

This section aims to answer frequently asked questions about the MSN degree program.

What are the Benefits of Pursuing an MSN Degree?

An MSN degree can be beneficial in many ways. Here are a few advantages:

  • Increased job opportunities
  • Favorable salary prospects
  • Opportunities to specialize in various clinical areas
  • Opportunities to work in advanced practice roles, such as nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists
  • Development of leadership and managerial skills
  • Opportunities to work as nurse educators and researchers

How Long Does it Take to Complete an MSN Degree?

The duration of MSN programs varies depending on the institution, program, and student’s schedule. Generally, it takes about 2-3 years to complete an MSN program full-time, while part-time options can take up to 4-5 years. Some programs offer accelerated options that can be completed in as little as 12 months.

Can MSN Programs be Completed Online?

Yes, several institutions offer online MSN programs. Online programs offer flexibility and convenience, allowing students to study independently. However, students should research and ensure that the online program is accredited, offers the course program relevant to the desired advanced nursing practice role, and has the necessary clinical components.

Other Resources from Xavier University Online