Master’s in nursing leadership and administration program guide

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Nursing leadership and administration: an introduction 

Nursing roles and responsibilities continue to expand as modern healthcare evolves. It’s a diverse industry with various levels of management across numerous settings. That’s why nursing leadership and administration typically encompasses a broad range of specializations. These can be categorized into 3 general tiers: 

  • First-line management: responsible for nursing services, staff, and oversight of daily operations and processes. Common job titles may include nurse manager, charge nurse, nurse shift supervisor, and nurse shift leader.  
  • Middle-level administration: oversees several nursing units, plans departmental budgets, and implements assurance and quality control. Job titles may include nurse administrator, director of nursing, clinical nurse manager, coordinator, and case manager. 
  • Executive management: responsible for directing patient care systems, strategic and policy planning, business and resources management, and quality assessments. Job titles may include executive director, chief nursing officer, and executive vice president of nursing.  

Nursing leadership professionals are in high demand, too. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in medical health and services management is expected to rise by 32% for 2019-2029. BLS also reported the median pay for these positions to be $100,980 per year. 

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a focus on leadership and administration is a commonly accepted route to a career in nursing leadership. If you’re passionate about healthcare, want to shape policies, and drive quality services, then it could be an ideal option for you. 

Different types of master’s degree programs 

Leadership, administration, and management all cover varying nursing professions, so master’s degree programs will also differ. Popular MSN variations in these fields include: 

  • Nursing administration 
  • Nurse leadership 
  • Nursing leadership and management 
  • Executive nurse leadership 
  • Nursing administration and financial leadership 
  • Health systems administration 
  • Case management 
  • Care coordination 

There are also a number of MSN program types. Finding the right one depends on your current experience and education. 

Accelerated or direct entry MSN 

These programs are designed for students with a bachelor’s degree in a field that is not nursing. They’re also known as Master’s Entry to Nursing Practice programs or MENPs, and typically combine Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and MSN curriculums. Students wanting to pursue a leadership or administration role can usually find MENPs with course subjects in those areas. 

BSN to MSN  

A bridging BSN to MSN program is ideal for registered nurses (RNs) who have a bachelor’s degree and want to advance their careers and education. This is a popular route to leadership, administration, and management nursing fields. Students may also pursue Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) roles that focus on leadership, such as a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS). 

Dual programs 

A dual master’s degree can be beneficial to graduates who wish to pursue executive nursing leadership and administration career paths. Some of these programs combine MSN degrees with: 

MSN/MBA programs can equip professionals with the necessary business and financial knowledge to assume executive roles in nursing leadership. Possible career pathways may include nursing management and chief executive officer roles. 

MSN/MHA programs are ideal for registered nurses who want to move into leadership roles such as hospital administration, department management, and nursing education. Career options could include nurse manager, nurse director, nurse or hospital administrator, and healthcare consultant. 

Registered nurses who want to pursue leadership roles in public health may opt for an MSN/MPH program. This dual program typically focuses on health policy management, advanced patient care, epidemiology, and behavioral or social science. Career choices could include health services manager and community health manager. 

General application requirements 

Specific application requirements vary according to the type of master’s degree program you choose. However, most programs or schools require applicants to have the following: 

  • Registered nurse licensure 
  • An accredited bachelor’s degree in nursing 
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0 
  • Letters of recommendation 
  • Official transcripts from your undergraduate college 

Most graduate programs in nursing leadership and administration don’t typically require test scores, but you’ll need to make sure of the precise entry requirements. The application itself is usually an online form that requires details such as past work experience, educational history, and personal information. You can also expect to pay an application fee, and you may also need to submit to a background check. 

Course concentrations 

As mentioned previously, nursing leadership, management, and administration encompass a vast range of roles in the profession. The type of graduate program and your chosen school determine what course concentrations you can expect.  

While specifications may vary, master’s degree programs in nursing leadership and administration typically utilize evidence-based practices and advanced nursing theory to guide instruction. Core concentrations generally include advanced pathophysiology, pharmacology, and healthcare assessment, as well as healthcare policy. 

Coursework and topics under nursing leadership, management, and administration degree programs could include: 

  • Human resource management 
  • Financial management 
  • Legal and risk management 
  • Ethics and health policies 
  • Healthcare systems and case management 
  • Strategic planning 
  • Health administration 
  • Nursing management 
  • Managed care 
  • Healthcare informatics and technology 
  • Operations management 
  • Quality improvement and safety 
  • Organizational assessment 

Post-graduate certificate programs 

A post-master’s or post-graduate certificate program can benefit healthcare professionals who want to pursue a specialized nursing field. These certifications are designed for registered nurses who already have a master’s degree but want to expand their skills and knowledge in a particular niche.  

By acquiring specialized expertise, nursing professionals can advance their careers, increase their earning potential, and take on further responsibilities. Graduates can earn a certificate in various areas, including nursing management and administration, informatics, nursing education, public health, forensic nursing, mental health, and executive leadership. 

Online, hybrid, and on-campus learning 

Many reputable educational institutions offer MSN and certificate programs that can be earned entirely online, on campus, or both which is referred to as hybrid learning. This flexibility allows nurses with busy schedules to obtain their degrees at their own pace while working full- or part-time.       

How long does it take? 

Most nursing leadership and administration MSN programs typically require between 35 and 40 credit hours. Earning a master’s degree usually takes 2 years. In some cases, students can earn their degrees in 12 to 18 months, thanks to the flexibility of online curriculums. Factors like part- or full-time learning, online or on-campus study, and program structure affect the time it’ll take to complete your MSN degree.

Tuition costs and financial aid 

Tuition fees may vary depending on your school, state, and program type, but online options are usually more affordable than others. A nursing leadership or administration degree can typically cost between $300 and $500 per credit hour. This means that fees can range from $10,500 to $20,000. Additional expenses like textbooks, graduation fees, technology costs, facility, campus, and distance-learning fees should also be considered.  

Various forms of financial aid may be available to students from both public and private institutions. Graduate students can apply for the federal student aid by completing the online form, Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA). By completing this form and submitting the essential documents, your eligibility for this type of financial support is assessed. This website is also a great place to look to find general information about the different types of financial support that is available to students including work-study programs, loans, scholarships and grants.  

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing also has different types of financial aid available for eligible students. Other organizations and education institutions may offer financial aid and scholarships too, so it’s worth finding out what’s available and if you qualify. 

Accreditation and why it’s important 

Accreditation refers to the voluntary, self-regulatory process that evaluates nursing programs to ensure that they abide by specific regional and state standards. While there are numerous accreditation organizations, they’re not all created equally.  

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes both regional and national accrediting organizations. Nursing schools can be accredited by one or the other, or both. However, the 2 major national accrediting organizations are the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). 

Most nationally-accredited graduate schools accept ACEN and CCNE transfer credits. However, transfer credits from regionally-accredited institutions to nationally-accredited schools and vice versa may not be accepted. 

Students should always determine the accreditation of their chosen grad schools before enrolment, and ensure that it offers the applicable NCLEX-RN exam for licensure. 

Further education 

Graduate students can extend their knowledge even further after completing their MSNs. Apart from the certification programs mentioned earlier, nursing professionals can also earn their: 

  • Post-master’s Doctorate of Nursing Practice  
  • Doctorate of Nursing Practice in Executive Leadership 
  • Doctorate of Philosophy in Nursing 

Graduate students can choose to earn a doctorate or Ph.D. in specialized areas of healthcare and nursing. These advanced skills and knowledge equip nursing executives with the enhanced capabilities to fulfill high-level roles in their fields. 

Regardless of where you are on your educational and professional nursing journey, there are some valuable resources that you may require from time to time. See them below. 

The American Journal of Nursing is a peer-reviewed journal that provides evidence-based literature and promotes excellence in the industry. 

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing is an online publication that’s peer-reviewed. It addresses current issues facing education, research, and nursing practice. 

Journal of Research in Nursing publishes original research on nursing themes and topics, with an evidence-based approach. 

American Nurses Association represents over 4 million registered nurses’ interests and promotes quality standards, ethics, and advocacy. 

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing supports academic nursing and works to establish and improve quality standards in education and healthcare spheres. 

The American Medical Association advocates patient care and addresses public health issues in the legal context.