Master’s of science in nursing programs guide

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Master’s in science and nursing

If you are currently a nursing student, a registered nurse or a nursing professional, a Master’s in Science in Nursing (MSN) is the next step up the ladder for the career orientated nurse. Typically, this is a 2-year full-time course, although it can be studied part time in units over 3 to 5 years. You can study for a MSN online or on campus, depending on the college or university you choose and the course units you select. Some specialist programs may have compulsory in-the-field practice.

You can expand your field of employment beyond hospitals and healthcare clinics and into home health agencies, nursing homes, rehabilitation centres, nursing schools and make inroads to consulting.

A MSN opens doors to a wide variety of fields such as administration, leadership, informatics, nurse educators and health policy management. A MSN will guide you to the next level of advanced nursing theory and practice and keep you up to date on the latest research, ethical guidelines and newly emerging fields of expertise.

You can also specialize in your chosen field, particularly in emerging disciplines, notably, mental health, anaesthesia, end-of-life care and the more traditional roles of midwifery, endocrinology, cardiology, gerontology and care for the chronically ill.

Why should I be interested?

You are needed and wanted. Healthcare in the United States is understaffed and is urgently recruiting nursing professionals in all disciplines. The MSN provides you with the necessary skills for getting a specialist position, career advancement and international as well as national opportunities. The prime opportunities that open up are:

Nurse executive

In this role you are the leading figure of the department, and, depending on the size of the establishment you work for, will be responsible for directing, recruiting, training and coordinating staff teams. You will have direct involvement in policy making and be responsible for financial and budgetary decisions across the board from staff salaries to equipment budgets.

Nurse educator

As a nurse educator, you bring your love and experience for the job to train and inspire the next generation of nursing professionals. A host of vacancies – from smaller nursing educational facilities to major hospitals – require you to teach in either academic or actual clinical situations for a range of duties.

You will be involved in devising, revising and implementing training programs, heading up research projects, guiding students through their qualifying courses and contributing to the field of medicine through conference appearances, text book and course unit writing and evaluating and representing your institution for professional agencies.

Nursing informatics

Data is the lifeblood of health institutions and as a nurse informatics professional, you will implement the entry, storage, retrieval and updating of patient care information. As part of an emerging discipline, you will shape the development of integrating IT skills with medical knowledge. Salaries range from $64,000 to $115,000 a year. 

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

The field of mental health is undergoing a revolution and funding for research and professional services are increasing every year, especially in educational institutions at all levels, and in industry.

In collaboration with a staff psychiatrist, you would provide vital healthcare, assessment, education, emotional support, and lead in a counselling role. You would refer patients and prescribe medication as well as instigating tests, evaluating and providing information to the patients. 

Adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioner

This community-based role is generally found in educational institutions, local clinics and care centers. You will focus on educating 16 – 50 year olds in healthy life style choices, disease prevention and managing chronic mental and physical illnesses. 

Family nurse practitioner (FNP)

Based in a broad range of locations, from private home visits, office locations, schools, clinics and hospitals, a FNP will deal with the whole gamut of illnesses, both mild and severe, physical and mental. You will follow your patients throughout their life, focusing on illness prevention, coping with chronic illness, testing, diagnosing and educating people as they age about lifestyle choices related to health and well-being.

Adult/gerontology acute care nurse practitioner

Based in tertiary care locations such as A+E departments, intensive care units, trauma centers and critical care facilities, you will be on the front line of nursing. You will be developing highly complex care plans for acutely ill patients across all age ranges and monitoring, adapting and approving courses of treatment. This demanding post requires close analysis of data and intensive knowledge of patient medical histories.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners in any of these roles can expect to start on around $115,000 a year. The RAND corporation expects 89,000 nurse practitioner jobs to be available over the next 5 years. The recent pandemic has led to an increased urgency in filling these positions. 

Who would enjoy studying this?

This course is specifically designed to help registered nurses advance to the next specialist level of their career. For example, family nurse practitioners who wish to be involved in the day-to-day education, and treatment of patients in a specific community. Similarly, healthcare workers – keen to become educators, managers and experts in their chosen field – can study for specialist fields and develop collaborative, critical research and management skills. The flexible study programs mean you can fit it around your busy work schedule and family life.

What are the requisites and prerequisites for this degree?

As with almost all master’s courses, you will be required to have a minimal set of qualifications when you apply. If you do not meet all these requirements, do not give up – work and voluntary experiences and involvement in other aspects of healthcare or related caring positions can be taken into account.

Generally, compulsory requirements for all master’s programs are the following:

Depending on your specialization, the requirement for experience may differ, although most programs require a minimum of 1 year, but preferably 2 years.

Bachelor’s in Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and a minimum GPA of 3.0. Some universities will not require your GRE scores if you have 3.2 to 4.0 in your GPA, although having a postgraduate qualification of any kind over 3.2, may help your application.

Letters of recommendation from your current employer and 2 other professional references.

Most courses require the completion of a basic statistics course before entry will be allowed.

Where can I apply?

As of November 2020, 83 universities are accepting applications – check out some of the best Masters in Science of Nursing programs. Most are full-time courses, but many are hybrid or totally online courses. With the ongoing COVID-19 situation, many courses that were hybrid or on campus are now only available as online courses. It is worth contacting the places you are interested in to find out the current situation and how it may change in future to avoid disappointment and unnecessary expense. Some MSN courses can also be combined into joint degrees like business administration MSN/MBA, or health administration MSN/MHA.

How much does it cost?

Fees for MSN courses can range between $30,000 to more than $60,000 and many courses are calculated on a credit by hour basis. Public universities and online courses are often more affordable. Scholarships, subsidies, and support from employers can also sometimes be an option to help cover MSN fees.

Are there opportunities to earn this degree online?

The opportunity to study online is booming as a result of the pandemic but also as people have easier and faster internet access. Online degrees are cheaper as you do not need to relocate. They also offer more flexibility as you complete the units in your own time rather than attending fixed classes.

As of November 2020, there are 173 accredited university online MSN courses available across the U.S.

What about hybrid classes?

Firstly, take care, as the definition of a hybrid class can vary from one institution to another.

Hybrid courses are a mix of online and on-campus study but whereas for some universities that means only 3 or fewer short visits a year, others mean 2 days a week on campus.

Also be aware of practicum requirements of a course. In most cases you will be required to complete the same amount of practical work hours, typically 8 hours a week with an assigned mentor, as part of your online course as you would if you were physically attending the university.

Why should I be interested in these options?

Your selection of on-campus, hybrid, or online program options will depend on your lifestyle, commitments and geographical location. Is it easy to travel to the university? Do you have a good internet connection and access to a reliable computer? Do job and family mean you cannot stay away from home regularly? How important is it to you to meet and work collaboratively in person or remotely with fellow students and new colleagues? Consider how you learn best, remotely, or in a group. And finally, online courses are sometimes slightly cheaper.

Accreditation

Why is it important? 

Always check the university you are considering is accredited by an accreditation agency recognised by the U.S. Department of Education and / or the Council for Higher Education.

Should I take this program at an accredited university? 

Very few professional hospitals and healthcare institutions will accept qualifications from an unaccredited university. It may seem cheap or short, but it is ultimately a false economy. If your university is not accredited, you may not be able to get federal or state grants, loans, scholarships or any kind of funding. And if you go on to further study, your next educational institution may not recognize the qualification you gained as valid. 

How do I know if my university is accredited? 

The quickest way is to check the website and there should be a clear badge on the bottom left hand or right hand side of the homepage. It should state the body that has accredited it. Then check that this body is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and / or the Council for Higher Education.

How long does this program take to complete?

If you are able to study full time, the course takes 2 years. Part-time study is broken up into units and with the inclusion of job experience, usually takes between 2-5 years.

What will I learn in these classes?

These classes will develop your skills through advanced practice for specialist roles. You will get the chance to expand into administrative, management and leadership positions and gain an understanding of the responsibilities and demands of those roles. You may choose to become a nurse practitioner or a certified nurse in a specialist field for example, midwifery. 

Practical experience through coursework will be integral to your learning. The amount of coursework varies depending on which coursework track you choose:

  • Teacher learning nurse practitioner track
  • Leadership track
  • Family nurse practitioner track

Other routes include educational positions or taking on the capacity of a research nurse for online programs and database management. Your capabilities, and obviously, job opportunities, will increase substantially. 

Program concentrations 

Nurse practitioner

Mostly specializes in 5 fields: family, pediatrics, psychiatric and mental health, adult-gerontology primary care, or acute care. These positions are more suited to family focused healthcare professionals who prefer to work in communities. They provide preventive and long-term care with a focus on both physical and mental well-being. This is a post where people skills are vital and developing long-term trust and respect between nurse and patient is the aim.

Administrative and leadership roles

Involve learning the ideas behind managing a hospital or other healthcare department. Generally, you will learn about leadership theory, organisation theory and nurse management techniques to make you an effective co-ordinator. This is the best route to future roles demanding high levels of responsibility and strong decision-making skills needed in high pressure situations.

You will have a clear vision of the developments you wish to see in the fields of policy writing, budgetary forecasting and staff issues. This concentration can help you become firmly established as a potential manager.

Hybrid nursing

These concentrations are increasingly popular. Combining 2 disciplines, for example, computer studies with a MSN or an MBA/MSN results in a very attractive skill set for potential employers. You will demonstrate a high level of flexibility and adaptability through cross-disciplinary skills needed in informatic and educational nursing positions. You can see how medical practice impacts the bigger picture through data, recruitment and training, and advance your involvement at a higher level of management.

How much will this degree cost?

Prices vary a lot, starting as low as $230 per credit to $1,900 per credit. The overall cost can be between $30,000 and $60,000.

The cost of online degrees varies but is similar to the on-campus fees, starting as low as $230 per credit to $1,900 per credit. The overall cost can be between $30,000 and $60,000.

Is there financial aid available?

There is a huge amount of aid available to help you cover the fees for the MSN. You can apply to federal or private financial.  There are nursing grants and fellowships on a state and national level, ranging from $2500 to $15,000 a year. 

The Federal Student Aid website is the place to look for information on all types of financial support available to students. On this website you can also complete the free application for federal aid (FASFA) – which will determine your eligibility based on your financial situation. 

Additionally, there are funds available to support students from minority backgrounds ranging from around $1000 to $18,000. 

The National Black Nurses Association has various MSN related scholarship programs, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses has focused funding programs and the American Indians into Nursing Program offers federal aid for Native American and Alaskan Indians across 35 states.  

Career options

After you have completed your MSN, there is a whole range of well-paying and exciting new roles open to you. These include, but are not limited to:

Your role would be to provide ongoing care and preventative nursing to people of all ages. You may work in community healthcare settings, like clinics and children’s hospitals, or you may conduct home visits or work in residential care homes for the elderly. You could also get involved in the rapidly expanding field of mental healthcare and wellbeing in psychiatric clinics and educational settings such as universities, schools and colleges. 

Average salary for nurse practitioner in 2020 is $97,211. 

Working in tandem with legal teams, your extensive practical experience and knowledge of the healthcare system can make you a vital specialist in health based legal disputes. Through collaboration with law executives you will research, analyse and arbitrate legal health cases. This may involve malpractice suits, breaches in standard of care investigations, or evaluating personal injury claims.  

You would be integral in researching, collating, liaising with clients and medical authorities and critically evaluating material for use in tribunals. Your administrative skills would apply to educating and informing legal advisors in medical policy and directing the language in legal documentation.  

This is a rewarding position where you are involved in the resolution of civil rights, workers’ compensation and forensic and criminal cases.  

Average salary in 2020 for a Legal Nurse Consultant is $78,258. 

As a nurse educator, you bring your love and experience for the job to train and inspire the next generation of nursing professionals. A wide range of job opportunities exist, from small group nurse training and to educational facilities to major healthcare institutions and hospitals. You may be required to create, update and instigate training programs, lead research projects, and mentor students through their qualifying courses.

The chances to contribute to the field of medicine would be broad, including conference appearances, textbook and course unit writing and evaluating and representing your institution for professional agencies. 

The large variation in salary range is based on the institution, although the average salary for a nurse educator in 2020 is $76,290. 

This challenging position combines advisory roles, educational skills and on-the-ground nursing work. Your job is to flag the importance of ethical considerations in all fields of medical practice and through conversation, conference and debate, develop positive implementation of ethically sound nursing. The major focus is palliative care, critical care and oncology.

Emotive and divisive decisions are common, such as mediating between a patient, their family and health care workers on how to respond to a request to end curative treatment. You will serve on committees and organizational bodies almost as a voice of conscience and form policy and ethical guidelines as a result. 

The median salary for  nurse ethicist in 2020 is $100,566. 

What can I study next?

Once you have successfully completed your MSN, there are a variety of next steps. You may choose to continue your academic studies or enter the specialist field you have wanted to pursue.

Academically, there are 2 further routes, both taking between 4 – 6 years of study.

Traditionally, you could enrol in a doctorate program to become a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing. This is a research-based degree with less hands-on work. You will investigate, critically evaluate and initiate scientific discoveries in nursing, liaising and working closely with the leading medical universities and facilities both across the U.S. and globally. These courses cost anywhere between $12,000 and $60,000 depending on the location and type of study. 

Alternatively, there is a DNP, a Doctor of Nursing Practice, a clinical practice degree. This is favoured by those wishing to be nurse practitioners as it expands the role and demands into the fields of advocacy and problem solving within the healthcare industry. Specializing in emerging disciplines, notably, mental health, anaesthesia, end-of-life care and the more traditional roles of midwifery, endocrinology, cardiology, gerontology and care for the chronically ill, you would enter at a leadership position and have a major role in policy determination, working practice evaluation and staffing concerns. DNP courses cost anywhere between $12,000 and $60,000 depending on the location and type of study.

Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
This is the site for the main body that provides accreditation for all levels of nursing programs across the USA.

Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
The site for national accreditation for degree level nursing courses in the USA.

National Council Licensure Examination
Website for the national licensure for RN qualification. Provides information on preparation and organization for examination.

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