05 February, 2013

Moving Forward in Your Health Care Career

Moving Forward in Your Health Care Career

With the nursing field more competitive than ever, many nurses are looking to expand their career options. A master's degree in nursing (MSN) is the key to moving into higher-level nursing positions such as administration, education, and health policy. A master's program can also prepare you for advanced practice nursing programs. 

A few decades ago, most nurses had RNs, and a BSN was enough to give candidates a huge competitive edge for administrative and managerial positions. Now, a growing number of nurses have bachelor's degrees, making a master's degree a highly-sought degree for professionals who wish to jump-start their career.

Types of Programs

The majority of master's programs are geared towards people with a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing. However, some programs offer degrees for Registered Nurses who do not hold a BSN; there are also a few direct entry programs designed for people with a bachelor's in another field who are just entering nursing.

A master's program can prepare nurses for a variety of careers, including:

  • Nurse educator
  • Nurse administrator
  • Manager
  • Health policy expert
  • Clinical nurse leader
  • Case management
In the past, a master's degree in nursing was required for advanced practice nursing careers. Starting in 2015, these programs will transition to Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, although clinicians already practicing will keep their licenses. A master's degree can be used as a prerequisite to doctoral degrees such as:
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Nurse midwife
  • Nurse anesthesiologist
  • Clinical nurse specialist
What to Expect

Master's programs generally prepare nurses for careers in a specific field. For this reason, it's important to apply to graduate schools with a career path in mind. This allows you to seek a school with a strong faculty in your specialty.

Most master's degree programs take 2 years to complete, although direct entry programs generally take 3 years. Usually, master's programs can be completed either on a full- or part-time basis. If you are supporting a family or are worried about the cost of the program, a part-time program can be a great option because you can continue to hold a nursing job at the same time. On the other hand, if you are anxious to get your degree and start your career, a full-time program is a stronger choice.

Graduate programs in any field are geared towards increasing knowledge, analytical skills, and theoretical understanding. Master's degree nursing programs in particular focus on expanding concepts for which previous education and clinical practice has already laid the groundwork: evidence-based, community-centered care.

While all nurses must be leaders, master's programs hone leadership skills and independent thinking skills. MSN nurses are able to work with a great deal more autonomy than their RN counterparts, and have many more career opportunities open to them; this this autonomy comes with an even higher level of responsibility.

For nurses seeking to advance their careers, obtaining an MSN brings access to a wide range of careers which allow for a higher level of independence and specialization. These opportunities are driving many RNs to seek graduate-level education.