What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Nursing?

What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Nursing?

A master’s degree in nursing can qualify you for an extremely varied set of career opportunities in the healthcare industry. There is a growing demand for leaders in the field of nursing. Earning an advanced degree could qualify you to fill one of these leadership roles as a Nurse Manager, Nurse Educator, or Nurse Practitioner (NP). There are also numerous forms of advanced degree programs in nursing, many of these designed specifically to help you transition from your current nursing role to a position of leadership or specialization. Such programs include the RN-to-MSN (Registered Nurse to Master of Science in Nursing) or the BSN-to-MSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). The best nursing master’s degree program for you will depend on your educational background and professional experience.

If you’re just getting started on your career and you’re interested in earning an undergraduate degree in nursing, check out our look at the bachelor’s degree in nursing.

If you’re ready to earn your graduate degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Nursing.

Or read on to find out what you can expect as a nursing master.

Featured Programs

Why get a master’s degree in nursing?

As a rapidly expanding field, healthcare offers numerous opportunities for leadership and specialization. Advanced degrees in nursing are recommended, and in many cases required, for those who aspire to serve in management and administrative roles. A master’s degree in nursing can also help you transition into a specialized area of healthcare such as public health administration, epidemiology, or healthcare education. Not only that, but this is a rare field in which you can earn a master’s degree without having an undergraduate degree. The Registered Nurse (RN)-to-Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program allows those who have accumulated sufficient work experience as certified nurses to earn a master’s degree without having earned a bachelor’s degree.

This makes the master’s degree in nursing an appealing and accessible option for working nurses interested in updating their skills, advancing their careers, and improving their earning power. You could also place yourself on the cutting edge of a growing field. Indeed, leaders, researchers, and innovators in the field have a direct impact on our everyday experiences in the healthcare system. Today, top influencers in nursing are breaking new ground in nurse practitioner programs, primary nursing, and oncology nursing.

Learn more about these and other top influencers in the nursing field today!

How can I qualify to get a master’s degree in nursing?

Some nursing master’s programs may require you to complete a Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The GRE tests your verbal, quantitative reasoning, and writing skills. Some programs may require you to meet a certain scoring threshold while others may merely require that you complete the exam. These requirements will vary from one mursing master’s program to the next. Some programs may not require you to complete a GRE at all.

For testing tips, check out our Guide to the GRE.

Additional eligibility requirements will vary depending on the type of master’s program you seek to enter. For instance, the primary requirement for gaining eligibility into a BSN-to-MSN program is completion of a bachelor’s degree in nursing from a properly accredited undergraduate school. In most cases, that degree should have received programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and/or institutional accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) . Moreover, most regionally-accredited graduate schools will require that your bachelor’s degree be granted by a regionally-accredited college or university. The BSN-to-MSN is typically the shortest path to an advanced degree in nursing.

By contrast, the Registered Nurse (RN)-to-Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program allows those who have accumulated sufficient work experience as certified nurses to earn a master’s degree without having earned a bachelor’s degree. In this case, the threshold for eligibility will vary according to school. However, in most cases, you should have earned an associate’s degree in nursing as well as status as a Registered Nurse (RN).

For any additional questions about eligibility, refer to your intended program and learn more about application requirements and any additional requirements such as work experience, academic performance thresholds, and referrals.

If you’re still working on building your qualifications, check out our look at the nursing major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in nursing.

What kinds of nursing degrees are there?

  • Master of Science in Nursing (RN to MSN, BSN to MSN, ADN to MSN, ASN to MSN): An advanced degree in nursing, the MSN can qualify you for an array of leadership and administrative roles, as well as the specialized roles of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), or Nurse Practitioner (NP). These positions provide nursing professionals with many of the same responsibilities as a doctor-such as ordering tests, diagnosing conditions, and referring patients to specialists-alongside the bedside manner and support training specific to nursing. The actual nature and length of your program will depend on your existing credentials. There are numerous pathways to an advanced nursing degree, but your eligibility will depend on your educational background and work experience.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): Earning a doctoral degree in nursing typically takes between three and five years, and will qualify you to lead research in the field of nursing as well as teach as a full professor at the post-secondary level.

What are some popular nursing specializations?

Nursing specializations are as varied as the field of healthcare itself. Your education and skills could place you in an extremely wide array of settings from physician’s offices and hospital emergency rooms to public health clinics and government health service agencies. Your master’s degree specialization could help you find the right setting and improve your eligibility for leadership roles within. Popular specializations include:

  • Nursing/Registered Nurse (RN, ASN, BSN, MSN)
  • Nursing/Administration (MSN, MS, PhD)
  • Adult Health Nurse/Nursing
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Family Practice Nurse/Nurse Practitioner
  • Maternity/Child Health and Neonatal Nurse/Nursing
  • Nursing Science (MS, PhD)
  • Psychiatric Nurse/Nursing
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Emergency Room/Trauma Nursing

What courses will I take as a nursing master?

Your specialization will determine many of the courses you’ll take as a master of nursing. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as Ethics in Nursing and Nurse Management. Additional coursework will depend on the nature of your specific degree program, as well as the educational and professional experience you bring into your program:

Common nursing courses include:

  • Health Assessment
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Nursing Research
  • Nurse Leadership
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Nursing and Mental Health
  • Public Health Campaigns

Is a master’s degree in nursing worth it?

The wage premium from those earning a master’s degree in nursing is significant, and suggests that this advanced degree is indeed worth it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Registered Nurses with a bachelor’s degree earned a median of $63,000 whereas those with a master’s degree earned a median of $75,000.

Wage premiums were even higher for those in other roles. For instance, physician assistants who have earned a master’s degree see a median wage that is 44% greater than that of their counterparts with a bachelor’s degree. Not only that, but the BLS warns that career options for those with a bachelor’s degree are actually dwindling. It is increasingly the case that the master’s degree is a basic threshold for becoming a physician’s assistant. The same is true of nurse practitioners and nurse midwives, 80% of which have earned a master’s degree. This denotes that your ability to compete for opportunities and advance in any of these areas may depend on whether or not you have earned, or are on pace to earn, an advanced degree.

Career Outlook for Students with Nursing Degree

Go to Degree Finder tool

Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse

Degree Level: Master's

  • Location: The U.S. (Private Schools)
  • Avg. Cost of Degree*: $10,677
  • Avg. Expenses*: $17,073
  • Avg. Starting Salary*: $101,531
  • Avg. Salary after 4 Years*: $113,239
  • Avg. Cost Recoup Time**: 4 years
  • Job Growth: 5.92%
  • Number of Jobs: 3,258,400
  • * denotes ‘annually’
  • ** denotes ‘at 15% of annual salary’

Career Salaries

CareerJob GrowthAvg. Salary
Nurse Anesthetists8.91%$196,110
Nurse Midwives6.10%$122,416
Nurse Practitioners44.53%$116,373
Medical and Health Services Managers28.40%$103,928
Registered Nurses5.60%$78,969

Average Career Salaries

Bottom 10%MedianTop 10%

Promising Job Markets

StateCost of LivingAvg. Salary
#2 Michigan15% higher than average$93,363
#3 Ohio14% higher than average$94,040
#4 Texas10% higher than average$97,405
#5 California26% higher than average$135,789
#6 Illinois7% higher than average$99,627

Top Industries

IndustryAvg. Salary
Nurse Anesthetists$196,110
Nurse Midwives$122,416
Nurse Practitioners$116,373

What are the top jobs with a master’s in nursing degree?

Mastering in nursing can lead you to leadership opportunities in a wide variety of healthcare settings, and into any number of areas in clinical treatment, healthcare administration, or research. You have numerous options, and your advanced degree program can help you hone in on the path that feels most suited to your skills and interests. As you consider career prospects, be sure that you know the degree requirements specific to your desired role. With the proper education and credentials, your nursing masters can lead to a wide range of career opportunities, including these top jobs:

Curious how far you could go with a master’s degree in nursing? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!


Now that you know how to earn a masters in nursing, check out:

Check out the full list here and get started on your path to an advanced nursing degree.

And if you’re still shopping for the right college, be sure to bookmark our Resources on critical issues like Accreditation, Scholarships, Financial Aid, and more!

Do you have a question about this topic? Ask it here