If you want to earn an advanced practice degree—such as a Nurse Practitioner (NP) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), among others—you will need to get a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. But there are many other reasons to have one as well.
Last year, Laura Browne, MSN, RN, CNL, a second-career nurse, graduated from Georgetown University with her MSN-CNL. This means she went through a master’s-entry to nursing program with a specialty in becoming a clinical nurse leader.
Browne works as a preop and recovery nurse in the Austin, Texas, area and provides content for an informational dental care website called Smile Prep.
“In general, MSN programs offer nurses the opportunity to grow their careers in various ways, whether applicants are new to the nursing field or established nurses looking for a change of pace,” says Browne. “A major benefit of master’s-level nursing education in specialties outside of the NP role, beyond coursework at an advanced level and deep exposure to evidence-based practice (EBP) projects, is the flexibility it affords you in your career. As a nurse with a master’s degree, you meet the education requirement to be a clinical preceptor for nursing students at many universities. This is a great opportunity if you are interested in nursing education.”
Sometimes, nurses know exactly what they want to do when entering nursing school. Such is the case with Nick Angelis, CRNA, MSN, owner of Ascend Health Center and author of How to Succeed in Anesthesia School. “I started nursing school with the goal of becoming a nurse anesthetist, which requires at least an MSN,” he says. The MSN degree is “a springboard to better opportunities. In some cases, it allows nurses to continue in the place where they currently work but receive better compensation. This is most worth it if an employer provides tuition reimbursement. Specializing as an NP or CRNA allows for better compensation and better work/life balance. Most outpatient clinics are open 9–5 and closed on weekends and holidays.”
Kate Rowe, MSN, CNM, DNP, a certified nurse midwife, says, “For those nurses who wish to work more in nursing education, nursing/healthcare research, academia or advanced practice, an MSN is for you. MSNs can specialize in several different fields depending on your field of interest. Women’s health, psychiatric care, adult/gerontology, midwifery, public and community health, and emergency medicine are just some potential avenues for providers to take.”
Angelis says that before earning his MSN, he worked the night shift, doubles, and traveled from hospital to hospital. “Now I take the time I need with each patient and make my schedule. I can immediately see the effects of my anesthesia as I take patient’s pain away and safely guide them through complex surgeries. I can also collaborate with therapists, physicians, and everyone else on the care team,” he says.
As for how long earning an MSN will take, that depends on whether you’re working part-time, full-time, or not. Rowe says that they typically take two years to earn, but there are accelerated programs that can take as little as five quarters.
While working full-time, Angelis says he took his core MSN classes. When he began taking anesthesia clinicals, he would take occasional nursing shifts. “Most MSN specialties allow students to work through school. Anesthesia school is unique in the massive amount of time and effort required for several years, including up to 40 hours a week in hospitals providing anesthesia. Accelerated online programs are available for some MSN specialties and can be completed within 18 months,” he explains.
The amount of work to earn an MSN is worth it, says Rowe. She adds, “The greatest rewards of earning an MSN involve the ability to give back to your community and positively impact the lives of your patients through all the hard work in graduate school and then again when you are in practice.”
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