How to Choose the Best Masters in Nursing

Are you interested in a career in nursing? That is a great choice, as nursing professions, especially those with a master’s degree, currently have some of the highest job demand in the United States. Nurse practitioners, for instance, are going to have a 31% increase in job demand by 2024. Nursing professionals with advanced degrees will be able to command the best job assignments with the highest salaries.

Once you decide to enter the nursing profession with a master’s degree, you need to decide on two things:

  • What speciality will you choose?
  • Which university program is for you?

Most of the most popular advanced nursing practice roles require at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). These professions include the following:

  • Nurse practitioner: You will work one on one in both primary and speciality care, providing medication and work closely with many other healthcare professionals to implement better healthcare patients of all ages.
  • Certified nurse anesthetist: Provide the administration of anesthetics to patients for many surgeries and other procedures. You will be working with full anesthesiologists as well to provide the optimum surgical care. Also, set up and run IVs, monitor the vital signs of patients and adjust anesthetic levels as needed.
  • Certified nurse midwife: You will provide complete healthcare services to women, and also will offer women pre- and post-natal care. Also you will help mothers to make informed decisions about which type of childbirth is best for their circumstances. You may also run your own midwifery clinic in some states.
  • Clinical nurse specialist: Offer advanced clinical care in hospitals for specific types of conditions and diseases. You also may choose to work as a researcher as you try to translate complex research findings into high quality patient care.
  • Nurse educator: Train new nurses in how to be effective and compassionate nursing professionals. Also, learn how to accumulate and study data to use it to provide a better understanding of the many health issues that affect our population.

Once you have decided upon the exact career you want to work in with your MSN degree, you also can consider some of the many sub-specialties available within those careers.

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What Do You Want to Do in Your Career?

In many advanced nursing practice careers, you can enter many subspecialities that offer very strong demand, high salary and great personal satisfaction. For example, as a nurse practitioner, you can select one of these exciting areas, which are offered by most NP university programs:

  • Women’s Health NP: Help women to maintain their health all through their lives.
  • Adult-Gerontology NP: Offer care, education and disease prevention services to adult and elderly patients.
  • Pediatric NP: Provide specialized care for children and adolescents in many settings.
  • Family NP: Meet the primary health care needs of families by providing primary and acute care.
  • Neonatal NP: Work in either a nursery or neonatal intensive care unit.
  • Mental health NP: Work with patients with family and/or psychological problems, and help them to recover from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

In the clinical nursing field, you also can specialize in adult health, gerontology, public health and mental health, among others. All of these advanced clinical nursing positions offer a lot of job demand and a correspondingly high salary.

You may wonder: Why should I specialize? A major reason is that with healthcare reform and people getting older, there is a higher demand for nurses to provide more specialized, high quality health care that is centered on the patient, efficient and cost effective.

Using highly qualified, educated and specialized nursing professionals has been shown to have a positive effect on patient outcomes. It also helps to cut rates of mortality and increase patient satisfaction. As you hone your skills even further, you will become an expert in your chosen field, and can receive higher pay and more responsibility.

How to Select Your Master’s in Nursing Program

Whichever specialty or subspecialty you select in nursing, you will need to obtain your MSN degree. As we mentioned above, many of these degrees now are offered online. Which online nursing program you select depends upon which specialty and subspecialty you desire, as well as where you live.

Many online MSN programs allow you to take most of your classes from the comforts of home; note however that many of these programs will require you to visit the campus as much as once or twice per year.

Additionally, you must complete at least 500-750 clinical hours in your advanced nursing practice specialty. This work will probably be done in your local city or town, under the guidance of your counselor at your university. For example, the George Washington University offers several online NP MSN programs that require you to complete at least 650 clinical hours in your local area.

Another good choice for an online master’s degree program in nursing is the University of Southern California, or USC. Key points:

  • This accredited, online MSN program has been designed for nursing professionals who have a BSN and have a current RN license and at least one year of clinical experience.
  • The USC program consists of 49 units and may be taken either part time or full time. It has live, face to face classes with video conferencing technology. It also has online communities where you interact daily with professors and students.
  • Classes offered in this two year, full time MSN program are pathophysiology, pharmacology, community-based research, health care policy, health care management, quantitative and qualitative research, and health care technology/innovation.
  • Students are placed in a clinical internship in their community to work with adult patients, pediatric and childbearing patients, adults with complex health problems, and an integrated health family practice.
  • The clinical placement team at USC helps each MSN student to find their appropriate placement site. Each clinical rotation is 14 weeks in length and requires you to do 14 hours per week in intervals of seven hours.
  • You must complete a total of 784 clinical hours.

Check Accreditation Carefully

If you are going to earn your master’s in nursing degree online or on campus, it is very important to verify that the university and the specific nursing program are accredited by a respected national body. Accreditation indicates that a national accreditation organization has engaged in a thorough evaluation of the university and the nursing program. Universities that are accredited have shown that their nursing and general education programs are of high quality.

By having a properly accredited online university, your potential employers can be confident that you have the skills you need to succeed as an advanced practice nurse.

In nursing, you should look for full accreditation by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which manages the esteemed nursing accreditation agency, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or CCNE.

CCNE has been recognized by the United States Secretary of Education as the top national accreditation organization for nursing programs in the US. You should look for an online university with CCNE accreditation whether you are studying for a bachelor’s master’s or doctoral degree in nursing.

You can read more about the standards that the AACN has in place for accrediting universities for MSN degrees. Also, you can review here these accreditation actions taken by AACN/CCNE for 2016.

Next, you should verify that the online university has been fully accredited by one of six national, regional accreditation associations as recognized by the US Department of Education:

If you are considering earning an online master’s degree in nursing, keep these facts in mind:

  • Earning a degree online is not easier than doing it in person. In fact, it can be harder. You have to handle all of the reading and homework assignments on your own, and sometimes you will have questions that you may not be able to get answered as quickly.
  • The professor has the same expectations of you as if you were taking the program in a classroom.
  • You will learn every bit as much in the online program as on campus. That is one of the reasons that online nursing programs are accredited; that way you and potential employers know that the degree is just as good as the one you get in person.
  • You will need to contribute to classroom discussions online. Most professors will have you answer questions in detail in homework assignments. You also will have to respond to other students’ opinions, and be ready to do plenty of group nursing projects.

Joint Degree Options

As you are thinking about earning your master’s in nursing, perhaps you have interests outside of clinical medicine as well? Some online and campus-based universities offer the opportunity to earn a dual or joint degree along with your MSN. Some of the popular joint degree options include:

  • MSN/MPH: This is an exciting joint degree program that also gives you a Master’s of Public Health. This is a good choice if you want to learn both about clinical nursing care as well as how to attain a leadership role in public health nursing, which has a strong impact on the broader community.
  • MSN/MBA: Are you interested both in clinical nursing and learning how to run a health care practice or company more effectively? Earning Master in Business Administration could give you an unbeatable skill set. Perfect for the dedicated nurse who wants to work in administrative leadership. See selected Online options here.
  • MSN/MHA: Earn a Master of Health Administration as well as a nursing degree so that you can be a decision maker in many administrative and managerial roles in the health care sector. This can be a really good option for nurses who work for local, state or federal government agencies.
  • MSN/JD: This is the ideal joint degree choice for a nurse who allows wants to be well versed in health care law. You do not necessarily have to pass the bar exam and become a practicing attorney, but some nurses greatly value the legal background as they move up the corporate healthcare ladder.

Bridge Programs

Depending upon your education background and work experience, another option to explore with a master’s degree in nursing are bridge programs. These degree programs allow you to earn your MSN in a shorter time than if you were to enter the program separately.

For example, you can enter one of these bridge programs:

  • RN to MSN: This is for a nursing professional who has an RN designation, usually after a year or two of education, such as with an associate’s degree in nursing. To earn a higher salary, this type of nurse can earn their BSN, but there are programs available where you may learn the information you would learn in a BSN program, as well as earn your master’s degree. If you were to take those programs separately, it would take six years. An RN to MSN bridge program can be finished in four or five years.
  • BSN to MSN direct entry: Some nurses who earn their master’s degree have been in the field for years. Others, however, may have worked for years in another field and hold a bachelor’s degree unrelated to nursing. This type of bridge program allows you to earn your MSN degree without earning another BSN. Again, this will save you at least 1-2 years in education time.


There are few degree programs available today that offer a brighter future than a master’s degree in nursing. With job demand for most advanced nursing practice professions set to skyrocket in the future and all of the demand from patients who want to live longer and healthier lives, you will be sure to find an exciting career with a great salary with your graduate nursing degree.