How to Choose a Nurse Leadership Degree

This article has information about how to select a nurse leadership degree and why you would want hone. We also provide useful information about good, online nurse leadership degrees that you may want to consider. Last, we provide information about which type of accreditation that is most important for nursing programs.

What Is a Nurse Leadership Degree?

A nurse leadership degree is a graduate degree, most often a Master of Science in Nursing with an emphasis on nurse leadership. This type of nursing program is offered to experienced nurses who have already earned their bachelor of science in nursing. It is an ideal graduate degree for experienced clinical nurses who wish to accelerate their careers in nursing management or leadership.

A nurse leadership degree will consist of certain core courses that focus on critical nursing analysis, health care research, ethics, management, leadership, policy and finance.

Many nursing leadership programs will include a capstone course and a practicum. A practicum will promote application of the leadership and management skills you learned earlier in the program.

The capstone normally is completed at the end of the nursing degree program of approximately two years. For a practicum, you would need to identify the leadership in nursing issue, conduct research, and develop a plan to both improve and implement a solution.

A master’s program in nurse leadership will prepare the experienced nurse to lead people effectively and to properly manage resources to meet health care facility and nursing team needs.

Students will develop a complete understanding of the nursing health care environment, the communication skills needed to maintain high standards, and the business skills to effectively manage health care quality and to lower costs.

Common goals of nursing leadership degree programs also include:

  • Being able to perform critical analysis of research that is needed that is related to nursing and healthcare, and to study how it will apply to practice, delivery of care and education
  • Understanding business and leadership models from many points of view. Special attention is paid to how to enhance leadership in healthcare facilities
  • Understanding the forces that have an effect on the effectiveness of healthcare organizations and nursing care

To quality for admission into a nurse leadership degree program, you generally will need a current RN license and a bachelor of science in nursing. You also should have several years of clinical nursing experience.

Why Earn a Nurse Leadership Degree?

The US healthcare industry is undergoing rapid growth and change as the population of the country is getting older and living longer. Technology is also improving, and this is making more advanced treatments more available to more people.

These factors are leading to many more healthcare jobs being created than ever before. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that there will be more than two million new healthcare jobs created by 2024 in the United States.

This is at least a 19% growth rate in health care jobs; this is one of the highest rates in the country compared to all industries. Many of the needed healthcare professionals will be nurses who have administrative, management and leadership skills.

More Nurses Needed

To keep pace with this level of growth and change, many healthcare professionals, including nurses, are having to fill new jobs and roles to provide quality health care. Nurses are being asked to take on new roles to meet needs of the facilities in which they work, as well as their patients.

Registered nurses are experiencing fast growth in their own industry, with at least 16% more nurses needed by 2024. More nurses will be required in outpatient care facilities and also more in long term care centers as people are living longer and need ongoing care.

Further, the American Association of Colleges of Nurses states that there is a serious shortage of nursing professionals in many parts of the country. If rank and file nurses are in short supply, graduate degree-educated nurses in leadership also will be in demand as well.

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing published in 2016 a lengthy research article titled “Growing Nurse Leaders: Their Perspective on Nursing Leadership and Today’s Practice Environment.”

The paper notes that developing future nursing leaders is very important, but research shows that there is a poor future leadership pipeline at graduate schools. The paper highlights ways that educators and employers can grow the supply of nursing leaders. This is a good indicator that nursing leaders are in short supply as of 2017.

Nursing Salaries Increasing

The median salary for all nurses as of 2016 was a healthy $68,450. However, the most educated and experienced nurses can earn more than $100,000 per year. Nurses who are educated and skilled in leadership will earn towards the top of the scale.

Online Degree Options

An experienced clinical nurse with an active RN license and a bachelor’s degree in nursing may consider the Master of Science in Nursing Leadership and Management from Western Governors University. This online degree is recommended for nursing professionals who want to work solely in nursing leadership and management.

All of the competencies required in this specialty at WGU fully comply with the American Nurse’s Association standards for nurse leaders and administrators.

The program mandates that you complete 36 hours of courses. Most of the students who start this program can complete it in two years. This accredited, online MSN program is founded upon advanced nursing research and effective instruction that closely hews to national standards. You will learn the skills and knowledge required for designing, implementing and administering nursing programs in virtually all healthcare facilities.

You will take these required courses in this nursing program:

  • Professional Presence and Influence
  • Translational Research for Practice and Populations
  • Organizational Leadership and Interprofessional Team Development
  • Pathopharmacological Foundations for Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Contemporary Pharmacotherapeutics
  • Comprehensive Health Assessment for Patients and Populations
  • Essentials of Advanced Nursing Practice Field Experience
  • Policy, Politics, and Global Health Trends

You also are required to complete a capstone project and a 40 hour practicum in nursing management in your designated clinical site in your area.

All WGU nursing degree programs are accredited by the CCNE.


As you are considering a graduate degree in nurse leadership, it is important to consider the matter of accreditation. Good graduate nursing programs should be accredited by a well known, respected nursing education body.

Accreditation is especially important for online nursing programs, so your employer or future employer can be confident that you have earned a good, high quality degree.

For nursing leadership programs, we advise that you look for accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or CCNE.


There is a serious shortage of nurses, and particularly highly skilled nurses with a master of science degree for leadership positions. This fact makes a focus on nursing leadership for your career a potentially excellent choice.


  • Registered Nurses. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from
  • Grand Canyon University. MSN in Nursing Leadership Program. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Western Governors University. Master of Science Nursing Leadership and Management. (n.d.). Retrieved from