Types of Masters in Nursing Degree Programs

A nursing master’s degree is the educational basis that allows an advanced practice nurse to work in the most high-paying and rewarding nursing professions, including:

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP): Do physical examinations, diagnose/treat the most common acute care illnesses and injuries in primary care settings, give immunizations and manage chronic health problems, such as hypertension and diabetes. They are usually primary care providers and are authorized to do many of the same duties as regular doctors. Some states will allow NPs to work completely independently in their own offices.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): Provide vital pre- and post-natal care for women, as well as lifelong gynecological care. Further, you deliver babies in both hospitals and in private homes. Also, follow up on postpartum care. CNMs provide very important wellness care for women and educate their patients on ways to live healthier. Common discussion topics are disease prevention and nutrition.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): Provide many types of specialized clinical care in many specialties, including oncology, pediatrics and neonatal. You also may specialize in specific patient populations, such as the elderly or children.
  • Certified Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): Provide anesthesia services for many types of surgeries and advanced medical procedures. You will work in operating rooms, dentist offices and various outpatient facilities.These anesthesia professionals are qualified to do most of the same duties as a full anesthetist. This is a very important role because different patients react differently to different types and dosages of anesthetic.

A master’s degree in nursing (MSN) is the primary degree that advanced practice registered nurses obtain to further their career. There are at least 330 nursing master’s degree programs that have been accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC).

Earning your MSN degree is a surefire way to greatly expand your career options. Committing to a graduate degree in nursing take a lot of dedication, but it will have a large impact on your success in the nursing field. You will have many new, high-paying opportunities, with high levels of responsibility.

Your master’s in nursing will give you the training and skills to provide high-quality nursing care in the aforementioned specialized roles. Earning this degree will qualify you to do many of the same things that doctors do each day. This is very important in the modern American healthcare field, as there is a shortage of doctors.

Most people who earn an MSN degree have a BSN degree already and are an active RN. They also have at least a few years of clinical work experience.

MSN Curriculum Overview

The MSN degree program builds upon your BSN degree and enables you to develop highly specialized skills in one of the above APRN specialties.

Full-time MSN programs have at least two years of classes, but some degree programs allow the student to go part time. In that case, you would earn your MSN degree in three or four years. Many nursing professionals continue to work on a part-time basis while they are in school, and still are able to complete the program in a reasonable timeframe.

Generally, master’s of nursing study focuses on theories and concepts of modern nursing science and how to apply them efficiently. Healthcare management is also covered extensively.

The general MSN degree will have a set of core classes that all students are required to take. After those have been completed, the student then moves on to the specialized curriculum in their MSN major.

Research during the two-year program is used to give you a strong foundation to improve health care clinical techniques. Students also develop the skills and advanced knowledge to help them to make improvements to the overall system of health care in their area.

Whichever master’s degree specialty you select, you will need to complete extensive classroom and clinical hours.

MSN Bridge and Direct Entry Programs

Some nursing professionals who aspire to earn their MSN already have their nursing bachelor’s degree. Those professionals would simply enter a regular online or campus-based MSN program. However, if you have an RN diploma or an associate’s degree in nursing, you can opt to take an RN-to-MSN program.

However, some programs allow you to earn an MSN degree in a particular specialty even if you lack a BSN degree. This may be referred to in some quarters as a ‘direct entry’ MSN program. It allows you to earn the BSN and MSN together in less time than each would take separately.

You must have a bachelor’s degree and work experience in another field. Also, you have to complete many of your BSN classes in the MSN direct entry program, before you can move onto more advanced coursework.

Also, students in direct entry programs usually need to work for at least a year as a nurse with a BSN and RN before finishing the MSN program.

MSN Curriculum by Specialty

The above is a general overview of the MSN degree, but you also need to know what exactly will be covered in your specific MSN program specialty. This is outlined below. Many MSN programs can now be taken online. However, you will still need to complete your clinical hours in your local area.

Clinical hours are monitored closely by your program mentor or representative. It is important for your program mentor and clinical preceptor to work closely together to ensure that all of your hours are logged accurately.

Nurse Practitioner Curriculum and Specialties

Most NP programs offer many subspecialties. For example, Duke University offers the following:

The most popular major is adult-gerontology. This program focuses on honing your skills and knowledge that are needed to deliver advanced nursing care to those who are from adolescence to the elder years in many primary care settings. You will be prepared as a nursing practitioner generalist in adult primary care settings, including private doctor’s offices, public clinics, outpatient clinics and specialty practices.

Highlights of this curriculum are:

Many opportunities for clinical work at many national and international sites

  • Clinical experiences in the field in many settings, such as rural and urban areas that are chronically underserved
  • Focus on developing the skills that are needed to offer primary care across many settings
  • Hone your clinical resiliency under the guidance of experienced clinicians
  • Most faculties continue to work at least part time in clinical roles so that their skills stay sharp

Duke University also offers these specialties that aspiring NPs can study:

  • Cardiology
  • Endocrinology
  • Oncology
  • Orthopedics

Each APRN degree program requires the nursing student to complete a minimum of 11 credit hours of core, clinical classes. Students also have to complete a clinical residency while being mentored by an experienced healthcare professional in their expertise area. The minimum number of credits needed to complete the MSN degree varies by the specialty; it ranges from 42 to 49 credit hours.

Duke’s clinical experience requirements for its MSN degree in all majors meet or exceed requirements of various national credentialing organizations, such as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Some of the classes you can expect to experience in an NP MSN program include:

  • Population health
  • Nursing healthcare and technology
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Organizational and systems leadership
  • Pharmacology
  • Health assessment and diagnostic reasoning
  • Advanced practice care for adults
  • Primary care for women

Certified Nurse Midwife Curriculum

A certified nurse midwife is a vital primary health care provider for women throughout their lives, from the childbearing years to after menopause. Some of the care that a CNM will provide to a woman includes:

  • Health promotion and prevention of disease
  • Managing contraceptives
  • Gynecological care
  • Preconception care
  • Prenatal care
  • Labor monitoring
  • Birthing the baby
  • Mother and infant care after birth

Nurse midwives also specialize in providing many health care services to the many women they serve. Many of the women who are in this field possess excellent communication skills, have a strong belief in the value of holistic health care that reduces the number of medical interventions, and they also recognize women’s spiritual and psychosocial needs.

If you are interested in becoming a CNM, below are classes that are required at the University of North Carolina, which is reflective of the general classes required overall.

  • Biostatistics for evidence-based practice
  • Physiology and pathophysiology
  • Advanced reproductive dynamics
  • Health care policy
  • Clinical reasoning theory
  • Pharmacology for CNMs
  • Concepts for nurse-wifery
  • Primary care for women
  • Well woman for nurse-midwifery

Most CNM programs also require a practicum where you will be prepared to assume a professional nursing midwifery role as you provide care for women both before and after birth.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Curriculum

For aspiring APRNs who want to be clinical nurse specialists, you can expect to study courses such as these in the LSU New Orleans program:

  • Adult-gerontology – health promotion
  • Foundations of advanced nursing practice
  • Pathophysiology
  • Biostatistical methods
  • Research design and methods
  • Healthcare leadership
  • Advanced pharmacology for CNS
  • Adult-gerontology – chronic care
  • Advanced health assessment
  • Adult-gerontology – critical care

This is a good fit for the very experienced nurse who wants to work more in a clinical and administrative leadership role. A CNS will develop very specialized knowledge and leadership skills in these areas:

  • Patients and families
  • Administration
  • Nursing management

The clinical nurse specialist program at LSU will teach you how to provide quality healthcare to people through direct nursing care. You will learn how to work with certain populations of patients and address chronic and acute healthcare needs.

This program will offer you a strong foundation for clinical nursing practice, a complete understanding of managing diseases and health promotion, and how to use technology to enhance outcomes for patients.

Certified Nurse Anesthetist Curriculum

Students who wish to become CRNAs will typically need to spend approximately 2.5 years to earn their advanced degree. The University of Southern California’s CRNA program requires the following classwork:

  • Advanced physical assessment
  • Human anatomy
  • Systems and integrative physiology
  • Pharmacology for anesthesia practice
  • Principles of anesthesia
  • Pathophysiology related to anesthesia practice
  • Clinical residency

This program will be guided by the expert administration and management of many types of general anesthesia. You also will learn about regional anesthetic techniques and modalities, as well as invasive monitoring modalities.

Regardless of the MSN degree specialty, you select, you will need to complete the required clinical hours to graduate, which can range from 700-1000 hours. You also must pass the national certification examination for your specialty, as well as any state certifications.

Earning your MSN degree is definitely the path to a bright future. You will just need to determine which advanced nursing profession you wish to study, and then determine the best university to fit your needs.