MSN Careers

Due to a swiftly changing healthcare system, today’s nurses are required to possess an advanced body of knowledge and sophisticated clinical skills. Although the completion of an entry-level RN program and passing the NCLEX-RN are valuable first steps in this profession, nurses are expected to expand their knowledge base throughout their career as new developments in technology and nursing research influence the nursing practice.

From developing new skills to studying research in evidence-based practice, nursing education plays an important role in a nurse’s career.

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More education often means more opportunity, with graduate-level nursing education allowing nurses to focus their careers on:

  • Direct patient care at an advanced level
  • Nursing research
  • Public policy
  • Health systems leadership

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) encourages higher levels of education for all nurses as a way to enhance the quality of care for the nation’s varied patient populations. Graduate-level education for nurses is endorsed by a number of professional establishments, including: the Institute of Medicine, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Tri-Council for Nursing, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Achievement of Teaching.

The AACN reports that there are more than 500 nursing schools in the United States offering more than 2,000 graduate programs.

Thanks to a heightened focus on the value of graduate-prepared nurses in the U.S., a number of RN to MSN programs have also emerged. The AACN reports that there are now more than 166 of these programs throughout the U.S.

RN to MSN programs, which are designed specifically for the licensed RN, have allowed nurses to complete both their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) through a combined—and often accelerated—program. Many of these programs are offered solely through online study, thereby accommodating the needs of today’s working nurse.

Nurses who possess a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree are viewed as highly skilled providers who fill both established and emerging roles in healthcare, such as:

  • Adult and family health
  • Geriatrics
  • Pediatrics
  • Public health
  • Administration
  • Informatics
  • Forensics


Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Roles

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are MSN-prepared nurses who are responsible for providing primary, preventive, and specialty care in a variety of roles and settings. The MSN in an advanced nursing practice area provides study in complex nursing practices, such as:

  • Diagnosing and managing acute and chronic diseases
  • Ordering diagnostic tests
  • Prescribing medications
  • Performing minor procedures

There are four, recognized APRN roles:

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners, the largest segment of the APRN workforce, are providers of primary and acute care. Their care encompasses disease management, health education, disease prevention, counseling, and health promotion.

Nurse practitioners provide initial, ongoing, and comprehensive care, which includes:

  • Taking health histories
  • Providing physical examinations and health assessments
  • Diagnosing, treating, and managing patients with acute and chronic conditions

Nurse practitioners focus their profession on a specific population, including:

  • Pediatrics
  • Adult/family care
  • Geriatrics
  • Psychiatric/mental health
  • Women’s health care

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical nurse specialists, who focus their practice on a specific population, setting, or disease type, are responsible for diagnosing and treating individuals. Their practice includes disease management, health promotion and assessment, and the prevention of illness among specific communities, families, and groups, with a focus on continuous, evidence-based improvement of patient outcomes and nursing care.

Clinical nurse specialists may focus their practice on a number of areas, such as:

  • Adult health
  • Acute and critical care
  • Community health

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists

Certified registered nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia care for individuals across the lifespan. These nursing professionals provide the following anesthesia care:

  • General anesthesia
  • Regional anesthesia
  • Pain management
  • Sedation

Their work also involves trauma stabilization and surgical services, particularly in rural hospitals throughout the U.S., where they are often the sole anesthesia providers.

Certified Nurse Midwives

Certified nurse midwives provide a full range of primary healthcare services, which include gynecologic and obstetric care, childbirth, and care of the newborn. The AACN reports that 90 percent of all visits to certified nurse midwives are for primary and preventive care. Certified nurse midwives provide care in any number of settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Private homes
  • Birthing centers
  • Ambulatory care centers
  • Community and public health clinics


Leadership Roles for MSN-Educated Nurses

Nursing leadership encompasses everything from charge nurse and clinical leadership roles, to healthcare organization executive positions in administration.

Clinical Nurse Leaders

MSN clinical nurse leaders oversee the coordination of care for patients through risk assessment, quality improvement strategies, team communication, and the implementation of evidence-based strategies in clinical care.

Clinical nurse leaders provide leadership at the point of care; therefore, they are not focused on administrative or management roles. Instead, clinical nurse leaders are bedside care providers, providing direct patient care and collaborating with other members of the healthcare team.

Public Health Nurses

Public health nurses focus their nursing career on preserving the health and well-being of the public. As such, their jobs often involve activities related to:

  • Health promotion
  • Population health
  • Disease prevention and control
  • Community education

Their work is often completed in state and community settings, where they manage or oversee large community clinics that provide healthcare services, health screenings, and immunizations.

Public health nurses also investigate the needs and issues of specific population of people by identifying and analyzing trends and investigating cases of communicable diseases. They also often provide education in the areas of disease control and general preventive health to individuals and groups, and they implement programs that address specific population risks.

Public health nurses often work collaboratively with community and government leaders.

Nurse Administrators

Nurse administrators, who may serve in any number of leadership or management capacities, are responsible for managing a nursing team, overseeing a staff budget, coordinating workflow, and ensuring efficiency and the highest quality of patient care.

Nurse administrators may oversee a small team of nurses, several teams of nurses, a nursing department, or even an entire health system. As such, their titles may include: nursing director, unit director, charge nurse, director of patient services, and chief nursing executive.

Non-Clinical Roles for MSN-Educated Nurses

MSN-prepared nurses may choose to apply their skills and knowledge beyond clinical care.

Nurse Researchers

Nurse researchers are scientists who investigate ways to improve nursing care and patient outcomes. These nursing professionals are responsible for translating research findings to clinical care. In other words, their findings are often translated into practice innovations that improve patient outcomes and health care services.

Nurse researchers at the highest level are generally doctorate-prepared; however, MSN nurses in research are valuable contributors to the research process. Their work often involves:

  • Identifying research questions
  • Conducting studies
  • Analyzing data
  • Solving clinical problems
  • Writing grants
  • Speaking about and publishing their findings

The National Institute of Nursing Research identifies nurse researchers as being essential to building the scientific foundation that is essential for:

  • Preventing disease and disability
  • Managing and eliminating symptoms caused by illness
  • Enhancing and-of-life and palliative care

MSN nurses often begin work in this field as research assistants and clinical data coordinators and eventually pursue doctoral degrees as to serve as principal investigators.

Nurse Educators

Nurse educators are experienced RNs who are responsible for preparing new nurses and advancing the development of today’s practicing nurses. The majority of nurse educators, particularly in academic settings, possess MSN degrees which, in addition to their clinical experience, provide them with the skills to adapt the newest curriculum and teaching methods in response to today’s rapidly changing healthcare system and practice environment.

Nurse educators also often serve as consultants within educational and healthcare institutions, work as clinical nurse educators in teaching hospitals, publish articles in scholarly journals, and speak at nursing conferences.

Nurse Informaticists

Nurse informaticists focus their profession on improving information management as to reduce healthcare costs, maximize efficiency, and enhance patient care. The American Nurses Association defines nurse informaticists (also called informatics nurses) as integrating nursing science, computer science, an information science as to manage and communicate information, data, and knowledge in nursing practice.

Therefore, these nursing professionals are responsible for facilitating the integration of data and utilizing information and knowledge as to support patients and healthcare providers.

Public Policy Nurses

MSN public policy nurses shape public policy at the local, state, and federal levels. Their work involves utilizing their nursing knowledge to advise legislators on healthcare policy, develop legislation, and serve as consultants on nursing-related issues.

Public policy nurses study government policies and analyze the impact of these policies on the healthcare system. They often work with governmental bodies, think tanks, national associations, and other special interest groups.

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