A master's in nursing builds high-level knowledge, preparing nurses for career progression or a move to a different nursing sector entirely. Building on previous education, a master's degree typically prepares students for specialized clinical practice, leadership and management roles, or nursing educator positions. In general, graduates of nursing master's programs can move into more advanced nursing positions and earn higher salary levels.
Graduates of nursing master's programs often assume the role of advanced practice registered nurses (APRN). These highly trained healthcare professionals commonly specialize in one nursing practice area, such as geriatric, pediatric, or neonatal nursing. APRNs may also move into specialized roles such as midwife or nurse anesthetist.
This page offers an overview of nursing master's programs, including typical courses, program accreditation, and career and salary outlook. We also cover answers to common questions and scholarships for nursing graduate students.
What is nursing?
Nursing focuses on providing care for individuals, families, and communities. Nurses assess patient health, provide care, and educate patients about health issues.
How long does it take to earn a master's in nursing?
While completion time varies, most master's in nursing programs take 1-4 years to complete.
What can I do with a master's in nursing?
A master's in nursing program prepares graduates for various advanced roles in nursing practice, including management and leadership positions. It can also prepare nurses to teach.
What is an APRN?
An APRN holds at least a master's degree in nursing and provides advanced, specialized care in a specific role or to a specific patient population.
What is the difference between a nursing master's and a physician's assistant program?
Nurse practitioners typically possess special training to serve specific populations such as pediatrics or geriatrics. Physician's assistants often focus on a specific area of medicine such as internal or emergency.
Career and Salary Outlook for Nursing Master's Graduates
Graduates of nursing master's programs pursue various healthcare career pathways, largely dependent on their specialization. Nurses may pursue careers treating specific patient populations, such as pediatric, emergency, women's health, or psychiatric nursing. Nurses can also move into specialized career paths, such as midwife, nurse anesthetist, or nurse educator.
The duties associated with a graduate nursing degree typically expand on those of RNs and bachelor's-level nurses. Master's graduates commonly take greater responsibility in their workplace. This responsibility involves treating more specialized patient cases, assuming leadership roles, and implementing new care plans and healthcare initiatives. With an advanced degree, nurses often move into management positions with corresponding salary increases.
High-level training coupled with an increased demand for healthcare professionals bodes well for the future for nurse practitioners and other nursing specialists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects careers for nurse anesthetists, midwives, and nurse practitioners to grow an astonishing 45% between 2019-2029. The national average sits at just 4%.
|Career||Lowest 10%||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10%|
|Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners||Less than $82,460||$115,800||More than $184,180|
When researching nursing master's programs, always ensure that a school holds proper regional accreditation. Accreditation indicates that a school has met designated academic and administrative standards.
For master's in nursing programs, students must also confirm proper programmatic accreditation, which assesses individual nursing programs. Any school offering a master's in nursing should hold programmatic accreditation from either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Learn more about accreditation and why it matters in our guide to accreditation.
Courses in a Nursing Program
A master's in nursing program builds advanced knowledge in clinical practice and theoretical nursing concepts. Students take courses related to their speciality, general nursing, and topics such as nursing management and leadership. Many programs emphasize research, often requiring students to complete a research-based thesis or capstone.
This list highlights five courses commonly found in master's in nursing programs. Exact course titles and content vary among programs, and not every program offers each of these courses. However, this list offers a general idea of what to expect from nursing master's curricula.
Nurse leaders depend on the latest research to inform their practice and methods of care delivery. Most programs include at least one course focused on the concept and practice of nursing research. This course explores strategies for appraising, evaluating, and synthesizing contemporary nursing research, along with key research methodologies.
In the most general sense, nursing focuses on health promotion among patient populations. This course highlights approaches to disease prevention, health promotion, and chronic health problems among various populations. Students also explore the specific needs of unique patient groups and strategies for treating them.
This course examines the role of leadership in improving patient care and health outcomes. Common topics include theories of leadership, team building techniques, conflict resolution, and communication skills.
With very few exceptions, most master's in nursing programs include a significant clinical component. Students develop their skills through hands-on practice in a supervised healthcare setting. Occurring over several semesters, practicums build a broad assortment of clinical skills and experiences.
Many nursing master's programs include a culminating component requiring nurses to synthesize their learning and demonstrate major concept mastery. A thesis requires students to perform original research on a nursing topic. A capstone often calls for students to address a real-life nursing issue.
Even students enrolled in the most affordable nursing master's programs benefit from scholarships. They provide financial assistance without repayment obligations. Businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations offer scholarships for students enrolled in nursing master's programs. Some scholarships serve nurses of specific backgrounds. Others cater to those pursuing a specific career path.
Who Can Apply: BestNursingDegree.com offers this scholarship to nursing master's students in any concentration or specialization. Applicants must hold a minimum 3.5 GPA.
Who Can Apply: NAHN offers this scholarship to members in good standing currently enrolled in any nursing program. Applicants must hold NAHN membership for at least six months prior to applying.
Amount: Up to $5,000
Who Can Apply: DiversityNursing.com offers this scholarship to full-time or part-time nursing students at any academic level. Applicants must create an account on the site's JobSeeker platform.
Best Master's in Nursing Degrees 2021
Our ranking highlights some of the best nursing master's programs nationwide. The schools on this list combine rigorous academics, top-notch professional preparation, and comprehensive student support services. These schools also hold proper regional and programmatic accreditation, ensuring that students receive the best possible nursing education.
Online College Resources
Helping you prepare and gain the most out of your educational experience.
Discover a program that is right for you.
Search schools to find the program that is right for you.