Some of the most lucrative and in-demand positions of the nursing career path are only available to candidates with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. As such, more and more schools are offering high-quality online MSN programs to fill this need. What’s more, many online MSN programs allow practicing registered nurses (RNs) with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees to continue to work as they advance both their education and career prospects.
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While it is possible to practice nursing without an advanced degree, completing an MSN program online opens up a wide array of additional pathways for career specializations as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) that would otherwise be inaccessible.
MSN Program Online Experience
Schools offering online nursing masters programs strive to create distance-learning opportunities that rival their traditional on-campus experiences. To do so, students are provided with a variety of digital content and technological supports to ensure that coursework is as immersive and engaging as possible.
Students can expect online DNP programs to include:
Cloud-based platforms for accessing and submitting course materials
A combination of live and pre-recorded lecture content
Interactive and multimedia-infused learning modules
Opportunities for digital communication and collaboration between students and faculty
Technical support assistance to resolve any issues interfacing with coursework
These features make it possible for students to complete the coursework components of an online MSN program in the places and at the times most convenient for them – a huge benefit for practicing nurses whose shifts may not align with typical on-campus course schedules.
Be advised, many MSN degree programs require a certain number of clinical/practicum hours focused on a nurse’s particular specialization or specializations so that, upon completion, students have the experience required to obtain licensure in their chosen fields. These hands-on experiences cannot be replaced by online distance learning. That said, being able to complete the coursework components of an MSN degree online is an undeniable convenience.
Online MSN Program Curriculum
Online MSN programs are a blend of core nursing courses as well as coursework and practicum experiences tailored to a student’s chosen APRN or NP specialty.
Courses vary by institution, but core coursework for most MSN programs online includes classes like:
Health Care Management
Health Care Policy
Research in Nursing Best Practices
A student’s specialty track and state licensing requirements will determine the remainder of the MSN degree course load. As mentioned, most specializations will include clinical hours that provide students with hands-on experiences in their chosen fields while also counting towards degree credit hour requirements.
Full-time students with an existing BSN degree can often complete their MSN in two years’ time. Part-time students can expect the MSN degree program to take two to three times longer depending upon their course loads and the required number of clinical hours they must complete.
It is worth noting that it is becoming increasingly common for schools to offer combination BSN/MSN programs that admit students seeking to complete both degrees in sequence. However, while there may be some courses that can be completed online, the bulk of these accelerated programs are not available online due to their increased pace and rigor.
Online MSN Program Specializations
A key part in selecting an online MSN degree program is deciding upon a specialization. This focus area determines a large percentage of the credit hours earned towards the MSN degree as well as what state requirements must be met so that the degree can be put to use in the field.
Some online MSN programs require applicants to choose their concentration upon enrollment; others allow some flexibility before a commitment to a particular track must be made. Either way, it helps to have an idea of the concentration you are pursuing when selecting and evaluating a prospective school. There is no guarantee that simply because a school offers an online masters in nursing, it offers the exact concentration or specialization you are looking for. Similarly, there is no guarantee that the experiences in each specialization are of equal quality.
Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)
Adult Care (ANP)
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP)
Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMNHP)
Why Get an Online Masters in Nursing (MSN)?
Completing an online MSN degree provides nurses with numerous benefits including:
A convenient way to expand your healthcare knowledge – By opting for an online MSN degree path, you have the flexibility to continue your education on your schedule. Many programs allow you to increase and decrease your course load on a semester-by-semester basis to work around scheduling needs (like work or childcare) or financial limitations.
Higher-paying nursing opportunities – Even as an RN, MSN degree holders qualify for higher salaries than their peers that only hold lesser degrees. Specialization increases this separation with many APRNs earning over $100,000 annually.
Increased potential for leadership roles – experienced nurses are increasingly being tapped to take on administrative and managerial healthcare positions. Thus, most MSN degree programs include core courses in healthcare management and employee leadership to help prepare nurses for upward mobility in the field.
Better hours – Sometimes APRN specialists have the option of working more traditional practitioners’ hours instead of inconvenient shift rotations. When shift-work is required, more experienced nurses often are typically given priority over less experienced ones for the most desirable hours.
Opens the door to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree – A DNP is the terminal degree in the nursing field and is a lucrative path a nurse can take in the medical profession without pursuing an expensive and time-consuming Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. Like an MSN degree, many schools now allow significant portions of the DNP program to be completed online.
Nursing Career Outlook
Nursing is a very diverse career path with numerous specializations and concentrations. In the modern healthcare landscape – with its aging population, increased public reliance on outpatient and urgent care, and shortage of nurses in many areas - nurses of all kinds should continue to enjoy job security.
Licensed Nurses (LNs)
Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) are entry-level healthcare professionals that hold a minimum of a postsecondary non degree certificate. They perform basic medical services under the supervision and direction of more experienced nurses and doctors.
Projected job outlook: Employment is expected to grow 12% over the span of 2016-2026. While this is higher than the 7% projected growth of all jobs over the same span, many specialized nursing positions are in much higher demand.
Registered Nurses (RNs)
Registered nurses (RNs) typically have more responsibilities and qualifications than LPNs/LVNs. It is possible to become an RN by either completing a non degree nursing program, an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) program, or a BSN program.
Nurses who obtaining a master’s degree in nursing or higher are classified as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) are a distinct class of RNs that possess both an MSN degree and have accrued at least a year or more of RN experience. A CNS-certified RN can expect to earn on the higher-end of the RN pay scale.
Projected job outlook: Employment is expected to grow 15% over the span of 2016-2026. This is more than double the 7% projected growth of all jobs over the same span.
Nurse Practitioners (NPs) and Other Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs)
As mentioned, APRNs are nurses with a minimum of an MSN degree. NPs are the most common type of APRN. Because of their education levels and specializations, NPs are equipped to provide both primary and specialty healthcare to patients. Their expertise and licenses allow them to diagnose, treat, counsel, and (in some states) prescribe medication to patients. Unlike LNs and most RNs, NPs have the authority to carry out many healthcare services without the approval of a physician.
Similarly, other APRNs - like nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives – are able to carry out their healthcare specialties with relative autonomy compared to LNs and RNs.
2018 Median Annual Pay:$113,930Note: this figure varies depending upon specialization and industry.
Projected job outlook: Employment for NPs is projected to grow an impressive 36% from 2016-2026.
Finding the Best Online MSN Program For You
In searching for the best online MSN programs across the United States, it’s important to take into account the clinical and credit hours necessary to complete the program and any GRE requirements that the program has. These factors, among many others, can help students decide which online MSN program is best suited to their needs.
We’ve compiled a list of the online MSN programs across the United States along with degree and program requirement information. An important component to any online degree program, specifically in the healthcare field, is their ability to provide top tier clinical placements as well as great online coursework. Any MSN online program worth it's salt will have a team of dedicated professionals working to match you with a medical center that meets your needs for clinical placement. Explore each program thoroughly to find out which MSN online program is the best suited to your needs!