1. McMahon, Janet Tompkins MSN, RN

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Do you find yourself asking, why should I consider a master's of science in nursing (MSN) degree? Returning to school for an MSN degree is a serious endeavor, yet one of the most worthwhile educational decisions we can make. Pursuing graduate education requires thoughtful consideration before initiating the process. Here's what you need to know.


Why the MSN?

Graduate degrees are in demand! The Institute of Medicine's Future of Nursing report highlighted the need for nurses to engage in academic progression to the highest level. To date, there's a shortage of master's and doctorally-prepared nurses, creating an expanded need for more nurses to return to school to advance the nation's health and improve healthcare outcomes. There's no better time to consider returning to graduate school.


Graduate degrees can take many directions in nursing and healthcare, such as a master's degree in nursing education or healthcare administration. Not only can a master's degree assist you in becoming a nurse educator, it can also move your career into a specific area of advanced practice nursing, such as certified nurse midwife (CNM), certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), or nurse practitioner (NP). These are exciting curriculum-specific areas of graduate education that are paving the way for nurses to be key members of the interdisciplinary team, improving clinical best practices and patient outcomes.


In addition, a graduate degree may increase your earning potential. Salaries for master's-prepared nurses vary according to geographic location, years of experience, and type of degree. For example, median salaries reported include CNM, $91,355; CRNA, $156,226; CNS, $87,975; NP, $89,899; and nursing director, $121,082. It should be noted that administration careers within healthcare may lower your overall income at a given point. This is mainly due to the loss of overtime, weekend, and shift differential incentives that the RN can earn while providing direct patient care. However, there are increased job opportunities within and outside of the traditional positions held by nursing professionals.


Lastly, another reason to pursue an MSN degree may be to achieve a personal goal. This is a powerful motivator that can support your own perception of self, heighten your position within the healthcare setting, and assist with securing your lengthy tenure within the healthcare team. Multiple studies attribute improved patient outcomes and satisfaction with the achievement of an advanced degree.


What's required?

Admission requirements vary according to the school's policy and can be competitive in nature. General requirements include a 3.0 grade point average (some programs are 3.5 or higher) from an undergraduate nursing program, Graduate Record Examination test results within a certain benchmark, and letters of recommendation. Certain programs may also request that the potential student has a BSN degree from an accredited institution.


Program length can vary from approximately 30 to 45-plus contact hours. Typical courses within the curriculum include nursing theory, research, pathopharmacology, statistics, nursing and healthcare policy, healthcare delivery systems, and some type of practicum immersion depending on the selected emphasis within the program of study.


What type of program is right for me?

The avenues to pursue a graduate degree are more numerous than ever before. There are unique articulation models, such as LPN-MSN, associate degree to master's degree, and BSN-MSN, just to name a few. Online, hybrid, and traditional formats-or a combination-are available. The transformation of traditional classroom models into innovative, user-friendly education models that include technology and online formats allows students to potentially obtain an MSN degree from home, which facilitates work-life balance while engaging in graduate education. Students can enroll full time or part time and work at the same time if desired. It's all about flexibility!


When researching the program that's right for you, consider whether the curriculum fits within your career interests. For example, if you're interested in nursing administration positions, you may want to focus your MSN studies toward executive nursing or leadership. Other emphasis areas include nursing education, clinical delivery, school nursing, public health, and healthcare policy to name a few.


What should I consider?

As with the BSN, the importance of accreditation shouldn't be ignored. Accreditation for a program of study is essential and noteworthy. The gold standards of academic criteria and rigor that are addressed and reviewed by accreditation institutions are beneficial for the outcomes of your graduate program of study and your future advancement. Common accrediting bodies, such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, and the newly formed National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation, are specific to nursing, unlike regional governing accreditation bodies for the entire institution and all of academia.


Each program you consider attending should have the "stamp of approval," signifying its intent to deliver excellence in nursing education and training. Review the accreditation portion of the program's website to ensure that the program is in "good standing" versus in warning or denied accreditation. Student loans and other financial benefits can be compromised if a program doesn't meet expectations for accreditation.


Funding for an MSN degree can be costly; however, the return on investment with career mobility and potential salary increases is worthwhile. Many schools have individualized scholarships available after a student is accepted into a program. Additionally, there are national grants and scholarship opportunities for students interested in pursuing graduate education (see Potential funding opportunities). Government funding for candidates who fit the criteria for assistance with tuition is also available. Tuition assistance with student loans may be another area to consider.


In a review of available online and traditional programs nationwide, the low range of $17,000 to the higher end of $35,000-plus can be the anticipated costs associated with the pursuit of your MSN degree. Typically, online programs are considered to be lower cost; however, it truly depends on what emphasis you choose, how many credits can be transferred, institutional core requirements, and the type of degree you currently hold.


The other cost associated with pursuing an MSN degree is your time. Whether you're electing to pursue an online program versus a brick and mortar institution, the amount of time that you'll need to invest can't be overstated. A good rule of thumb when determining the amount of time needed to prepare for class is to double the class length. So if the class is 2.5 hours in length, you'll need a minimum of 5 hours study time. This time can fluctuate depending on the type of class (didactic or lab) and your abilities.


A worthy journey

In conclusion, graduate education is a major journey to consider. However, today's programs offer many pathways to success, and the opportunities for professional growth and improving the workforce are plentiful. The prospects for career articulation, professional development, and workforce mobility are exciting and within reach. Improving patient outcomes with the advancement of your knowledge and skills makes the pursuit of graduate education a worthwhile endeavor.


on the web

Potential funding opportunities

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* American Assembly for Men in Nursing:


* American Association of Colleges of Nursing:


* Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing's Future:




* National Association of Hispanic Nurses:


* National League for Nursing:


* National Student Nurses Association:


* U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration:





American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Joint statement on academic progression for nursing students and graduates.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The impact of education on nursing practice.


American Nurses Association. Advanced nursing education is better for patients.


Institute of Medicine. The future of nursing: leading change, advancing health. Masters in nursing average salary.


U.S. News and World Reports. Best grad schools: nursing.