Top 5 Career Options with a Master’s Degree in Nursing

Having a master’s degree in nursing opens the door to many of today’s top nursing careers.

Nurses with MSN degrees, for example, can work as:

  • Nurse anesthetists
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Clinical nurse specialists
  • Certified nurse-midwives
  • Nurse informaticists

Certified registered nurse anesthetists

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) administer anesthesia for surgery or other medical procedures. They work in hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, private offices and pain management practices.

Nurses in the profession need at least a master’s degree in nursing. By 2022, all CRNA programs will replace their MSN degree programs with either the Doctor of Nurse Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP), according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

CRNAs are top earners in the nursing profession. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports CRNAs make an average annual income of $174,790 or an average hourly wage of $84.03. The top 75% of CRNAs earn an average $198,470 salary, according to BLS.

The profession is growing faster than most. The outlook for nurse anesthetists through 2028 is a 26% increase in jobs, with an average 3,200 openings each year during the next decade, according to BLS.

Nurse practitioners

Nurse practitioners provide primary, acute and specialty care to people of all ages. NPs need to have an MSN degree or a doctoral nursing degree and advanced clinical training. NPs can focus on adult, geriatric, pediatric or mental health. They might also work in women’s health or hospice and palliative care.

These advanced practice nurses are in demand. BLS predicts the NP profession will grow 26% in the next decade, with an average of 16,900 NP job openings each year through 2028.

U.S. News & World Report ranked the NP profession No. 5 among its top 100 jobs listing in 2020.

NP compensation varies based on factors such as certification, experience and education.

“In 2019, four of the top five certifications reported were in primary care: family (65.4%), adult (12.6%), adult-gerontology (7.8%) and pediatrics (3.7%). The median base salary for full-time NPs was $110,000 and the median total income (including bonuses) for full-time NPs was $115,000. NPs who worked full time and were certified in psychiatric mental health had the highest median base salary ($125,000), while emergency NPs had the highest median hourly rate ($70.00),” according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) 2019 National NP Sample Survey.

NPs with administrative and clinical roles tend to make more money than NPs with clinical roles only. Many NPs with administrative roles in the AANP survey held executive-level positions, including CEO, CNO or owner.

Clinical nurse specialists

Clinical nurses specialists provide direct patient care, manage care, lead research and educate providers and patients, according to the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists.

Many work in specialties such as pediatrics, geriatrics and women’s health. Some work in critical care, the emergency department or other units. Some CNSs specialize by disease type, including diabetes or oncology, while others provide psychiatric, rehabilitative, wound care or pain management.

More than 60% of CNSs have an MSN degree, according to NACNS. Nearly 15% have a master’s in science (MS) degree, and the rest have doctoral or other degrees, according to the 2018 Clinical Nurse Specialists Census.

CNSs earn an annual average of $76,333, according to our 2018 Nursing Salary Report. Other sources report the average CNS salary is from about $90,000 to more than $106,000 a year.

Certified nurse-midwives

Certified nurse-midwives are licensed, independent providers who have prescriptive authority. Their scope of practice includes primary healthcare services for women, from adolescence to menopause. Most work in physician practices, but many also work in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

Having a graduate degree, including the master’s degree in nursing, is a requirement for CNMs. More than 80% of CNMs have a master’s degree in nursing, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

BLS reports slower growth in demand for nurse-midwives than other nursing professions. While 6,500 nurse-midwives had jobs in 2018, BLS expects 7,600 jobs will be available in 2028. BLS projects there will be on average 500 openings for nurse-midwives each year over the next decade.

CNMs earn an average of $106,910 annually and $51.40 hourly, according to BLS.

Nursing informaticists

Nursing informatics is where the science and practice of nursing meets information technology to promote health.

Nurse informaticists develop communication and information technologies, as well as educate and conduct research. They’re CNOs, chief information officers, software engineers, implementation consultants and policy developers. Some are business owners, according to the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA).

Read more about what these nurses do in our blog about the career.

Nurse informaticists need at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing. But employers tend to prefer a master’s degree, especially when filling executive roles in informatics. More than half of nurse informaticists had master’s or doctoral degrees, according to the 2017 HIMSS Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey. Most of the master’s-prepared nurses had an MSN degree. There are master’s in nursing informatics degrees, including RN-to-MSN programs and online programs.

Nearly half of those surveyed by HIMSS reported making more than $100,000 annually, and 8 in 10 nursing informaticists were satisfied or highly satisfied with their roles.

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