What Can You Do With a Master’s in Nursing?

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Registered nurses (RNs) are in high demand in the health care industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of registered nurses will increase by 9% over the course of 2020–2030. This roughly equates to 194,500 RN openings per year for the next decade.

What’s the primary reason for the surge in demand? The country is currently experiencing a nursing shortage, which is likely to only get worse as baby boomers age and the demand for health care services grows. Additionally, the strain of the pandemic has motivated some nurses to either seek early retirement from the health care field or leave it altogether for a different career path.

It’s never been a better time to enter or advance in the health care field, which features many roles with long-term job security. An aspiring nurse needs to complete either an associate or bachelor’s in nursing program, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and then seek licensure in their state to begin working as an RN. However, earning a Master of Science in nursing (MSN) opens far more doors.

What can you do with a master’s in nursing? With this degree, graduates are equipped to pursue advanced positions in the field of health care, earn a higher salary than their RN counterparts, and choose a specialization that appeals to them.

A nurse runs through a hospital corridor.

What You Can Do With a Master’s in Nursing: Career Options

Individuals who earn an advanced degree in nursing will be competitive in the job market. That’s because MSN programs prepare nurses to strengthen their skills in specific fields such as family care, psychiatric mental health, and adult-gerontology acute care, just to name a few. Honing this specialized skill set prepares those with a master’s in nursing for positions above RN.

What you can do with a master’s in nursing breaks down into three career categories:

  • Advanced practice nursing
  • Generalist careers
  • Non-clinical careers

Each career path entails particular job roles, work environments, duties, and patient types. Additionally, pay and job outlook vary from role to role; however, Master of Science in Nursing graduates made an average annual salary of approximately $97,000 as of March 2022, according to PayScale.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) often serve as primary health care providers and have full practice authority (similar to a physician) in certain states. In fact, in some rural areas, an APRN serves as the medical care provider in the absence of a physician. APRNs work in hospitals, private practices, outpatient surgery centers, and public health clinics.

Some of the most popular APRN careers include nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife, clinical nurse specialist, and certified registered nurse anesthetist.

Nurse Practitioner

APRNs with a nurse practitioner (NP) certification in states that allow for full practice authority can do the following:

  • Diagnose and treat acute conditions
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests
  • Manage a patient’s overall primary care
  • Counsel patients and provide treatment plans
  • Prescribe medications

However, NPs are unique in that their practice authority may be reduced or restricted based on the state they practice in. State practice and licensure laws may require an NP to make a career-long collaborative practice agreement with a medical doctor to provide patient care services or be directly supervised by an MD while they administer patient care. Additionally, NPs in restricted or reduced practice states have at least one element of their practice authority restricted, such as prescribing medications.

Another unique quality about NPs is the number of specializations for this role. Nearly 90% of NPs are certified in primary care, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, which explains why the vast majority of NPs are family nurse practitioners (FNPs). Other NP specializations include:

  • Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP): Provides advanced acute health care services to adolescents, adults, and older adults
  • Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP): Provides advanced primary health care services to adolescents, adults, and older adults
  • Family nurse practitioner (FNP): Provides a wide array of health care services to patients of all ages
  • Neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP): Provides advanced health care services to sick or premature newborns
  • Pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP): Provides either primary or acute health care services to newborns, infants, toddlers, adolescents, and young adults
  • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP): Provides advanced care to patients who have psychiatric disorders
  • Women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP): Provides a wide variety of health care services to women of all ages

The salary ranges for all NP specialties differ from role to role and depend on an NP’s experience and education, the hiring facility, and other factors. However, as a baseline salary expectation, the average NP earned an annual salary of about $100,120 as of March 2022, according to PayScale.

Certified Nurse-Midwife

A certified nurse-midwife (CNM) is a health care professional who specializes in delivering health care services to women who are either pregnant or planning to become pregnant. CNMs have specialized knowledge in the areas of women’s reproductive health and childbirth.

Typical duties of a certified nurse-midwife include:

  • Ordering, performing, and interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Educating patients on family planning and reproductive health
  • Providing prenatal, intrapartum, postpartum, and newborn health care services
  • Performing gynecological exams
  • Performing routine screenings
  • Monitoring fetal health and providing patients with updates
  • Assisting with childbirth

Most CNMs work in hospitals, birthing centers, clinics, and private practices. The average certified nurse-midwife made approximately $100,000 per year as of February 2022, according to PayScale.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) have advanced training and education in a nursing specialization such as adult/gerontology, pediatrics, oncology, or neonatal care. A significant part of their role is delivering health care services to patients. This includes ordering and interpreting tests, providing diagnosis, and providing treatment to patients.

Interestingly, a clinical nurse specialist’s role extends beyond delivering patient care. A CNS also supports other nurses with ongoing education and mentorship. Additionally, they spend a significant amount of time conducting independent research, identifying areas of opportunity and improvement in health care delivery, and driving policy changes that aim to benefit their organizations.

Clinical nurse specialists work in hospitals, health care facilities, clinics, and research facilities. The average CNS made approximately $93,800 per year as of February 2022, according to PayScale.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is an advanced practice nurse who specializes in administering anesthesia to patients prior to surgery. The CRNA is also responsible for monitoring the patient under anesthesia to ensure they remain in stable condition. Additionally, the CRNA communicates with the surgeon or presiding physician to ensure the patient gets the care they require.

CRNAs can work in any hospital, health care facility, or private practice that requires the administration of anesthesia. The average CRNA made approximately $164,200 per year as of February 2022, according to PayScale.

Generalist MSN Careers

What you can do with a master’s in nursing degree need not be specific to a particular patient demographic or skill, such as administering anesthesia. In fact, many aspiring health care workers pursue a generalist MSN path, which is broad in scope and contains no specialization element. Some of the top generalist careers for MSN graduates include clinical nurse leader (CNL), clinical research nurse (CRN), and public health nurse (PHN).

Clinical Nurse Leader

The role of a clinical nurse leader (CNL) typically does not involve hands-on patient care. Instead, CNLs focus on the management of patient outcomes, care coordination and transitions, improving communication, implementing best practices, risk assessment, and improving the overall quality of a facility or organization. Their work affects all patients and health care workers in the facility.

The average CNL earned approximately $83,200 per year as of January 2022, according to PayScale.

Clinical Research Nurse

In a clinical trial for a new medication or treatment method, the person in charge of organizing and overseeing the trial is typically a clinical research nurse (CRN). In addition to arranging the clinical trial, CRNs also administer medications to patients, perform treatments, monitor patient results, and record all results and side effects. The important work that clinical research nurses perform is the reason why new drugs can be made available to patients who need them.

The average CRN made approximately $72,800 per year as of February 2022, according to PayScale.

Public Health Nurse

The role of a public health nurse has become extremely topical in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Public health nurses are perhaps best known for educating the public about infectious diseases, including how to prevent the spread of them, and keeping people up to date with the latest information about vaccinations.

However, the role of a public health nurse doesn’t stop with infectious diseases. Promoting a healthy lifestyle means educating the public on all things that can have a negative impact on public health. Typical topics public health nurses cover include:

  • Dangers of smoking
  • Dangers of drug and alcohol abuse
  • Importance of a healthy diet and exercise
  • Sex education
  • Importance of hand-washing and proper hygiene
  • Public health threats related to the environment

Since the role of a public health nurse is largely educational, they work in a wide variety of environments, such as schools, community groups, senior centers, and health care facilities. Public health nurses also work with local, state, and federal agencies to improve access to health care services for low-income or underserved areas of a community.

The average public health nurse made approximately $62,250 per year as of February 2022, according to PayScale.

Non-Clinical MSN Careers

MSN graduates who prefer an administrative or academic role can choose from numerous non-clinical career paths. Non-clinical nursing professionals can have an impact on the medical field by shaping young minds or developing policies that improve how health care services are delivered. Some of the most popular non-clinical MSN roles include nurse educator, nurse executive, and nurse manager.

Nurse Educator

Given that the country is currently in the middle of a nursing shortage, the role of a nurse educator is critical in the education and development of young nurses who plan to enter the field or who are just beginning their careers as an RN.

Nurse educators instill the knowledge and develop the skills that the next generation of nurses will need to effectively deliver health care services to their patient base. Additionally, nurse educators also serve as mentors to their students, drawing from personal experience to guide and coach them along the way.

Nurse educators typically work in an academic setting, such as a college or university, or a health care setting, such as a hospital or clinic. Typical duties of a nurse educator include:

  • Developing and teaching a nursing curriculum
  • Evaluating the skills and knowledge of students
  • Overseeing the clinical practice of students
  • Serving as a mentor or role model to students
  • Staying up to date on clinical practices and procedures
  • Writing grant proposals

The average nurse educator made approximately $78,300 per year as of March 2022, according to PayScale.

Nurse Executive

Nurse executive is one of the highest-level positions one can attain in a hospital or health care facility. These leaders (also known as chief nursing executives or chief nursing officers) effectively oversee an entire organization to ensure that the staff is providing the highest-quality health care services to patients. Some of the most common duties of a nurse executive include:

  • Ensuring the staff is following all health care policies and procedures
  • Managing and supporting nursing staff
  • Managing budgets
  • Being responsible for the ongoing education of nursing staff
  • Interviewing, onboarding, and training newly hired RNs
  • Evaluating nursing staff and conducting performance reviews
  • Evaluating processes and looking for areas of opportunity or improvement
  • Collaborating with other department leaders and company stakeholders
  • Ensuring the hospital or health care facility is meeting or exceeding ethical standards

The average chief nursing officer (nurse executive) made approximately $134,650 per year as of February 2022, according to PayScale.

Nurse Manager

A nurse manager (also known as a nurse supervisor) oversees a team of nurses in a hospital or health care facility. Since this is an administrative role, they don’t deliver health care services to patients. However, a nurse manager is critical to ensuring that their team has the resources to effectively do their jobs. Typical duties include:

  • Recruiting, training, and developing nursing staff
  • Overseeing the work schedule
  • Managing the department budget
  • Creating objectives and goals for nurses and the overall department
  • Ensuring that patient records are organized and properly maintained
  • Ensuring that the department is adhering to federal regulations and local laws
  • Looking for areas of opportunity to improve their facility or the delivery of patient care
  • Collaborating with other department leaders
  • Serving as the point of contact to resolve any conflicts or problems

The average chief nurse manager made approximately $84,700 per year as of February 2022, according to PayScale.

Take the First Step Toward a Rewarding Career in Health Care

What you can do with a master’s in nursing degree, compared with only a BSN, is impressive. The opportunity to pursue an APRN, generalist, or non-clinical role makes an MSN a highly versatile degree. Additionally, MSN graduates typically earn more because of their advanced clinical knowledge and experience.

For BSN graduates who want to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner, the best first step is to invest in education, by enrolling in Hawai‘i Pacific University’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program. The MSN allows students to specialize as a family NP, psychiatric mental health NP, or adult-gerontology acute care NP. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of nurse practitioners to grow by 52% between 2020 and 2030, meaning now is the time to take the first step toward becoming an NP. Learn more about how Hawai‘i Pacific University can help prepare you to reach your health care career goals.

Recommended Readings:

Burnout vs. Compassion Fatigue in Nursing

The Importance of a Nurse’s Role in Patient Safety

Trauma Nursing in Vacation Cities


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage

American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Fact Sheet

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, The Path to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP)

American Nurses Association, Public Health Nursing

Betterteam, Clinical Nurse Specialist Job Description

Global Health, The Role of Nurse Educators

Indeed, “6 Jobs You Can Get With a Master's Degree in Nursing”

Indeed, “How to Become a Research Nurse: A Step-by-Step Guide”

Indeed, “Nurse Manager Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications”

Indeed, “Roles Beyond the Bedside: How to Become a Nurse Educator”

Indeed, “What Is a Certified Nurse-Midwife? (And How to Become One)”

Indeed, “What Is a Nurse Executive? A Definitive Career Guide”

PayScale, Average Certified Nurse Midwife Salary

PayScale, Average Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Salary

PayScale, Average Clinical Nurse Leader Hourly Pay

PayScale, Average Clinical Nurse Manager Salary

PayScale, Average Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Salary

PayScale, Average Clinical Research Nurse Salary

PayScale, Average Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) Salary

PayScale, Average Nurse Educator Salary

PayScale, Average Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

PayScale, Average Public Health Nurse Hourly Pay

PayScale, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree

PayScale, Salary for Certification: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

PayScale, Salary for Certification: Nurse Executive - Board Certified (NE-BC)

O*Net Online, Clinical Nurse Specialists

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, “Global Nursing Education: International Resources Meet the NLN Core Competencies for Nurse Educators”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses