Earning a Master's in Nursing Online

Should I Pursue an Online MSN?

Nursing, a healthcare profession that provides care for patients, continues to expand rapidly. An online master of science in nursing (MSN) degree provides graduates with an advanced career path in the medical field. Typically, nurses who want to specialize in a particular area of healthcare pursue these advanced degrees in nursing.

Following graduation, a nurse with an MSN can earn eligibility for licensure and certification as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), certified nurse midwife (CNM), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), nurse practitioner (NP), or health services manager. These advanced positions benefit from strong job outlooks and significant financial rewards, all the while offering students a meaningful and well-respected profession.

Throughout their online MSN programs, students can better understand the details of nursing specialization and how they align with their interests. With clinical work playing such an important role in advanced nursing degrees, students even receive hands-on experience in their desired fields before graduation. Many schools allow online students to pursue clinical work locally. This enables MSN online students to bypass campus living, campus visits, and long commutes.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Nursing Graduates

Master's in Nursing Salary

With an online master's in nursing, NPs gain access to some of the highest salaries in the healthcare profession. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that compensation varies substantially between states and experience levels, NPs at every level and location boast significant earning power. On average, entry-level NPs earn more than $90,000 annually, according to the BLS. Salaries jump dramatically with experience, as NPs with 20+ years of experience earn more than $105,000 annually.

Country-wide, NPs enjoy annual mean wages of more than $107,000. On one end of the spectrum, Tennessee NPs possess the lowest annual mean wages at just below $94,000. Meanwhile, in California, the state with the highest industry wages, NPs boast annual mean wages of $126,770.

Top Paying States for Nurse Practitioners

State Employment Annual Mean Wage
California 13,570 $126,770
Alaska 440 $122,580
Hawaii 410 $88,200
Massachusetts 6,280 $120,140
Connecticut 2,220 $118,500
United States 166,280 $107,480

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Pay by Experience Level for Nurse Practitioners

  • Entry-Level (0-5 Years):
    $90,000
  • Mid-Career (5-10 Years):
    $97,000
  • Experienced (10-20 Years):
    $101,000
  • Late-Career (20+ Years):
    $105,000

Source: PayScale

Master's in Nursing Careers

With a master's degree in nursing, graduates benefit from a variety of career paths and opportunities. The advanced medical skills and specialized training earned from online MSN programs typically leads graduates toward advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) positions, like an NP, CRNA, or a CNM. Their leadership skills and advanced degrees also make them candidates for healthcare management positions. The following list highlights some of the careers available to graduates with a master's degree in nursing.

Medical and Health Services Manager

Annual Median Salary: $98,350
Projected Growth Rate: 20%

These professionals manage or lead healthcare teams, departments, and practices. They work closely with healthcare laws and policies, ensuring their workplace follows regulations. While some management positions require only a bachelor's degree and experience, an MSN online provides much of the expertise necessary for these leadership roles.

Nurse Practitioner

Annual Median Salary: $103,880
Projected Growth Rate: 36%

NPs work in either primary or specialty care delivering nursing services to patients. These tasks include medical assessments, performing tests and diagnostics, and creating treatment plans. NPs first obtain a nursing degree at the undergraduate level and then take an online MSN to specialize as a practitioner. NPs must then undergo substantial supervised clinical work and pass the licensing exam for licensure eligibility.

Nurse Midwife

Annual Median Salary: $100,590
Projected Growth Rate: 21%

CNMs provide medical care to women and families, specifically prenatal care and gynecological exams during pregnancies. In addition to delivering babies, CNMs also provide wellness plans for pregnant women. CNMs must first obtain an advanced degree in nursing, like a master's in nursing online, along with significant supervised clinical work. Graduates must then complete the licensing exam through the certification board and recertify every five years.

Nurse Anesthetist

Annual Median Salary: $165,120
Projected Growth Rate: 16%

CRNAs provide medical care related to the administration of anesthesia before, during, and after surgery. CRNAs also deliver anesthesia for pain and monitor a patient's well being and comfort during medical procedures. In addition to earning an online MSN and completing substantial clinical hours, anesthetists must pass a certification exam and recertify every four years.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Annual Median Salary: $86,338
Projected Growth Rate: 15%

These nurses provide care to patients in specialized medical units, like oncology, gerontology, and cardiology units. The advanced skills of a CNS allow them to offer consultations and health assessments, along with the skills to perform medical research. Every CNS requires an MSN degree and significant clinical hours, plus the successful completion of the certification exam.

What Can I Expect From Online MSN Programs?

Though each school and MSN online program features a unique curriculum, certain courses regularly appear in programs across the country. The following list highlights some of these typical courses in addition to the skills and training students can expect to gain from them. Please note that some of the details may vary depending on the school or program.

Curriculum for Online MSN Programs

  1. Healthcare Policy: This course and its variants focus on healthcare policy at the institutional, local, state, and federal levels. Along with the opportunities in standard health services, MSN graduates with a thorough understanding of healthcare policy gain additional career opportunities in management, government, and large healthcare corporations.
  2. Advanced Health Assessment: Quick, accurate, and reliable health assessment sits at the core of modern healthcare. APRNs require the skills to use the equipment and information available to them to evaluate a patient's condition and medical needs. These courses provide nurses with highly technical skills and practice working with advanced lab and diagnostic equipment.
  3. Pathophysiology: Nurses at all levels must possess an understanding of common and frequently occurring primary care conditions. Students in pathophysiology learn to diagnose, assess, and treat these common ailments while learning why and how the body reacts to these conditions. In most states, NP licensure requires prerequisite courses in physiology, so most programs include them in some variation.
  4. Pharmacology: Pharmacology courses teach students how to administer and manage medicinal therapies and how to diagnose and treat medication-related illnesses and health problems. Students learn to identify drug interactions, along with the prevention of adverse reactions to various medications. Many states require NP candidates to possess prerequisites in pharmacology for licensure.
  5. Leadership and Management: Leadership programs teach effective team coordination, communication, and administrative skills to prepare students for managerial positions in healthcare facilities. While programs vary by school, many leadership courses emphasize patient safety and quality care. Teamwork and diversity training also appear in these courses.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Nursing Prepares For

  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists: The National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists provides certification for CRNAs to provide assurances to the public and accountability for the profession. Aspiring anesthetists must complete a master's degree in nursing, pass the National Certification Exam, and then recertify every four years through the Continued Professional Certification program to remain active.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife: Administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB), nurse midwife certification verifies that each member's skills and education meet the national standards of the profession. Most states require AMCB certification for licensing and employment in the field. CNM candidates must complete a master's degree in nursing, pass the certification exam, and recertify every five years to remain active.