Introduction to online Master’s in Nursing degrees

While a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in nursing is perfect for many entry-level positions, advancement in the field often requires further education, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Nurses with an MSN degree will have intricate knowledge of the healthcare field, and be able to use their expertise to treat patients in a variety of medical situations.

Online education offers a unique opportunity to those who want to increase their knowledge and credentials for career purposes, because it is possible to take online classes while maintaining your current job. The following list of featured schools offer online MSN programs.

Walden University
BSN to MSN (General)
MSN in Leadership & Mgmt
MSN in Nursing Informatics
MSN in Nurse Education
Walden University — The Walden University online MSN degree is offered in two tracks. The BSN track is reserved for Registered Nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and the RN Track is for Registered Nurses with a hospital diploma, Associate Degree in Nursing, or Bachelor's degree other than Nursing. Walden also offers many other specialized MSN degrees.
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Kaplan University
MSN in Nurse Administrator
MSN in Nurse Educator
Kaplan University — Kaplan University offers two Master's in Nursing degrees in addition to its general BSN to MSN program. The Masters in Nursing Administration is designed for students interested in management roles, while the Nurse Educator Masters program is focused on training future nurse educators. Both of these degree options are provided in an online format.
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Grand Canyon University
Dual Degree: MBA & MSN
MSN in Nursing Education
MSN in Nursing Leadership
Grand Canyon University — The Grand Canyon University Master of Science in Nursing program offers a variety of degree options to advance the skill set of the nurse practitioner. The program offers degrees in Nursing Education, and Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems. For the business-minded nurse, GCU also offers a dual MBA & MSN degree.
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Liberty University
MSN in Nursing Admin
MSN in Nurse Education
Liberty University — For students looking to earn their degree in a fast, flexible, and convenient way, Liberty has recently included several Masters in Nursing degrees to their course catalog. Students are able to complete course material at a pace comfortable for them in an environment of their choosing. Liberty offers accredited online programs for MSN in Nursing Administration, MSN in Nurse Education, and even a Doctor of Nursing Practice.
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Georgetown University
MSN in Midwifery/Women's Health
MSN in Family Nurse Practitioner
Georgetown University — Georgetown University offers two Masters of Science in Nursing degrees through online programs: Family Nurse Practitioner and Midwifery/Women's Health. These degree programs are accredited and available onsite too, but the online programs have the added benefits of cutting many of the costs associated with campus programs. Assignments can be completed at home, school, the library, or even on the go.
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University of Cincinnati
MSN in Adult Nursing
MSN in CNS/Nurse Educator
University of Cincinnati — The University of Cincinnati Master of Science in Nursing program couples nursing theory and related sciences as a basis for teaching advanced nursing methods that enhance the health care practice. Students will participate in both course work and actual health care settings. The Master of Science in Nursing program is offered both part-time or full-time, in class or online.
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Sacred Heart University
MSN in Clinical Nursing
MSN in Nursing Education
MSN in Patient Care
Sacred Heart University — For nurses that hold an associate degree in nursing or diploma looking for an accelerated MS in clinical nursing leadership, this is the perfect program. The classes satisfy both the undergraduate- and graduate-level requirements. Degrees are also offered in nursing education and patient care services.
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American Sentinel University
MS in Nursing
MSN in Case Management
MSN in Informatics
MSN in Leadership
American Sentinel University — The Master in Nursing degree from American Sentinel University comes in several specializations, including case management, health informatics, infection prevention, and nursing leadership. Actively licensed registered nurses are eligible to enroll in these programs, and completion requires 36 graduate credit-hours plus any additional uncompleted undergrad credits (usually no more than 21).
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South University
MS in Nursing
MSN in Adult Health
MSN in Nurse Education
South University — Designed to train nurses on the rapidly advancing body of knowledge in the nursing field, the online nursing programs from South University provide students with the skills necessary to teach tomorrow's health care professionals. In addition to their general MSN degree and accelerated RN to MSN track, South University also offers specializations in adult health nurse practice and nursing education.
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Chamberlain College of Nursing
MS in Nursing
Chamberlain College of Nursing — Students in the Chamberlain College of Nursing MSN degree program rave over the curriculum's variety and co-curricular learning. The curriculum includes courses in nursing theory, research, leadership, professional role development and informatics in health care. A 100 hour practicum is also required.
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MSN Degrees

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree can be a useful credential for a registered nurse (RN) who wants to move up into an administrative position or take on a more specialized career in nursing. Someone with an MSN has more options for career specialization, and even the ability to open an independent practice. Some of the most common career paths that an MSN may lead to include:

  • Nurse Practitioner: NPs need more training than RNs, and therefore can typically get more responsibility or choose the nature of their work more easily. An NP can open their own practice and provide primary care, although it will take additional work to be granted the privilege of prescribing medication. In some areas of the U.S., a shortage of doctors is leading NPs to open their own practices.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist: Clinical nurse specialists both provide nursing care to patients and work on the nursing system as a whole, devising new ways to increase efficiency while also improving the quality of care provided, and ultimately positively impacting patient outcomes.
  • Nurse Midwife: A nurse midwife’s main role is to work with pregnant women throughout their pregnancy to monitor and maintain their health and the health of their baby. Nurse midwives are often present at the birth of their clients’ children to help coach mothers through the process of childbearing and to provide advice for reducing pain and delivering the baby safely.
  • Nurse Anesthetist: Nurse anesthetists work closely with anesthesiologists to decide on the appropriate type and level of anesthetic, and to administer it, for patients undergoing surgery. There are two broad categories of anesthesia; general anesthesia puts a patient completely under for a major surgery, and local anesthesia merely numbs the region being operated on, or blocks the patient’s natural responses to pain so that the doctors can work without interference from the patient. Assisting in the preparation of patients and the safe delivery of anesthesia are the primary duties of a nurse anesthetist.

Earning an MSN Online

An RN who wants to become a nurse practitioner can continue to gain practical, real world experience at a hospital or clinic, while also taking courses on their off days or evenings. Since nurses often work a few long shifts during the week, and have three to four day weekends, rather than the typical schedule of five 8-hour days, the goal of concurrent career experience and education may be achievable for nurses.

Credit Requirements and Clinical Opportunities for MSN Candidates

Because of the influence nurses have on patient health, nursing education and licensure requirements are more stringent than those for most careers. Many states have legal requirements about the number of credit hours and the nature of courses that nurses must take to be licensed to work at all. For students who already have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), an MSN comprises between 30-60 credit hours of advanced courses in a chosen specialty. Additional requirements to receive a master’s degree may include:

  • Clinical Work Hours: Many nursing programs, including online ones, require that their master’s degree candidates get some actual hands-on experience helping patients. This requirement is clearly less flexible, scheduling-wise, than the academic courses nurses can take online, but for anyone committed to nursing as a profession, this practical experience is not only desirable, but necessary.
  • Written Thesis: Most people who pursue a master’s degree produce an original research paper, or thesis, that contributes to the overall body of knowledge in their field. Many MSN programs have a thesis requirement.
  • Courses in a Niche Specialty: Choosing a path such as midwifery or anesthesiology is an important part of advancing a nursing career. Earning an MSN will require you to choose a specific type of nursing, and stick with it.

Specialties for Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners

There are a few major paths of specializations for nurses to pursue, and of course within each path there are infinite sub-specialties, but generally, a nurse will choose a path in college and get deeper and deeper into it as they gain more work experience. Some categories of nursing practice are:

  • Midwifery: Nurse midwives work with pregnant women to maintain their health and track their baby’s development up to and beyond labor and birth.
  • Anesthesiology: Certified nurse anesthetists administer anesthesiology in collaboration with an anesthesiologist who makes the final call on what combination and dosage of drugs should be given to a patient who is heading into surgery.
  • Family Practice: Some nurse practitioners take extra courses and fulfill extra licensure requirements to earn the privilege of prescribing medicine to patients. This makes it easier to open a private family practice and provide primary care to patients of all ages. Many patients prefer to go to a nurse practitioner for regular checkups because NPs tend to charge less than MDs for regular primary care services.
  • Women’s Health/Obstetrics-Gynecology: Women’s health nurses can provide regular primary care services specific to women, such as cervical or breast cancer screenings. These nurses have some of the same basic duties as nurse midwives, but less childbirth-specific expertise.

Launching or Enhancing Your Nursing Career

Seeking a master’s degree, whether you’ve already got a bachelor’s, or are just getting started, is a major commitment, and should be compatible with your life goals and values. If you are just starting out in nursing, or perhaps haven’t even started yet, it might be wise to get some experience as a registered nurse on your resume before pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing. Having a master’s without work experience may make you overqualified for the kinds of entry-level positions you’re most likely to be considered for.

If you have already worked as an RN, and want to go back to school so you can potentially get a promotion or even start your own practice, then an MSN is a good way to go, but you’ll have to have certain priorities in place before it makes sense to start. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you prepare to apply for a nursing education program online:

  • How long will it take me to get enough education to get the job or promotion I want?
  • How much money can I pay for an education and still expect to earn enough to pay it back with my target career?
  • How much debt am I willing to take on to pay for school?

After Finishing an MSN: Licensure and Practice Requirements

There are a few requirements you’ll have to take care of after graduating to make the transition from nursing student to practicing nurse or nurse practitioner. Nurses must undergo a battery of tests and provide various forms of documentation to the state nursing board where they want to practice. Before you can be licensed as a nurse, you’ll need to:

  1. Take the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination), which is the standardized test that nurses must pass to be eligible to practice.
  2. Get a background check to prove that you aren’t a convicted felon. Some states will allow felons to practice nursing unless their crime was of a violent or sexual nature.
  3. Submit various paperwork and identification, including fingerprints and recent passport-sized photos of yourself, to be used on your license card.

Additionally, nurses have to put in some extra effort to stay on the cutting edge of their profession. Most states require nurses to attend between 20-30 contact hours of continuing education every two years to continue to be eligible for a license. Continuing education comes in various forms, but likely it will mean taking a class at a local college or a state nursing board-approved educational facility.

Find an online MSN degree

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