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How to Become a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Tired of working grueling twelve-hour shifts at the hospital? More interested in primary care, follow-up visits, medical diagnoses and treatment plans? Those who answer “yes” to these questions might want to consider becoming a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Earning this degree allows individuals to work as nurse practitioners and in other advanced positions in the medical setting. Here, learn the necessary steps to earn a MSN degree.

Step 1: How to Become an RN

There are several routes to become an RN:

  • After graduating high school or earning a GED some students attend a college, university, or online degree program in order to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
  • Other students may already have a bachelor's degree in something other than nursing and need to return to school in order to earn a BSN. These programs are typically accelerated, with the length depending on the pre-requisites a student may have completed.
  • Others will attend diploma RN programs through a hospital or other health care institution. These programs generally last two-years and focus on the clinical aspects of becoming an RN.

Once one of the above listed tracks is complete, one must then take and pass the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination). The NCLEX is a standardized exam for licensure to become an RN.

Step 2: Work as a Registered Nurse

One essential prerequisite to become a MSN is that individuals be a registered nurse. Though not all master's programs require "working as an RN" to become a nurse practitioner, it is generally encouraged. MSN programs will likely want to know that the candidate can handle working long hours, that he/she has a good nursing skill set upon entering their program, and that he or she has a passion for a specific nursing population (such as geriatrics, pediatrics, adult, oncology, etc.) One year working as an RN is typically sufficient.

Satisfactory GPA, completing the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) with satisfactory scores, sufficient clinical work, and extracurricular activities are also highly encouraged when applying for most MSN programs.

Step 3: Pursue a Master of Science in Nursing

After discovering the population one would like to serve as a nurse practitioner, individuals would be advised to research the institutions that offer programs tailored to their interests. Whether it is pediatric oncology or adult cardiology, individuals should focus in on the schools offering their target MSN specialty.

Many schools will have a major (i.e. adult health nurse practitioner) and offer several minors (HIV/AIDS focus, community health, etc.) for the MSN. Nursing school at the master's level varies from eighteen months to two-and-a-half years, depending on the major and/or minor.

Additionally, online MSN programs are available that usually offer courses in the theory portion of the master's program. All clinical work and clinical hours must be completed at an accredited health care institution such as a hospital, private practice, or public health clinic.

Step 4: Sit for the Boards

Once one earns a Master of Science in Nursing degree, if he or she wants to become a nurse practitioner, passing a licensure exam is a must. Each state has its own requirements for the exam. Check out the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Website for more information regarding different states' licensures and scopes of practice.

Step 5: Advancement

Once working as a nurse practitioner, individuals might develop an interest in research or further education. Earning a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a PhD in nursing would be the next step. Earning either of these degrees allows individuals to act as a Principal Investigator (PI) in research studies, formulate hypotheses, run clinical trials, become an instructor or professor in nursing schools, and provide a higher level of care within the chosen specialty (cardiology, oncology, infectious disease, etc.)

Job Outlook and MSN Salary

According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, the average total NP salary in 2008 was $92,000. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that in regard to job opportunities, “[A]ll four advanced practice specialties—clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, and nurse anesthetists—will be in high demand, particularly in medically underserved areas such as inner cities and rural areas."

Learn more about becoming a MSN:

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