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RN to MSN Programs

"Get me an IV push of morphine, stat!"

"I need a chest tube drainage system check in room 6302."

"Can someone please get Mrs. Smith up for ambulatory exercises?"

Orders like these are all too familiar for registered nurses in busy hospital settings. While nursing has its own rewards and challenges, some registered nurses burn out quickly in hospital settings because the nurse-to-patient ratio is often too high and the demands of the job exceed their expectations. If you find the stress of registered nursing too great, but you want to continue working in a health care or clinical setting, you may want to consider going back to school and pursuing a career as an advanced practice nurse.

Pursuing your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) qualifies you to work as a nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist--a position that often brings greater autonomy and more regular hours than registered nursing.

In almost all cases, part of the process for becoming an advanced practice nurse means going back to school. While registered nurse education covers the basics of anatomy and physiology as well as basic nursing procedures, as an aspiring MSN you should take advanced science courses as well as leadership and nursing theory. Many nurses also specialize at the master's degree level, selecting a focus such as oncology, geriatrics or public health.

How to Become a Master of Science in Nursing

In order to apply for your master's in nursing, you must meet several prerequisites. Most higher-degree nursing programs require that you take and pass each section of the GRE (Graduate Record Exam). A minimum score of 500 out of 800 for each section is often required. Master's programs typically prefer applicants with at least one year of RN experience, and they often lean toward candidates who have experience in the field to which they are applying. For example, if you want to become a pediatric nurse practitioner, you should have nursing experience working with children.

MSN programs typically take two years to complete, and once done, you can pursue certification as one of four types of advanced practice nurse:

  • Clinical nurse specialist
  • Nurse anesthetist
  • Nurse midwife
  • Nurse practitioner

The specific scope of these roles — such as whether you can prescribe medicine or not — varies from state to state, so check with your state's board of nursing to find out more about advanced practice nursing in your state.

MSN Salary and Job Outlook

Salaries for an RN can vary greatly, depending on the region or state in which you work. Rural settings tend to pay a bit less than in areas with a high nurse-to-patient ratios, such as urban settings. This also tends to be true for nurse practitioners (NPs). Nationwide, the median annual salary for an RN in 2009 was $63,750 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual salary of a nurse practitioner in 2009, on the other hand, was around $85,000, according to a national survey of NPs.

This nearly $30,000 difference bodes well for those hoping to advance their nursing careers by going back to school. You may take on some student loans while completing your RN to MSN program, but the payout should increase your earning potential significantly, making school well worth the investment. Going back to school might seem like a daunting task, but the rewards can be great: working with fellow primary care providers developing treatment plans for patients, increased salaries, and very few, if any, overnight shifts.

Some NPs own their own practices and work independently of physicians, depending on your state's laws regarding NPs. This autonomy as a primary care provider is one of the great benefits of going back to school for your MSN.

Schools offering RN to MSN Programs
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