shutterstock 609698012If you’ve talked to family and friends about your chosen nursing career path, you have probably heard someone tell you “there are so many opportunities” for someone with an RN license today. They are not wrong. Though many registered nurses do work directly with patients at the bedside, there are hundreds of opportunities for RNs that don’t involve acute care or bedside nursing.

Today, there is a large variety of master’s in nursing specialties available to RNs who desire to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRN). You should also expect to continue to see more as the United States works to achieve both the practice and educational goals of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the American Nurses Association (ANA).

Pathways to a Master’s in Nursing Degree

There are four common pathways for one to pursue a master’s in nursing degree. The tracks differ depending on one’s prior education. Length of programs also differs. The four tracks are:

  • RN to MSN
  • BSN to MSN
  • ADN to MSN
  • ASN to MSN

Master’s in Nursing Degrees

Today there are 12 masters in nursing specialties available for an RN to pursue. These 12 specialties are specifically related to acute care and clinical practice. Nurses may also pursue master’s degrees in “indirect” nursing care subjects.

Clinical Master’s Specialties

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP): These professionals specialize in acute care and the geriatric population. They are critical care experts who can handle the full scope of a treatment plan. In some states, these NPs have prescriptive authority.

Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP): These NPs work with the geriatric population but from a primary care position. They are involved in the assessment, diagnosing, and management of common chronic and acute conditions across the health spectrum.

*Note that for both AGACNPs and AGPCNPs, patient population can range in age from 13 – senior years.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): These professionals specialize in women’s reproductive health and birth. Care(s) may include antenatal, prenatal, labor and delivery, and postnatal care, as well as primary care related to preventative gynecological health and assessment.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): CRNA’s work underneath an MD with full autonomy and independence. They are responsible for providing anesthetics to patients in any kind of practice setting.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): These professionals are considered expert clinicians. They can diagnose, manage, and treat, as well as support nurses, evidenced based practice, and organizational practice changes.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP): These NPs are trained to work with both children and adults. Their care focus for their patients is usually on health maintenance and prevention. Care(s) typically occur in a family practice office or clinic.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP): These individuals care for acute conditions of infants who require birth and post-birth assistance. They are typically employed in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP): These NPs work solely in an emergency setting, diagnosing and treating emergent and acute symptoms. Some ENP’s may also perform procedures.

Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP): Acute care PNPs focus on pediatric patients with acute, critical, or chronic illnesses, injuries or disabilities. They typically work in an ICU, inpatient hospital, ER, or home care.

Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP): These men and women typically work with a patient population between the ages of birth – 21 years. They are involved in screenings, immunizations, health promotion, disease prevention, physicals, and treatment of common illnesses. They typically work in private practice, clinics, outpatient facilities, or home care.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP): These NPs work with the patient population suffering from behavioral and mental health conditions and disorders. Typical modalities of treatment include both therapeutic and medicinal options.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP): These NPs work alongside CNMs and OBGYNs to care for women throughout their lifespans. They are involved in diagnostic care and treatment, as well as health maintenance and prevention.

Indirect Healthcare Master’s Specializations

Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL): This is a newer specialty in the healthcare arena. These men and women are focused on improving the quality of care for a specific population. This may occur via safety improvements, staffing changes, evidence based practice initiatives, etc.

Nurse Educator: Nurse educators have a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) with an education specialization. These professionals teach, both clinically and in the classroom.

Nursing Executive: A nursing executive is usually going to hold an MSN degree with a specialization in healthcare administration. They typically focus on collaboration between healthcare professionals, shaping policy, developing procedures, managing the budget and supporting care teams, ultimately working to achieve organizational goals.

Nursing Informatics: These MSN-prepared nurses work to integrate nursing science and information, hoping to accurately define, collect, manage, and communicate data and knowledge to the professionals who need it. They accomplish this through new information structures, processes and technologies.

*Please note that not all indirect care masters’ possibilities for the nurse are discussed here. These are some of the most common tracks for the nurse desiring to work away from the bedside.

Moving Towards an APRN Career

Without question, there are many career opportunities available to a registered nurse today. While some students work towards a master’s specialization right away, many students and professionals have found that gaining working experience helps them narrow down which areas they want to practice in long-term. However you choose to make your master’s specialization choice, you can be sure that there is a degree and practice setting that fits your personality, your strengths and weaknesses, and your career goals.

Laura Mansfield

Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) | Sacred Heart University

Associate’s Degree of Nursing (ADN) | North Seattle Community College

Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.), Marketing, Sales | University of Washington (Seattle)

December  2019

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