shutterstock 1293452755Registered nurses who want to advance their nursing careers can become advanced practice nurses (APRN). Advanced practice nurses are registered nurses that have completed graduate-level degrees or terminal degrees in nursing. Advanced practice degrees can be categorized into several different areas including education, forensic nursing, nurse practitioner, administration, informatics and public health. Doctor of nursing practice (DNP) and doctor of nurse anesthesia practice (DNAP) are two terminal degrees offered in nursing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, advanced practices nurses are projected to grow 26% over the next 10 years. This is much faster than the average amount of projected growth for all occupations.

MSN degrees can significantly raise your earning potential. Advanced practice nurses earn a median wage of $113,930, compared to $71,730 for RNs.

According to the U.S. News & World Report, most Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees require students to complete 35-50 credit hours of graduate-level nursing education. Most MSN degrees require 36 credit hours. MSN degrees with a focus on nurse practitioning, nurse midwife, and clinical nurse specialist require more credit hours due to required clinical hours needed to practice. If you already have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and study full time, then you can earn your MSN in 18- 24 months. However, if going from an RN to an MSN, this may take 36 months to complete, depending on the courses needed. These degrees are called “bridge programs”, meaning they bridge RN to MSN into one cohesive degree plan. These programs have to incorporate BSN courses that translate into MSN core curriculum. This may require as many as 7 extra courses, which can add 1 or 2 years extra on to the standard MSN track.

Core Curriculum Courses for Graduate Nursing Programs

It is most common for nurses to already have a BSN and then begin the MSN track. Having a BSN is becoming required to work in hospitals, so the push for entry-level nurses to have a BSN is great. Most nurses complete a BSN before applying for an MSN degree; therefore, the following examples are based on BSN to MSN degree programs. Once MSN core curriculum is completed, nurses may choose an advanced practice degree specialty. Examples of core curriculum courses for graduate nursing programs include:

  • Health care systems
  • Theory and research
  • Diverse populations and health care
  • Legal and ethical issues in health care

Core curriculum may differ slightly between universities, but all cover the same topics. After students complete these core curriculum classes for graduate school, they begin taking specialty courses to fit their degree plan. For example, if the student is getting an MSN with a concentration in nursing education, then nursing education related courses will follow the core curriculum. The average MSN degree requires 36 credit hours which is a total of 12 classes. This includes core classes. Some colleges offer “elective courses” which may add 3 to 9 more credit hours. This could potentially add an additional semester or two of schooling.

If 2 classes are taken each semester (Fall, Spring, Summer), you will finish the degree in exactly 24 months. Traditional semesters are 16-week courses for Fall and Spring and 8-week courses for Summer semesters. Non-traditional semesters, such as ones offered online that are 6, 8, or 10-weeks, may cut some time from the total time it takes to complete the MSN degree. If you attend an online college that offers 8-week courses, and you take full time (2 classes) each session, you will complete the degree much faster than 24 months. But this also depends on if the college allows rolling start dates or gives students a few weeks break in between courses. The speed to which you complete your MSN degree depends on if you are willing to work during the time you attend classes, and if you can handle the stress of working and attending school full time. Many students take one class at a time and end up finishing the MSN degree in 3 to 4 years.

Nursing Education Concentration

Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Nursing Education takes on average 18-24 months to complete and is usually 35 to 39 credit hours. This is based on full time, which in graduate school is usually 2 or 3 classes in a traditional semester. Nurse educators are equipped to teach the next generation of nurses in both clinical and academic settings. Now that online college is more popular, they may offer more flexible start dates or even rolling admission dates, allowing students to complete degrees at their own pace; slower or more quickly than average. After the core curriculum is completed, these students may focus on the following classes:

  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Advanced physical assessment
  • Issues in nursing education
  • Teaching strategies in nursing education
  • Curriculum development, implementation and evaluation
  • Nursing practicum, capstone, and final proctored exam

Forensic Nursing Concentration

Master of Science in Nursing with a focus in Forensic Nursing takes about 18-24 months to complete. Forensic nursing is a relatively new field of nursing that offers advanced nursing degrees. Forensic nurses are shown many opportunities to work with law enforcement for the good of the community. They can learn about sexual crimes, corrections, or legal testimony that may appear in court hearings. They also learn about violence determent. After the core curriculum is completed, these students may focus on the following classes:

  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Forensic nursing
  • Advanced corrections
  • Advanced forensic nursing
  • Nursing practicum, capstone, and final proctored exam

Nursing Administration and Management Concentration

Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Nursing Administration and Management is another popular advanced degree that takes on average 18-24 months to obtain. MSN in nurse administration and management is a good degree for those looking to get into leadership roles. Nurse managers specialize in leadership and excel in the healthcare industry both as caregivers and administrators. After the core curriculum is completed, these students may focus on the following classes:

  • Modern organizations and health care
  • Health care informatics
  • Advanced health care informatics
  • Health care finance and economics
  • Health care strategic management and planning
  • Nursing administration practicum I and II
  • Nursing capstone and final proctored exam.

Most administration degree programs are heavy on the practicum for leadership roles. This is a more hands-on learning technique used, since leadership is best learned by performing the necessary tasks.

Informatics Concentration

Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Informatics takes 36 credit hours to complete, which is about 12 courses. This can be completed full time in 18 to 24 months. Nurses with a specialty in informatics can solve nursing problems with computers. This degree mixes computer science classes as well as nursing informatics skills. The result is the title of “nurse informaticist”. After the core curriculum is completed, these students may focus on the following classes:

  • Health care informatics
  • Health care finance and economics
  • Management of information systems
  • Information systems strategic planning
  • Customers, markets, and technology
  • Advanced heath care informatics
  • Nursing practicum, capstone, and final proctored exam.

Public Health Concentration

Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Public health is an advanced practice degree that can be completed in 18-24 months. Public health nurses follow current trends to care for patients in the community, and as a community. MSN in public health focuses on epidemiology and the role public health has on local, state, national, and international levels. After the core curriculum is completed, these students may focus on the following classes:

  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Advanced physical assessment
  • Overview of public health nursing
  • School nursing
  • Case management and home health services
  • Nursing practicum, capstone, and final proctored exam

Family Nurse Practitioner Concentration

Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Family Nurse Practitioner takes longer to complete due to required clinical hours. MSN with FNP takes 31 to 36 months to complete and usually requires 46 credit hours. Family Nurse Practitioners (MSN-FNP) are licensed, independent practitioners who practice in variety of settings while being able to assess, diagnose, treat, and manage acute and chronic illnesses. Most registered nurses that are working full time find it challenging to attend school full time as well, but many pursue this path. After the core curriculum is completed, these students may focus on the following classes:

  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Advanced health assessment and differential diagnosis
  • Adult gerontology assessment lab
  • Pediatric assessment lab
  • Clinical procedures for advanced practice nurses
  • Role of the nurse in advanced practice
  • Family I, Family II, Family III
  • Clinical practice I, II
  • Family NP practicum and proctored final exam.

Overall, Master of Science in Nursing degrees on average takes 24 months to complete, while nurse practitioner degrees can take 3 to 4 years to complete due to additional courses and clinical requirements. Whatever your degree path may be, know that taking one class at a time is still an option, but may take double the amount of time. If you are looking to advance your nursing career, becoming an advanced practice nurse may be the right option for you.

Tessa Chatham

Master of Science (M.S.), Nursing Education| Aspen University

Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Nursing| Texas Christian University

Bachelor of Arts (B.A), Psychology and English| The University of Texas at Arlington

November 2019

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