Which Master’s in Nursing Specialty Is Right For You?

A master’s degree in nursing allows nurses to make a bigger difference in their community through specialized knowledge and advanced credentials. With their master’s in nursing, nursing professionals can drive their career toward leadership in administration, teaching, research, direct patient care and more. In their Master’s Education statement, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) wrote that nurses with graduate-level preparation could pursue high-demand roles such as:

  • Clinical nurse leaders
  • Nurse managers
  • Clinical educators
  • Health policy consultants
  • Research assistants
  • Public health nurses
  • Nurse practitioners

These positions often come with a higher annual salary and a more satisfying scope of practice, making a master’s degree in nursing worth it for many successful professionals. Based on their 2020 annual survey data, the AACN reported a 4.1% increase in enrollment in nursing master’s degrees. These future leaders are becoming part of the solution to the global nursing shortage by helping to take care of the world’s growing population, educating the future of their profession and overseeing millions of nurses and healthcare teams.

An online MSN is one of the most popular options for working nurses interested in upskilling and advancing in their careers because of its versatility. The online MSN from The University of West Florida includes three industry-leading specialties: Family Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Education and Nurse Executive. Given the overall value of a master’s degree, each of these specialties offers unique benefits and opportunities. Keep reading to learn more about these specialties and discover which is right for you.

Learn more about the University of West Florida’s innovative nursing degrees today.

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Family Nurse Practitioner: Provide Holistic Care to Communities in Need

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are registered nurses who have their master’s degree as a nurse practitioner with a family nurse practitioner specialty. FNPs might have independent practices or work in doctor’s and physician’s offices, clinics and hospitals. In most states, FNPs can prescribe medications, order tests and oversee the treatment and prevention of disease. Due to their prescriptive authority, family nurse practitioners usually help their patients in longer-term, primary care roles (sometimes overseen by a doctor or physician).

Their scope of practice and holistic approach to healthcare has made FNPs the ideal primary care providers for families across the country, and careers for FNPs are expanding. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) Nurse Practitioner Fact Sheet stated that in 2020, family nurse practitioners accounted for 69.7% of all nurse practitioners in the U.S. Despite this large percentage of FNPs, more nurse practitioners are needed in the coming years to care for the aging baby boomer population and their families.

From 2020 to 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted an astounding 52% employment growth for nurse practitioners; By 2030, nurse practitioners who work in physician’s offices (including FNPs) will make up 50.5% of all nurse practitioners. These increasing opportunities are great news for nurses who want to use their master’s in nursing to improve the overall health of their communities.

Family nurse practitioners promote health equity throughout their day-to-day work in their communities. In the World Health Organization (WHO) State of the World’s Nursing Report – 2020, FNPs and other advanced practice nurses were found to “increase access to primary healthcare in rural communities and address disparities in access to care for vulnerable populations in urban settings.” Their comprehensive approach also means that FNPs can save families time, money and resources.

As the first point of contact for their patients, a day in the life of a family nurse practitioner includes preventative healthcare and lifestyle counseling. When they wrote “All About NPs,” the AANP said that “patients who see NPs as their primary care provider often have fewer emergency room visits, shorter hospital stays and lower medication costs.” These kinds of patient outcomes are extremely rewarding for FNPs, and so are their salaries.

While the BLS showed that registered nurses made a median salary of $75,330 in 2020, nurse practitioners as a whole earned a median salary of $111,680. Those who worked in physician’s offices earned a slightly higher median salary of $114,570, and the highest-earning nurse practitioners made $124,660 working in hospitals. Family nurse practitioners can increase their salary potential with their years of service, specialized skills and continuing education.

Gaining a master’s in nursing with a nurse education specialization can also help experienced nurses boost their salaries and make a larger impact on the field.

Nursing Education: Train and Mentor Tomorrow’s Nurses

Nursing education is an ideal specialty for nurses who have a passion for teaching and mentoring. While many people think of these professionals as classroom teachers, nurse educators can also be found in a variety of administrative and clinical environments. Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow (NHT), a nursing and health care coalition dedicated to advocacy, showed that nurse educators work in:

  • Colleges and universities
  • Hospital-based schools of nursing
  • Nursing technical schools
  • Healthcare facilities as staff development educators
  • Community health agencies
  • Home care agencies
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Distance learning environments

In a college or university faculty position, nursing instructors are responsible for creating and teaching with an up-to-date nursing curriculum and set of assessments. Their teaching might take place in classrooms, simulation labs and supervised clinicals. Nursing faculty usually focus on preparing their students for national nursing certification and licensure exams. In these roles, nurse educators pass their wisdom to others by drawing on years of nursing experience.

Working in a clinical nurse educator position might entail additional responsibilities such as budgeting, allocating resources, overseeing the performance of a nursing team and collaborating with an organization’s healthcare administrators. Clinical nurse educators could find employment in a wider variety of environments than academic nurse educators, including hospitals, clinics and treatment centers.

No matter the type of nursing education role, careers for nurse educators are in high demand. In a 2019 study on vacant positions in schools of nursing, the AACN reported that 56% of nursing schools had vacancies that needed to be filled, and an additional 15.8% of nursing schools could benefit from additional nurse educators. These openings are likely to increase in the coming years as interest in nursing (and nursing programs) grows.

Based on findings from the WHO’s 2020 State of the World’s Nursing Report, one of the biggest challenges in nursing education has continued to be “the recruitment and retention of sufficient numbers of qualified nurse faculty.” While interest in graduate nursing programs has remained high, nursing education programs can only admit as many students as they can teach. For nurses who decide to fulfill the ongoing faculty shortage, this is just one way that the career path is gratifying.

Another way that nursing education careers are extremely rewarding is that teachers and mentors can see their students learn and develop. Other benefits of careers in nursing education, according to the NHT, “include access to cutting-edge knowledge and research, opportunities to collaborate with health professionals, an intellectually stimulating workplace and flexible work scheduling.” Flexibility, in particular, could better suit nurses who would like to have a more fluid work schedule that works with their families and other commitments.

Along with these valuable benefits, a master’s in nursing with a nursing education specialty can increase one’s yearly salary. Nurse educators earn an average of $77,992 per year, according to PayScale. With practice in clinical education, hospital education and training program development, nurse educators can boost their yearly salaries to over $80,000.

Nurse Executive: Improve Processes and Outcomes in the Healthcare System

With a nurse executive specialty, master’s-prepared nurses can access administrative positions at the forefront of their healthcare organization. Almost any healthcare office or provider requires nurse executives (also called nurse leaders or administrators). These professionals work in hospitals, physician’s offices, nursing homes, nursing schools, consulting firms and more. Although specific job duties vary according to the position, the general role of a nurse executive is as a strategic leader and liaison.

Nurse executives usually manage budgets, develop policies and procedures, understand staff needs and communicate those needs to other administrators, per Johnson & Johnson’s description of the role. These responsibilities enable nurse executives to improve both the quality of patient care and the working environment for their team. Nurse executives are also uniquely positioned to support health equity in their communities.

Dr. Susan Hassmiller, senior scholar in residence at the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), emphasized this cause in a recent interview with Nurse Leader journal: “I would love for all nurse leaders to commit to advancing health equity as their top priority in the next decade.” She called on nurse leaders to:

  • Partner with organizations focused on housing, transportation, social isolation and food insecurity
  • Advocate for all nurses within their organizations to be able to practice to the full extent of their education and training
  • Find long-term solutions to address the systems, structures and policies that create workplace hazards and stresses

By focusing on these goals, nurse executives can reduce socioeconomic barriers to healthcare and promote access to high-quality care. More healthcare providers and organizations are embracing the fight for health equity, so the demand for cutting-edge nurse leaders is quickly rising.

Through 2030, the job outlook is excellent for nurse managers and other medical and health services managers. The BLS reported that over 51,000 openings for medical and health services managers will become available in the U.S. each year through 2030. Some states, such as Florida, will see an even higher demand due to a rapidly increasing population. The BLS showed that the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/West Palm Beach metropolitan areas of Florida had one of the highest counts of health services managers in the nation—7,440 in May 2020.

MSN graduates with their nurse executive specialization can pursue these growing careers under several job titles. Some of the most common are listed below, with their annual salary from PayScale:

  • Chief nursing officer: $134,944 per year
  • Nursing director: $88,465 per year
  • Nurse administrator: $88,621 per year
  • Nurse case manager: $74,747 per year
  • Nursing manager: $88,060 per year
  • Nursing supervisor: $77,622 per year
  • Nursing home administrator: $92,929 per year

Why Wait to Start Your Master’s in Nursing?

With salaries for MSN graduates ranging from $75,000 to $134,944 and demand at an all-time high, now is a great time to claim the monetary and emotional benefits of advanced nursing education. Master’s degrees in nursing are virtually guaranteed employment given the ongoing shortage of nurses, nurse faculty and nurse leaders.

Employers are recruiting talented nursing students right from their programs. NPR reported that, as of October 2021, hospitals across the country were “offering jobs to [nursing] students even before they graduated, and in many cases offering bonuses and loan repayment as financial incentives.” This demand was echoed by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL).

In their August 2021 longitudinal survey of nurse leaders, the AONL cited 76% of nursing directors, managers, chief nursing officers and chief nursing executives who said that their employers have considered or are now offering increased wages, bonuses or incentives to new hires. As more new nurses are entering the field with varying experience levels, qualified nurse practitioners, nurse educators and nurse leaders are urgently needed to maintain a high quality of care and a safe work environment.

In the same survey of nurse leaders, the AONL indicated that today’s advanced-practice nurses need to develop proficiencies in telehealth and updated staffing models as they work to address the need for emotional health among their staff. Nurses can gain these skills and more in graduate programs such as the online MSN from the University of West Florida.

With Family Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Education and Nurse Executive specialties, UWF’s online MSN is taught by experienced nurses dedicated to sharing their expertise. The MSN’s fully online curriculum is tailored for working nurses so that students can complete their coursework anytime, anywhere. In as little as 24–27 months, graduates of a UWF master’s in nursing program can complete their licensure exams and reach their nursing career goals.

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