MSN APRN Degree Programs

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can specialize in their chosen area of patient care. This article compares various MSN degree pathways nurses can choose to pursue as they advance their career and become APRNs.

Should I Get an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse MSN Degree?

An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) is a nurse who has earned a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Nurses may choose to continue their education and become APRNs for a variety of reasons, including a desire to improve their craft, change or add to their area of specialization and increase their salary. To apply to MSN programs, nurses must typically send in a personal statement or essay, their bachelor's degree transcripts, letters of recommendation, GRE test scores, and a copy of their valid RN license. There are four possible tracks for nurses who want to become APRNS: nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife, nurse anesthetist, and clinical nurse specialist. While each track includes specialized coursework and clinicals, most MSN degrees share the common core classes outlined below.

They also often require students to participate in some form of practicum, capstone project or clinical rotation to gain hands-on experience in their chosen area of advanced nursing practice. In these courses, students are placed in local healthcare settings to work alongside experts in their field. It is not uncommon for programs to include over 1,000 hours of clinical experience.

Advanced Physiology

In an advanced physiology course, students deepen their understanding of the normal function of organ systems in order to better assess abnormalities. This course assumes that students have previous experience studying anatomy, physiology and mathematics. Students learn to use a blend of physiological principles, clinical manifestations and advanced nursing practice to improve their clinical decision making. The course covers common pathological syndromes and disorders that occur across a patient's lifespan.

Advanced Health Assessment

In this class, students learn how to assess and diagnose patients from every demographic background using psychological, social, cultural and physical examination data. Students learn the various methods and concepts that nurses have at their disposal to best determine a patient's potential health risks. Students are expected to apply their knowledge to deliver comprehensive, safe and competent practice as they evaluate patients in their practicums.

Advanced Pharmacology

This course builds on what students learned about pharmacology (the use and effect of drugs) during their initial nursing education program. Students learn the principles pharmacology, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. They may study the use and effect of various drug classes and learn how to prescribe the appropriate pharmacological agents.

Comparing Advanced Practice Registered Nurse MSN Degrees

MSN Nurse Practitioner

One of the more common tracks for nurses returning to school for an MSN degree is the nurse practitioner track. Within this track, students prepare to care for their patients independently by specializing in one of the many nurse practitioner areas of focus, including adult-gerontology (primary or acute care), family nursing, pediatric nursing (acute or primary), psychiatric mental health nursing, neonatal nursing or women's health nursing. Students complete academic coursework and clinical practicums and study for the nursing certification exam specific to their chosen specialty. Graduates are eligible to become nurse practitioners (NPs) in their chosen concentration.

MSN Certified Nurse-Midwifery

This track can prepare nurses for the AMCB (American Midwifery Certification Board) certification exam. To this end, students learn to care for expectant mothers throughout their pregnancies as well as during labor, delivery and early motherhood through a combination of didactic coursework and clinical practice in such areas as reproductive health, intrapartum care management and nutrition therapy. Graduates are qualified to provide primary care in a variety of out-patient and in-patient settings like hospitals, OB-GYN Clinics, private OB-GYN practices, public health clinics, birthing centers and military bases.

MSN Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical nurse specialists (CNS) are advanced practice nurses who specialize in improving healthcare delivery. To this end, this MSN program focuses on training students to provide excellent patient care, lead and educate nursing teams and improve patient outcomes through clinical experience and courses on healthcare quality improvement, healthcare policy and advanced nursing assessment, among other topics. Clinical nurse specialists can work in nurse education, administration and management.

MSN Nurse Anesthetist

This track prepares graduates to become Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs). CRNS work alongside surgeons and anesthesiologists to monitor the safe use of anesthesia and other intense painkillers. They may work in a variety of environments, including hospital operating rooms, labor and delivery units, critical and intensive care floors and pain management clinics. Graduates from the program can take the national exam to earn their initial CRNA credentials after completing coursework in pathophysiology, pharmacology and advanced anesthesia principles as well as practicums and residencies.

Degree Program Program Requirements Related Careers
MSN Nurse Practitioner *Bachelor of Science in Nursing
*Valid RN License
Nurse Practitioner
MSN Nurse-Midwifery *Bachelor of Science in Nursing
*Valid RN License
Certified Nurse Midwife
MSN Clinical Nurse Specialist *Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Valid RN License
Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
MSN Nurse Anesthetist *Bachelor of Science in Nursing
*Valid RN License
Certified Registered Nurse Anethesist (CRNA)

One way to advance your nursing career is to complete a Master of Science in Nursing. There is a diverse array of program options that allow students to focus on whatever area of specialization they wish and pursue and take the board exam to become certified advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

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