What is an MSN in Nursing?

Registered Nurse wearing scrubs and holding arm up in look here gesture
Registered Nurse wearing scrubs and holding arm up in look here gesture

An online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is an advanced nursing degree that can be completed in as little as two years. An MSN degree is highly valuable in today’s health care environment. More independence and practice authority are being granted to nurse practitioners; the nursing shortage requires more nurse educators to educate nurses; and the growing aging population will require more care in the near future. These are just three reasons why MSN grads are highly sought after.

What is the Salary Range Earned by a Nurse with an MSN?

Depending on their degree focus, MSN graduates may work as nurse practitioners, health care administrators, nurse educators or even hospital executives. Average annual salaries depend on the type of MSN and career path but range from $81,350 for nurse educators, to $110,030 for nurse practitioners, to $127,489 for Chief Nursing Officers.

There are several different types of MSN programs. Some options for nurses include a Master of Science in Nursing-Nurse Practitioner degree, a Master of Science in Nursing-Education degree or a Master of Science in Nursing/Master in Business Administration dual degree. It is not necessary to have a BSN to get an MSN. Nurses with associate degrees may directly pursue an MSN or may opt to get a BSN first.

Master of Science in Nursing - Nurse Practitioner (MSN-NP)

An online Master of Science in Nursing-Nurse Practitioner degree leads to a rewarding career as a nurse practitioner. Those interested in becoming an NP can choose from different program specialties, such as family nurse practitioner (FNP), or adult-gerontology and primary care nurse practitioner, for example. An FNP degree enables an NP to work in primary care for patients of all ages. Adult and gerontological NPs care for adults and the elderly.

While most nurses with an MSN-NP work as nurse practitioners, degree holders are not limited to this career alone. Many NPs also enjoy teaching as instructors and professors in nursing programs, or serving as managers and executives. Nurse practitioners earn an average annual salary of $110,030 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The online MSN-NP program at Spring Arbor University is 55 or 50 credits, depending on whether students choose the FNP or adult and gerontological program. Courses are taken one at a time to allow for optimal work-life balance.

Nurses with associate degrees may skip obtaining a BSN and directly pursue an online MSN-NP through the RN-MSN bridge program.

Master of Science in Nursing Education (MSN-NE)

Nurses who enjoy precepting and teaching new grad nurses may enjoy a fulfilling career as a nurse educator. The current nursing shortage is partially due to a shortage of nurse educators, making them in high demand. More educators are needed to teach the current and future generations of nurses. Post-secondary nurse educators earn an average annual salary of $81,350 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A Master of Science in Nursing-Nursing Education degree prepares nurses to take the Certified Nurse Educator exam (CNE). This online program at Spring Arbor University is 39 credits long and is highly flexible. Students often continue working their full-time jobs while pursuing an MSN-NE. While studying nursing education, students learn effective teaching strategies, develop lesson plans and study advanced nursing topics.

Nurses with associate degrees can also directly obtain this degree with a 73-credit Associate of Science in Nursing-Master of Science in Nursing Education program that allows for skipping the BSN.

Master of Science in Nursing - Master of Business Administration Degree

Ambitious nurses with strong leadership skills may benefit from a Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Business Administration dual degree. At SAU, students may choose from five different degree concentrations, including health care administration, human resource development, organizational consulting, management and executive leadership.

Popular careers for graduates of the MSN-MBA program include nurse manager and chief nursing officer. Chief nursing officers earn an average annual salary of $127,489 according to PayScale.

This online program leads to earning two degrees and is 63 credits. Some of the subjects that students study include health care policy, leadership and strategic planning and management. The RN to MSN/MBA bridge program is an excellent option for nurses who hold an associate degree and prefer to pursue their masters directly.

What is the Daily Role of an MSN Nurse?

Nurses who hold a Master of Science in Nursing can take on a variety of different roles. The role of a nurse with their MSN primarily depends on the type of MSN they obtain — for example, a Master of Science in Nursing - Education, or a Master of Science in Nursing - Nurse Practitioner. Nurses with a passion for leadership, business and policy may also opt for a Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Business Administration dual degree.

The Role of the Nurse Educator

Nurse educators begin their careers by earning their Master of Science in Nursing - Education degree. The daily role of a nurse educator varies depending on the setting in which they choose to practice. Many nurse educators enjoy working in nursing units in health care facilities and in hospitals. These educators train and educate nurses who already hold nursing licenses. They help guide new nurses and help experienced nurses maintain current knowledge in nursing practices. In addition to sometimes offering career guidance for nurses, their daily tasks may include:

  • attending meetings with directors and the unit nurse manager
  • reviewing the educational needs of the nurses
  • conducting educational needs assessments to identify areas of potential improvement in the unit

Nurse educators who choose to work as nursing instructors or nursing professors take on a different daily role than those working in hospitals. These educators teach classes on the nursing role in healthcare or the nursing assistant role. Their classes may be both online and in-person. Nurse educators may also supervise student nurses in their hospital clinicals. Some educators enjoy exclusively teaching clinicals.

Those teaching nursing classes prepare and teach lectures, develop written tests and conduct psychomotor skills tests. These dedicated individuals are responsible for educating the next generation of nurses and ensuring that they are competent in providing compassionate, safe patient care. Nurse educators teaching clinicals must coordinate with the educators teaching the nursing courses. Students may focus on a particular issue or topic each week, and have clinical report sheets that they must complete. Clinical instructors also complete student assessments to determine where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

The Role of the Nurse Practitioner

Nurses with a Master of Science in Nursing - Nurse Practitioner degree work as nurse practitioners. In their daily role, nurse practitioners assess, diagnose and treat patients, quite like physicians. The role of an NP, like nurse educators, depends on the setting and specialty in which they choose to practice. NPs are able to practice in a variety of different specialties and subspecialties. For example, a family nurse practitioner, or FNP, may choose to specialize in dermatology or primary care. The tests and education that they perform on a daily basis also depend on their specialty. NPs working in primary care clinics will have a list of scheduled patients each day, and may also see drop-in patients.

In a hospital or other acute care setting, nurse practitioners will participate as part of the patient’s care team, among doctors, pharmacists, nurses and different types of therapists. NPs in this setting typically perform “rounds” with the care team, visiting and assessing their patients each day. They then collaborate with the other members of the team to assess whether or not changes need to be made to the patient’s treatment plan according to changes in their condition. On a daily basis, NPs also respond to calls and pages from nurses and therapists notifying them of changes in their patients’ conditions, or if the patient has any needs that must be addressed.

The Role of the Nurse Manager

Nurses who hold an MSN/MBA dual degree often find work as nurse managers and healthcare administrators. They may progress to fulfilling executive positions for hospitals and healthcare companies later in their careers. Nurse managers are responsible for managing the operation of nursing units, and stay up-to-date with unit finances. These managers must make sure that their nurses have what they need concerning staffing, education, and supplies in order to perform effective and safe patient care. Nurse managers collaborate with the human resource department to hire new nurses and address issues with staff members. Nurse managers frequently attend meetings with the managers of other units and the directors supervising the managers.

Accelerate Your Career with an Online MSN

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing is the first step toward achieving a dream of becoming a nurse educator, nurse practitioner, nurse manager or nurse executive. The option of earning an MSN is made highly accessible through Spring Arbor University’s online format. Students may take one course at at time, enabling passionate nurses to continue working full-time if they choose. Affordable tuition and financial aid options mean that achieving your career goals do not need to set your bank account back. Our dedicated advisors and admissions representatives are always happy to answer any questions you may have and get you on your way to a fulfilling career.

SAU online students also benefit from having a strong support network. Each student is matched to a Student Success Coach who provides support, helps students with work-life balance and encourages students to pursue career goals. In addition, SAU provides spiritual development assistance, offering spiritual direction and support from the university chaplain.

Spring Arbor University’s online degree programs were designed with working nurses in mind. Pursuing an online MSN allows nurses to continue building their careers while being able to provide for themselves and their families.

Contact us to find out more about our online nursing programs.


Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018: 29-1171 Nurse Practitioners. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm

Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018: 25-1072 Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes251072.htm

PayScale. Average Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Salary. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Chief_Nursing_Officer_(CNO)/Salary