If you are a registered nurse (RN) and would like to broaden your career prospects or specialize in a particular area of health care, you may want to complete a master’s degree in nursing. Successful completion of this type of master’s degree can allow you to work as a nurse practitioner, a certified nurse anesthetist, a certified nurse midwife, or a clinical nurse specialist. To secure admission to a nursing master’s program, you must usually have prior educational and sometimes practical experience in the field of nursing. Once you gain admittance to a master’s program, you must complete all prescribed coursework and, in some cases, submit a thesis. After completing your degree, you will likely have to pass a certification exam before you can begin working in your area of specialization.
To gain admittance to a master’s degree in nursing program at most US colleges or universities, you will need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Alternatively, you may qualify to apply if you hold a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field combined with an RN license earned via an associate’s or diploma course. If you are a licensed RN but earned your bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing, however, you may be required to complete some supplemental coursework in addition to the prescribed master’s curriculum.
Admission to these programs can be highly competitive. Therefore, a good undergraduate academic record can strengthen your application. You may also be required to submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) results, on which you must have earned at least a minimum acceptable score. Prior nursing experience can also help increase your chances of admission.
Once accepted to a master’s degree in nursing program, you will be required to satisfactorily complete a number of prescribed credit hours. In most cases, the curriculum will require general nursing classes, such as statistics and health assessment, as well as in-depth study of your chosen area of specialization, which can include topics like prenatal care or mental health. A typical program may combine traditional classroom hours with lab practicals and clinical rotations. Often, a nursing master’s program culminates in the submission of a thesis or major project in your area of specialty. Overall, this program of study lasts approximately two years.
After you have completed your master’s degree in nursing, you may be required to pass a qualifying examination before you are officially certified as a specialist nurse. As most health care facilities in the US require specialist nurses to be fully certified, it is important for master’s graduates to take the requisite examination before entering the job market. Generally, these certification exams are offered by nationally recognized nurse credentialing associations.