A Look at Entry Level Master’s & Specializations in Nursing

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The role of nurses has changed drastically over the years. In the 20th century, their job description sounded like a household chore list; fortunately, we have come a long way. 

With technological advancements and evolution in healthcare, nurses have been on the front lines, often in leadership roles. These leadership roles require extensive knowledge and experience. 

With a bachelor’s degree already in your hand, you might be considering pursuing higher education to work in these roles. A master’s or a doctorate of nursing is bound to upscale your career and make you a leader in your field.

Before making a final decision about your academic and professional career, it’s crucial to know your options to make an informed decision. 

If you’re thinking of getting an MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) and later a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice), considering MSN vs DNP specializations is the first step.

While DNP is a terminal degree, a master’s degree allows more room for progress by offering more options in specializations and skills—though, with any specialization, you can still earn a DNP. 

So let’s look at it in detail.

Who Can Do MSN?

The background knowledge you gain through your undergraduate or associate programs needs refining, and that’s where MSN comes in. If you are a registered nurse (RN) or have a BSN, MSN is the next step for you. However, a nursing degree is not a prerequisite for this program. 

Surprising as it may sound, you don’t need a nursing degree to get into an MSN program. Everyone should have a chance to master skills irrespective of their past interests. It is why the entry-level master’s degree welcomes all the non-nursing bachelor’s or associate degree holders.

Entry-level MSN is a pre-licensure nursing program that provides a fast-paced pathway while covering everything RNs learn. Typically, the entry-level program takes about 18 months to 3 years; and, the courses taught to RNs are covered in the first year. You need to complete 36 to 72 credit hours and can take the entry-level courses in any format—online, classroom, or hybrid.

What Specializations Does MSN Offer?

There are many specializations that you can pick from in MSN. Let’s look at a few.


Healthcare is highly dependent on trends and patterns. Using the trends and data to modify practice or improve systems increases the effectiveness and quality of healthcare provided to patients. Data analytics in healthcare relies on both doctors and nurses alike. 

With an MSN specialization in informatics, your skills will encompass multiple domains. You will have a thorough understanding of data management, visualization, analysis techniques, machine learning, and general hospital management. If you’re pursuing an entry-level master’s program with a computer science (or relevant) degree, you might want to look into nursing informatics. Nursing informatics will train you to write programs and fetch the most up-to-date data from vendor representatives. Although nursing informatics is a new field, it has a great job outlook. 

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners directly interact with the patients, just like the RNs. However, they can diagnose medical conditions and even prescribe medicines: often independently in most states. To become a nurse practitioner, you need to pass a national certification exam and earn a license. As a prospective nurse practitioner, you can expect to study pharmacology, disease prevention and control, diagnosis, treatment, and patient practice. You master the art of running diagnostic tests too. 

All NPs are expected to know and manage the delicate conditions, including injuries, infections, hypertension care, and diabetes. Further divisions for NP to specialize in include psychiatric and mental health, family practice, neonatal care, or women’s health. Nurse practitioners can lead their respective fields, especially in resource-deprived rural areas. The amount on your paycheck might vary depending on the track you choose.

NP program may take anywhere between 2-8 years, depending on whether you have a BSN and experience working as an RN.

Nurse Educator


Who could teach future nurses better than someone who has been in the same shoes not long ago? Preparing the new nurse army to replace the retiring veterans, this specialization has little to do with the usage of nursing knowledge. It relies on passing it on. 

As a nurse educator, you are expected to lead the class and prepare or revise the curriculum. The curriculum caters to real-life nursing needs. So, even if you are not practicing, you must have the knowledge and skills required in medical settings. With this specialization, you can conduct research, publish your findings or articles and participate in professional organizations. 

ADN programs (that produce RNs) prefer hiring MSN-qualified educators over those who hold a doctorate.

Clinical Nurse Specialists

Similar to NPs, clinical nurse specialists have to apply for a license after taking the national exam. These specialists are registered nurses with expert knowledge specific to the patient population and care settings. 

They are proficient in dealing with medical specialties or conditions such as oncology, pediatric practice, critical care, geriatrics, or community health. CNSs assist in diagnosis, reviewing patient files, data checking, and developing personalized care plans. They also provide educational and therapeutic care to patients. CNSs can also work at management levels in hospitals and clinics.

In Conclusion

Climbing up your career ladder requires a higher education, which is why you should consider an MSN or DNP. MSN allows non-nursing aspirants to achieve degrees just as RNs and nurses with BSN degree. 

MSN specializations are diverse and accommodate many interests and strengths. You might be good with people and interested in treating mental health issues. Considering your interest, you can choose a master’s in nurse practitioner or specialize in psychiatric care. 

If technology fascinates you and you want to apply it in healthcare, nursing informatics could be your choice. Explore your interests and match them with the MSN specialization to get strated today.

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