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6 MSN Nursing Specializations to Take Your Career to the Next Level


After becoming licensed registered nurses, many RNs are inspired to take their nursing careers to a higher level. Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the typical next step. An MSN program offers nurses the opportunity to become experts in a clinical field or prepare for roles as nursing administrators or instructors. An MSN-level nursing specialization often leads to more career autonomy and practice authority. For nurses who are looking for the next phase in their professional growth, an MSN degree online can open the door to a highly satisfying career.

What Can You Do with a Master’s in Nursing?

Most student nurses focus on their studies with the goal of passing the NCLEX-RN exam and becoming licensed registered nurses. Their first work experiences provide the foundation for their careers. After a few years in the field, they may start to see the advantages of specialization.


An MSN is more than an advanced degree. Nurses who hold an MSN have a number of professional advantages.

Opportunity to Specialize

The MSN is necessary for nurses who want to specialize as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). For example, nurse practitioners (NPs), nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives are required to have a master’s degree as well as certification. A nurse who wants to move into a hospital or healthcare administrative role, such as a chief nursing officer role, will need an MSN or higher degree. Specialization offers nurses the opportunity to guide their careers forward.

Practice Authority

All nurse practitioners must have at least an MSN. Depending on the state in which they practice, NPs can have partial to full practice authority. Full practice authority means they can work without the oversight of a physician, even prescribing medication. NPs can use their clinical knowledge and training to perform exams, make diagnoses, order tests and analyze results, consult with colleagues, and refer patients.

Administrative Careers

The nursing profession offers many opportunities for nurses who want to take on leadership roles. Nursing uses a team-based structure, so effective team leadership is key. Nurse leaders may take on jobs such as nursing manager, hospital management liaison, or director of nursing. An MSN program can provide nurses with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in these and similar management positions because of its focus on leadership, evidence-based care, and health policies, among other topics.

Benefits of an MSN

Nurses who earn an MSN can reap many rewards for their hard work, ranging from higher salaries to job satisfaction, and respect from patients and their colleagues.

Salary and Job Satisfaction

Advanced practice nurses generally receive higher compensation than RNs, due to their increased responsibilities and technical skills. The median salary for a nurse with an MSN was approximately $98,000 as of September 2022, according to compensation research site Payscale. Payscale also reported that nurses who had MSN degrees were “highly satisfied” with their jobs.


Eighty-two percent of patients supported NPs being allowed to practice to the fullest extent of their training, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Nurse practitioners had a positive impact on patient satisfaction, control of chronic disease, and cost-effectiveness, a review of research published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies Advances showed.

Policy- and Decision-Making Opportunities

Nurses who have an MSN or higher degree are more likely to be in leadership roles. As a result, they can have an impact on policy, whether as part of a public health organization or in a hospital or other healthcare facility. These policies can impact patient care and other clinical decisions. Academic leaders can also adjust curricula to ensure that nursing students are getting the best preparation for their careers.

What Are Master’s in Nursing Specialties?

RNs who are investigating the next step in their career have a number of nursing specializations to choose from. Aspiring APRNs will need to enroll in an MSN program that offers training in their chosen specialty field. They will also need to gain certification in their specialization. As licensing regulations vary by state, nurses will need to check with their state nursing boards for additional requirements.


The following six master’s in nursing specialties are in high demand and offer rewarding career opportunities.

1. Nurse Practitioner

Depending upon the laws in their state, NPs can practice with full or partial authority. Many healthcare industry experts and policymakers believe NPs will be critical to closing the healthcare professional provider gap. Some 98 million Americans live in a primary care healthcare provider shortage area (HPSA).


NPs’ MSN education provides them with the scientific and clinical knowledge to specialize in a specific patient population in practice areas such as:


2. Nurse Anesthetist

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) administer anesthesia to patients who are undergoing surgery or other procedures, such as labor and delivery. They monitor patients before, during, and after the procedure. They work in hospitals, emergency rooms, and outpatient surgery centers.

3. Nurse Midwife

Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) provide obstetric and gynecological care to women during and after pregnancy and delivery. They offer prenatal care, family planning, and women’s healthcare. Nurse midwives attend births in hospitals and birthing centers; some may also provide home birth services.

4. Nurse Educator

Nurse educators are responsible for developing and teaching courses that prepare students to pass the NCLEX and become successful nurses. As administrators and deans, they drive changes in nursing education to keep up with research, best practices, and advancing technology. Nurse educators work in colleges, universities, and business and community colleges. They also work in hospitals to help nursing graduates transition into the work environment and experienced nurses continue their education. Many nurse educators also maintain a clinical practice.

5. Informatics Nurse

Nursing informatics combines data, information technology, and the practice of nursing with the goal of identifying best practices in healthcare. Nurses who specialize in informatics compile and analyze data and make recommendations based on the results. This is a highly technological field, as it combines clinical knowledge and IT such as electronic medical records. At the highest level of this field are chief nursing informatics officers, who are part of a hospital’s strategic leadership team.

6. Nurse Administrator

Nurses who take on manager roles must wear many hats. Besides their own clinical practice, they manage their teams, make hiring and scheduling decisions, and create a culture of excellence and recognition in their facility. At the highest levels, nurses may be directors of nursing or chief nursing officers. They are part of the executive leadership team that sets policy and strategy, using their nursing perspective to drive improvements in patient care.

What Are the Highest Paid Nursing Specialties?

Advanced practice specialties command the highest salaries in the nursing profession. Note that compensation depends on a number of factors, such as a nurse’s years of experience and geographic location. Some nursing specializations pay a premium for specific areas of expertise and certifications.


The highest-paid nursing specialties are as follows, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Nurse Anesthetist

The median annual salary for nurse anesthetists was $195,610 as of May 2021, according to the BLS. The highest paying states for nurse anesthetists by mean annual salary were Connecticut ($276,540), New Jersey ($263,850), Illinois ($250,280), and West Virginia ($247,650). The number of jobs for nurse anesthetists will rise 12% between 2021 and 2031, according to the BLS.

Nurse Practitioner

The median annual salary for all NPs was $120,680, according to the BLS. NPs had the highest mean annual compensation in California ($151,830), New Jersey ($137,010), New York ($133,940), Washington ($133,840), and Massachusetts ($129,540). Demand for nurse practitioners is high, with positions estimated to grow 46% between 2021 and 2031, according to the BLS.


Nurse practitioner salaries also vary by specialization. Median NP salaries ranged as follows, according to Payscale.


  • Adult-gerontology nurse practitioner. The median salary for acute care adult-gerontology NPs was approximately $96,000 as of August 2022. The median salary for primary care adult-gerontology NPs was around $90,000 for the same period. Experience in wound care boosted salaries 17%, reflecting the demand for treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes.
  • Family nurse practitioner. The median salary was approximately $99,000 as of October 2022. Experience with hospice care, clinical research, and occupational health boosted salaries 8% to 13%.
  • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. The median salary was around $114,000 as of October 2022. Skills in cognitive behavior therapy, prescription administration, and pharmacotherapy modestly boosted salaries between 2% and 3%.
  • Pediatrics nurse practitioner. The median salary was approximately $95,000 as of October 2022. Experience with pain management, emergency care, cancer, and autism boosted salaries between 10% and 16%.

Nurse Midwife

The median annual salary for nurse midwives was $112,830 as of May 2021, according to the BLS. Employment of nurse midwives was expected to grow 7% between 2021 and 2031, about as fast as average for all job categories. The states with the highest compensation for nurse midwives were West Virginia ($163,190), Utah ($143,890), California ($137,070), Massachusetts ($129,360), and New York ($126,170).

Nurse Educator

The median annual salary for nursing instructors and teachers as of May 2021 was $77,440, according to the BLS. States with the highest compensation for nurse educators were California ($106,850), Massachusetts ($102,620), Hawaii ($102,520), Washington, D.C. ($100,030), and Alaska ($96,100).


The compensation for nurse educators in the largest employer categories was as follows, according to the BLS:


  • General medical and surgical hospitals. The annual mean wage was $95,720.
  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools. The annual mean wage was $83,340.
  • Educational support services. The annual mean wage was $80,410.
  • Technical and trade schools. The annual mean wage was $77,010.
  • Junior colleges. The annual mean wage was $75,960.

Informatics Nurse

The BLS does not separately track salary data for informatics nurses. However, the median compensation for informatics nurses was approximately $81,000 as of September 2022 according to Payscale. Entry-level informatics professionals had a median salary of around $71,000; nurses with five to nine years of experience had a median salary of around $86,000. This is a highly technical field. Skill in using Epic Information Systems (electronic health records) and its add-ons for oncology and obstetrics, data analysis, and clinical information systems boosted salaries between 5% and 9%, according to Payscale.

Which Nursing Specialty Is Right for Me?

Nursing students are fortunate to be entering a field in which skilled professionals are in high demand. RNs who are looking for their next career step should be sure they choose the nursing path that is right for them.

Know Yourself

Experts say the best way to answer the question, Which nursing specialization should I pursue? is by determining what one’s strengths, weaknesses, and goals as a nurse are. Questions to ask include:


  • What are my areas of strength?
  • What are my weaknesses as a nurse?
  • What parts of my day make me happiest?
  • What patient population do I feel called to work with (the elderly, children, psychiatric patients, etc.)?
  • Do I prefer clinical work, research, technology, or administration?
  • What are my financial goals?
  • Where do I want to live?
  • What’s important to me in terms of work, life, and family?


These and other questions can help nurses narrow down their choices.

Make a Plan

Once a nurse has established their career goals, it’s time to determine how to reach them. Questions to ask include:


  • Do I need an advanced degree?
  • If so, how long will the program take?
  • What about certifications?
  • What is the financial impact and payoff of this decision?

Go for It

If a nursing specialty requires an MSN or other additional schooling, nurses need to identify the program that best suits their career goals. Online degree programs offer maximum flexibility, and RNs who want to practice at the highest level should consider an MSN program that offers a nurse practitioner track. Nurses who want to move into administration might concentrate their education in leadership, statistics, and population health metrics.

MSN Nursing Education, Certifications, and Skills

What does an MSN degree program entail? A master’s degree in nursing offers additional training and research opportunities that build on a bachelor’s degree and a nurse’s work experience.


Topics in an MSN program range from general theory to clinical work to specialization. Coursework includes:


  • Theory encompasses the theoretical frameworks that guide decision-making in nursing.
  • Disease prevention. Disease prevention focuses on promoting health at the individual and community levels.
  • Health assessment. This coursework teaches how to perform effective and comprehensive health assessments.
  • Disease knowledge. Disease knowledge includes the identification, treatment, and medical regimens of diseases.
  • Evidence-based practice. Using evidence-based practice involves understanding and applying nursing practices based on rigorous research.
  • Health policy. Health policy incorporates the complex challenges involved in delivering healthcare, including policies, regulations, and financing.
  • Leadership training explores the keys to effective leadership and how to master these skills in a work setting.


MSN curricula may also provide training in an NP specialization, such as gerontology, pediatrics, or psychiatry.


A nurse’s education doesn’t end with an MSN. Most nursing specializations require certifications. Just as RNs have to maintain their licenses, they also have to renew their certifications through continuing professional education.


The following are the most common certifications for advanced-practice nurses.


  • Nurse anesthetists. The National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists administers the National Certification Examination.
  • Nurse practitioners. There are several certifications for NPs, depending on the nurse’s specialty. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board are certifying bodies.
  • Nurse midwives. The American Midwifery Board certifies nurses as certified nurse-midwives (CNMs).
  • Nurse educators. Nurse educators often get their certified nurse educator (CNE) credential, offered by the National League for Nursing. However, this certification is not always required by employers.
  • Informatics nurse. The ANCC offers the RN-BC, or registered nurse board certified credential. The RN-BC certifies that RNs have foundational knowledge in informatics.

Skills and Best Practices

To succeed in a nursing specialty, nurses should have an array of qualities. Earning an MSN will help nurses enhance these skills, which are as important as technical and clinical knowledge.


  • Nurses should be able to communicate with patients and families, medical and clinical colleagues, hospital administrators, and the community as a whole.
  • Critical thinking. Critical thinking is defined as the ability to assess a situation and make a decision based on data and experience, without being swayed by personal bias.
  • Attention to detail. Nurses operate in an environment in which a mistake can lead to medical errors or death. They should always notice small changes in a patient’s condition and be thorough when administering medications.
  • Compassion and empathy are part of nursing. However, when patients suffer, nurses may become overwhelmed. Often as leaders, advanced practice nurses have to be empathetic not just with patients but with their colleagues as well.
  • Nursing is a team-based profession. Nurses will need excellent interpersonal skills to work effectively on a team with colleagues and other hospital staff.
  • Advanced practice nurses often take leadership roles in healthcare, whether as nurse managers or administrators. They have to make decisions in areas that include staffing, patient care, and budgeting.
  • Problem-solving. It’s important for nurses to be resourceful and to be able to solve problems effectively, whether individually or as part of a team.

Master’s in Nursing Specializations — Choose the Right Career for You

When it comes to nursing specializations, the options are plentiful. Nurses who choose to advance their careers with an MSN can find a program that suits their skills, experience, and career goals. To discover the right master’s in nursing for you, explore Maryville University’s MSN degree online program. Take the first brave step to advance your career with Maryville.


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American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Poll Shows Patients Overwhelmingly Support Nurse Practitioners Working to the Full Extent of Their Education”


American Nurses Credentialing Center, Informatics Nursing Certification (RN-BC)


Health Resources and Services Administration, Health Workforce Shortage Areas


HIMSS, “What Is Nursing Informatics?”


Incredible Health, “What Is an MSN Degree?”


Indeed, “Q&A: How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Nursing?”


Indeed, “What Can You Do with a Master’s Degree in Nursing Leadership?”


International Journal of Nursing Studies Advances, “The Effectiveness of the Role of Advanced Nurse Practitioners Compared to Physician-Led or Usual Care: A Systematic Review”


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Payscale, Average Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Salary


Payscale, Average Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary


Payscale, Average Family Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary


Payscale, Average Informatics Nurse Salary


Payscale, Average Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary


Payscale, Average Pediatrics Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary


Payscale, Average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary


Payscale, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment of Nurse Anesthetists, by State, May 2021


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment of Nurse Midwives, by State, May 2021


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment of Nurse Practitioners, by State, May 2021


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetist, Nurse Midwife, or Nurse Practitioner


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