If you’re looking to expand your nursing career beyond the traditional care of patients into hospital administration or leadership, you might be considering an online master’s degree in nursing. Find out what courses and specializations are typically offered in this advanced degree and what career opportunities it can open up. Plus, discover which colleges and universities offer the best online programs.
In developing these rankings for the best online master’s in nursing programs, we gathered data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the U.S. Department of Education and published materials from the universities highlighted on the list. All schools on this list are fully accredited.
Advanced coursework in nursing covers varied topics including healthcare resource management, pharmacology, acute and chronic illnesses and medical ethics. Programs that emphasize administration or leadership may also include courses in business and management. Students enrolled in a master’s in nursing program can expect to obtain the following skills:
Below is a list of common courses found in online nursing master’s programs. While courses vary by institution, most schools cover similar or overlapping topics.
Covers best practices and topics for teaching nursing as a profession. This course examines pedagogies, adult learning theories, learning styles, learning environments and the evaluation and testing methods in nursing education.
An examination of effective leadership skills in a healthcare setting, managing staff and developing talent. Business and leadership models are examined from various viewpoints, with special focus on improving leadership in healthcare organizations.
Covers the need for strategic goals in a healthcare setting, how to optimize resources and staff and effective management for achieving goals. Explores the ways in which healthcare delivery is evolving, with greater emphasis on patient value and less on volume, while evaluating ways medical facilities are working to meet these challenges.
A math-intensive course on studying health patterns across populations, including the statistical prevalence of illness and disease. Professionals planning a career in research or clinical practice in infectious diseases learn how to manage and evaluate large volumes of data to understand health trends and recognize patterns.
An overview of systems for data storage and retrieval of healthcare information, including patient records and treatment. The course examines how workflow is an important part of designing usable information systems. Students learn that, in healthcare, poorly designed or ineffective workflow systems can create problems both for the medical facility and the patients it treats.
Coursework for the master’s degree in nursing usually includes a final exam for each class, as well as periodic testing. Lab work may be an additional part of courses covering clinical subjects such as blood testing and tissue sampling.
To graduate, students may have the option of completing either a master’s thesis or a capstone project. The master’s thesis is an independent research project that includes designing a study of some aspect of the nursing field and performing all aspects of the research process. The thesis examines a theory or knowledge gap, and delivers results in original, clearly defined new knowledge. A capstone project is a scholarly process that addresses a clinical problem in nursing practice. The project gathers and examines evidence and applies it to a clinical situation. The final product of the capstone project demonstrates mastery of work accomplished throughout the program and must be presented as a manuscript of publishable quality.
Here is a sampling of specialties open to the graduate with a master’s degree in nursing.
Assists the anesthesiologist during surgery and surgery preparation. Requires a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia as well as experience in a hospital setting. The nurse anesthetist attends to the patient before, during and after surgery in a hospital setting or dental practice.Critical Care
Nurses with this specialization often hold a leadership role in emergency facilities and oversight of intensive care units. Professionals in this specialization care for patients who have experienced invasive surgery, life-threatening accidents, trauma and organ failure.Family Practitioner
May work in the community as part of a public healthcare organization, helping families with children lead healthy lives. Nurses in this profession may serve as the face of a public healthcare organization by managing a community health facility, soliciting state and local governments for budget funding and ensuring patient care meets accepted standards.Pain Management
Focuses on the care and comfort of patients facing prolonged recovery from injury or illness. Emphasis on pharmaceutical knowledge. These nurses specialize in the care of patients with chronic or debilitating pain. They are experts on pain management interventions and techniques, whether through prescription narcotics, chiropractic medicine, nerve stimulation and exercise or diet consultation.
A master’s degree in nursing prepares graduates for leadership and administrative roles in a healthcare setting. Here are a few possibilities:
Supervise and manage nursing staff in a healthcare clinic or hospital. Nurse administrators plan staffing needs for various operating shifts, develop talent on their team and consult regularly with physicians on the operating performance of the nursing unit.Research Nurse
Work for pharmaceutical companies in the evaluation and testing of new drugs, assist physicians at teaching hospitals and universities with their research or work for government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control. This career path requires a strong foundation in statistical analysis.Nurse Consultant
A nurse consultant works with medical facilities to improve efficiency, streamline operations and enhance healthcare as delivered by the nursing staff. Identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement. Nurse consultants are independent contractors who set their own hours and fees.
Joining professional nursing organizations is a good way to stay current in the field while enjoying networking opportunities with others. Membership is a great way to learn about new trends in place at other medical centers and find out about career opportunities. There are dozens of professional nursing groups. Here is a sampling:
Supports and develops dermatology nurse practitioners, while assisting all NPs with leadership and guidance in the field of dermatology.
The mission of NADONA is to be the leading professional organization for current and aspiring nursing leaders thru professional development, board certification, and clinical expertise related to the promotion of health and wellness of individuals in long-term care and post-acute care.
The association’s mission is to advance the health and quality of life of individuals and families experiencing obesity, and to promote best practices of holistic nursing care for bariatric patients.
The mission of the NACNS is to advance the unique expertise and value the clinical nurse specialist contributes to health care.
The NALPN’s mission is to foster high standards of nursing care and promote continued competence through education/certification and lifelong learning, with a focus on public protection.
There are a variety of careers available in the field of nursing, especially for those with a master’s degree. Here is a small selection of potential careers to pursue, but students should keep in mind that additional certification, licensure and experience may be necessary in addition to a master’s degree.
|Career||Lowest 10% Earned Annually||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10% Earned Annually||Job Growth 2016-2026|
|Nurse Administrator||Less than $60,000||$98,350||More than $120,000||+20%|
|Advanced Nurse Practitioner||Less than $74,000||$110,930||More than $120,000||+31%|
|Clinical Nurse Specialist||Less than $64,000||$70,000||More than $110,000||+15%|
|Research Nurse||Less than $52,000||$70,000||More than $89,000||+15%|
|Nurse Instructor, Post-secondary||Less than $45,000||$71,260||More than $81,000||+15%|
|Nurse Consultant||Less than $54,000||$70,000||More than $120,000||+15%|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
According to data from Nurse Journal, the average salary of a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing ranges from $42,343 and $81,768. With a master’s degree in nursing, the earnings potential increases to $62,281 and up to $195,743 over the course of the graduate’s career.
Additionally, there are many job opportunities open to nurses with a master’s degree that go beyond typical bedside nursing. These alternative career paths allow nurses to work within the healthcare field but often in unexpected or highly advanced ways. A nurse with a master’s degree has an increased potential for career advancement over a nurse without a master’s degree.
When evaluating a program, look for schools that are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). These are the two accreditation organizations that certify a program meets the requirements for a master’s degree in nursing. Between them, the commissions certify curricula for the Master of science in nursing, master of nursing, master of science degree with a focus in nursing and the master of arts degree with a focus in nursing.
Accreditation provides the assurance that a master’s degree in nursing program does, in fact, deliver the necessary skills and knowledge accepted in the field. The value of a master’s degree also depends on the respect employers have for schools. The graduate of an unaccredited nursing program is not going to be viewed as favorably by prospective employers as the graduate from an accredited and widely respected program. Look for accreditation status on the website of any considered program or school. If none is listed, contact the program and ask.
Although online programs tend to be less expensive than their brick and mortar counterparts. Here are some options for funding a master’s degree in nursing:
Nursing scholarships for graduate students are highly competitive and tend to be school specific, so one approach is to look at available scholarships within the program you select. Look for scholarships for nursing graduate degrees from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and Nurse Education Funds.
Competition for grant dollars is no less fierce than for scholarships. Amounts vary by organization, but typically range from $1,000 to $10,000. Look for top grants awarded by Walden University and Nursing@Simmons.
A variety of financial packages are available for nursing students seeking to borrow for tuition costs while pursuing graduate studies in nursing. As a first step, fill out a federal FAFSA form to determine eligibility.
The USHSC will pay for some or even all of your tuition in exchange for of 2 to 4 years of employment in a rural area that is medically understaffed.