Are you a registered nurse (RN) looking to take your career to the next level? Are you unsure of where to start or how to get there? Earning a graduate degree is a great way to advance your nursing career. In fact, there are many fulfilling educational paths you can take to progress further within the field. Two popular, advanced-level degrees for ambitious nurses are the:
- Master’s in Nursing (MSN), and
- Nurse Practitioner (NP) degree, also known as an APRN-MSN
While both master’s programs can help you move up the career ladder and hone your nursing skills, there are many differences to consider when deciding between an MSN and NP degree. So, which degree program is right for you? Let’s assess these options.
Requirements for MSN vs. NP Programs:
Both the Master’s in Nursing (MSN) and Nurse Practitioner (NP) programs require you to become a registered nurse first. This enables you to gain hands-on experience in patient care, before advancing your level of knowledge in the field.
While some MSN and NP programs may require GRE scores for admission, not all do. In fact, Goodwin University’s graduate nursing programs understand the demands of today’s nurses and will accept students who are fully licensed RNs, have real-world experience, and possess a bachelor’s degree.
In both the MSN and Nurse Practitioner programs at Goodwin, common prerequisites include:
- A current and unencumbered RN license
- A graduate application for admission and application fee
- Submissions of your transcript, proving receipt of your bachelor’s degree (as well as most recent degree earned, if applicable)
- Professional resume submission
- Personal statement
- Proof of immunizations
- Background check and drug screenings
- Telephone interview with the nursing program director
For those looking to become Nurse Practitioners or APRNs, 2+ years of direct patient care experience is required, too.
MSN vs. NP Degree Concentrations:
If you want to concentrate in a particular area of nursing, and become a specialized Nurse Practitioner, be sure to research programs closely. Make sure that the NP program you are considering meets your career outcome desires. Would you like to work with a certain population, or within a specific area of nursing, such as pediatrics or mental health? Find an NP program that offers the best education in the specialization (or patient demographic) that interests you.
If you do not have a specialization in mind, but rather wish to become a leader in nursing, you may consider a broader MSN degree path, which will prepare you with skills needed to run a nursing department, educate aspiring nurses, develop healthcare policies, and assure great patient care.
Specialized Advanced Nursing Programs:
If family health or mental health are your passion, there are two specialized Nurse Practitioner programs that could be right for you.
Students in Goodwin University’s Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program learn about holistic health through the lifespan, including how to apply healthcare practices to children, women, and typical and complex adult cases. Graduates of this program work in primary healthcare settings, such as physician’s offices. They enjoy similar autonomy to doctors while remaining hands-on with patients. The MSN and FNP programs differ in terms of career outcomes and skillsets, which you can learn much more about in this article about MSN vs. FNP degree outcomes.
For nurses most interested in psychiatric therapy and mental health treatment, Goodwin University’s Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program is an excellent choice. Studies include neuropsychopharmacology, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health disorders, and advanced psychiatric mental health care provision for adults, children, older adults, and complex patients. This specialized NP program is perfect for aspiring inpatient and outpatient mental health care nurses, or nurses who want to help mental health clients in hospitals, residential care facilities, universities, and community centers. This program and pathway are much more niche than the MSN or NP route.
MSN Leadership Programs:
The Master’s in Nursing (MSN) without an APRN specialization is designed for registered nurses who wish to advance as leaders in the field of nursing. In other words, this degree path helps RNs prepare for a director or managerial role in nursing, and make an impact at a larger scale. The MSN curriculum is largely focused on leadership and population health, exploring topics like social justice in healthcare, access to healthcare, health promotion, and disease prevention. The MSN degree enables nurses to increase their career prospects, raise their salary potential, ensure job security, and even prepare for a doctorate, if that is a goal.
MSN vs. NP Program Structure & Flexibility:
When comparing an MSN vs. NP degree program, consider the amount of time you have to allocate toward earning your degree. Do you need a program with more flexibility and online courses, or can you allot more hours toward earning your degree? In your nursing school research, you might find that MSN and NP degree programs are offered in both traditional classroom formats, as well as online structures tailored to busy, working nurses.
If your lifestyle requires a lot of flexibility, you might benefit from a part-time and online degree program. Goodwin University’s MSN program, PMHNP program, and FNP programs can all be completed online, allowing nurses to complete their master’s degree at a pace and place that works for them. We believe nurses shouldn’t have to put their lives (or careers) on hold to earn a master’s degree. The flexibility of our program allows them to work full-time while advancing their education.
MSN vs. NP Career Outcomes & Responsibilities:
Is earning an MSN the same as an NP? Not exactly. The biggest and most important difference to consider when examining the MSN vs. NP – is all about potential career outcomes.
As described above, MSN degree programs often prepare students for administrative careers in nursing, such as Nurse Administrator, Nurse Executive, or Clinical Nurse Leader. These jobs require strong leadership and managerial skills, as well as healthcare policy and business skills so that nurses can effectively oversee patient care and the organization’s costs and resources. MSN degree holders are not necessarily NPs. Many MSN graduates may wish to sit for a certified nurse practitioner exam. However, other MSN earners may wish to pursue the administrative angle of a nursing career.
With an MSN degree, you can qualify for work in a variety of different settings, including hospitals, private practices, laboratories, and long-term care facilities. Completing Goodwin University’s MSN program also gives students an edge with advanced knowledge of population health concepts including how social justice and health care intersect, and how advocacy can be leveraged to promote equity in health care access. Additional population-health-focused MSN job opportunities abound!
On the other hand, a Nurse Practitioner is mainly responsible for providing expanded, and often complex, clinical care. That is the scope of an NP’s work, though there are many specializations they can pursue (pediatrics, geriatrics, women’s health, and more). They provide direct patient care, but have a greater scope of work and more autonomy in their role than a typical registered nurse. Nurse Practitioners can make decisions for their patients, including prescribing treatments, ordering tests, and diagnosing patients, which registered nurses cannot.
As a result, NP degree programs focus on teaching students how to perform specific tasks that RNs are not licensed to perform. Some of these advanced tasks can include advanced physical assessments, diagnosing and treating illnesses and infections, ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests, and writing prescriptions. Nurse Practitioners are a type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), and often are considered an extension of a Physician or Physician Assistant in a specialized area. Depending on their years of experience, APRNs may practice independently. For example, many Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) work as primary care providers for individuals and families.
MSN vs. NP Salaries:
Both the MSN and NP degree pathways result in advanced positions in healthcare for ambitious nurses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2021, Nurse Practitioners made $120,680 annually. MSN graduates may make the same amount if they pursue the nurse practitioner route with their degrees. The broader degree scope of an MSN also allows these graduates to consider becoming Medical Health Service Managers, who make a median wage of $101,340 annually, among other health administration and management career options.
There are many factors that should be taken into consideration when choosing between an MSN vs. NP graduate degree program. When making this decision, it is important to align yourself on your career aspirations and interests. Do you desire a career that continues to focus on patient care? Or, do you wish to lead the nursing field at a broader scale?
If you are seeking some additional advice, please reach out to Goodwin’s team of academic advisors to help you compare these nursing degree paths and more. Call 800-889-3282 today!
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.