BSN vs. MSN: What Are the Benefits of a Master’s in Nursing?

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A nurse practitioner consults with a patient in her office.Registered nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) looking to further their careers should consider pursuing an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). By understanding the different career opportunities that a BSN vs. MSN can provide, registered nurses (RNs) can decide whether an advanced degree is right for them.

Why Pursue an MSN?

BSN programs prepare professionals for entry-level positions as registered nurses. RNs work in such settings as hospitals, clinics, schools and the military. After earning a BSN, prospective RNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), which certifies them to legally work in health care.

MSN programs require prospective candidates to have at least a year of experience as an RN, as well as a bachelor’s degree. On average, it takes students about two years of schooling to earn a master’s in nursing. MSN students complete concentrated curriculum courses and fulfill the clinical requirements to focus on specialized areas of nursing.

The MSN curriculum advances a student’s knowledge in nursing through a diverse range of courses. For example, Advanced Pharmacology emphasizes the clinical applications of prescribing medications in relation to chronic illness, Advanced Pathophysiology teaches students how changes in physiological mechanisms may lead to the development of potential disease processes, and Advanced Health Assessment highlights the best practices for assessing, interviewing and communicating with patients.

Nursing professionals with an MSN may have a greater earning potential than those with only a BSN because the degree prepares them for specialized areas such as pediatric health, psychiatric health, oncology and women’s health. An MSN degree can also provide individuals with the clinical experience and education to pursue a wide range of in-demand subspecialties, such as neurology, urology, gastroenterology, dermatology and endocrinology.

Advancing a Nursing Career

MSN graduates can establish successful careers in health care roles such as medical administrator or nurse practitioner, as well as in nurse leadership positions. Medical administrators are responsible for managing departments, hiring new employees and instituting scheduling. Nursing leaders are responsible for managing and training fellow nurses, as well as ensuring they stay up to date on current health care practices.

Master of Science in Nursing students learn the fundamental skills to manage patients’ documents, analyze finances, plan treatments and conduct research. They explore current theories and practices that can be applied in real-world medical situations. They also learn how to evaluate health policy issues so they can navigate bureaucracy in order to serve as patient advocates. Furthermore, MSN candidates begin to analyze and interpret medical literature in order to apply the findings to their work.

Overall, MSN courses prepare students with the clinical competency to become nurse practitioners. NPs are registered nurses who have graduated from an MSN degree program and are certified to work in a particular specialty, such as adult gerontology, family medicine or mental health.

NPs commonly work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, universities, private practices and clinics. They also serve as advocates for communities at the local, state and federal levels. Unlike RNs, NPs can prescribe medication and develop treatment plans for patients.

According to a 2018 University of Michigan study, rural areas need more nurse practitioners because “doctors don’t necessarily establish their practice where need for health care is the greatest.” The United States Census Bureau reports that 20% of the national population resides in rural areas. In contrast, only 12% of the country’s primary care physicians work in rural areas, which inhibits access to health services. NPs can fill this gap, as they are equipped to address these communities’ health concerns.

Prepare for a Rewarding Career as a Nurse Practitioner

Earning an MSN and pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner can be a rewarding opportunity for those looking to serve their communities.

Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners (AGPCNPs) work with elderly patients to ensure they receive adequate care. This specialty allows NPs to work in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living homes. According to Medscape’s Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) Compensation Report, the average salary for AGPCNPs was $111,000 in 2018.

Medscape reports that family nurse practitioners (FNPs) made an average annual salary of $107,000 in 2018. FNPs work with families to ensure they get the health care they need and develop treatment plans accordingly. The report also states that psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners, who focus on patients’ mental well-being, earned an average salary of $114,000.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of all nurse practitioners to grow 26% between 2018 and 2028. The median annual pay for nurse practitioners in 2018 was $113,930.

The Future of Nursing Today

A Master of Science in Nursing is key to establishing a career as a medical administrator or nurse practitioner or to attaining a health care leadership role. University of North Dakota’s online Master of Science with a Major in Nursing program provides prospective students with the curriculum and clinical experience to work at the forefront of health care. Learn more about the opportunity to pursue a rewarding career as a leader in nursing.


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “2017 National Nurse Practitioner Sample Survey Results.”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “What’s a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?” 

American Society on Aging, “Rural America Faces Shortage of Physicians to Care for Rapidly Aging Population”

Kids Health, “What’s a Nurse Practitioner?” 

Medscape, “Medscape APRN Compensation Report, 2019”

NCBI, “Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Practice Characteristics” 

NCSBN, “Preparing Students for the NCLEX”

Science Daily, “More Doctors Follow the Money, More Nurse Practitioners Follow the Need”

Solv, “What Is a Nurse Practitioner? Doctors vs. Nurse Practitioners” 

University of North Dakota, Online Master of Science in Nursing

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Practitioners