B.S.N. vs. M.S.N.: Differences and Benefits

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A nurse practitioner consults with a patient in her office.Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.)-prepared nurses interested in gaining greater autonomy, enhancing their salary and pursuing advanced-level nursing roles, such as nurse practitioner, nurse manager and/or chief nursing officer, are likely to find that completing a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) program can help them toward their goal.

Coursework in an M.S.N. can not only prepare students to confidently address their patients’ needs, improve health care delivery and address the health care needs of diverse populations, it can also prepare graduates with the in-demand skills they’ll need to advance their career and earning potential.

Understanding the different career opportunities provided by a B.S.N. vs. an M.S.N. may help nurses decide whether an advanced degree is right for them.

What Is an M.S.N.?

An M.S.N. is a graduate-degree program designed for B.S.N.-prepared nurses interested in pursuing advanced roles, such as family nurse practitioner, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner and nurse midwife, among others. The curriculum of an M.S.N. program 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.

M.S.N. programs often 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 baccalaureate-level students about two years of schooling to earn a master’s degree in nursing.

Why Pursue an MSN?

Nursing professionals with an M.S.N. may have a greater earning potential than those with only a B.S.N. because the degree prepares them for specialized areas such as family health, psychiatric health, adult-gerontology and women’s health. An M.S.N. 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.

What Is a B.S.N.?

A B.S.N. is a baccalaureate degree program that prepares students to pursue nursing roles in hospitals, schools, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation clinics,  doctor’s offices, group medical practices, surgical clinics and other settings. Coursework in B.S.N. programs often include classes such as health assessment, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, statistics and nursing fundamentals, among others.

Most full-time students find they can complete their B.S.N. degree in approximately four years.

Why Advance Your Nursing Career from a B.S.N. to a M.S.N.?

Nurses who are comparing B.S.N. and M.S.N. degrees should understand the benefits and potential career outcomes for pursuing an advanced degree. For example, M.S.N. 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.

M.S.N. 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, M.S.N. candidates begin to analyze and interpret medical literature, applying their findings to their work.

Overall, M.S.N. courses prepare students with the clinical competency to become nurse practitioners. NPs commonly work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, nursing homes, universities, private practices and clinics. They also serve as advocates for communities at the local, state and federal levels. NPs develop treatment plans for patients and, in some states, can prescribe medication.

Prepare for a Rewarding Career as a Nurse Practitioner

Earning an M.S.N. and pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner can be a rewarding opportunity for those looking to serve their communities. Nurse practitioners can specialize in a specific area of nursing, such as family medicine and psychiatric-mental health.

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) work with families to ensure they get the health care they need and develop treatment plans accordingly. FNPs earned a median annual salary of around $98,700 as of November 2022, according to the compensation website Payscale.

Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) assess patients’ mental well-being, diagnose mental health issues and work with other health care professionals to develop treatment plans. PMHNPs earned a median annual salary of around $115,000 as of November 2022, according to Payscale.

Salary ranges for nurse practitioners can vary based on a variety of factors, such as an individual’s experience level, the geographic location of the position they’re applying to, and whether the position is with a hospital, group medical practice, outpatient care center, community healthcare clinic or state, local or private educational service institution, among others.

Nurse Practitioner Job Growth

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of all nurse practitioners to grow 46% between the years 2021 and 2031, which is much faster than what’s projected for all other occupations.

Job growth for nurse practitioners will be driven by several factors, such as an increase in demand for health care services from the aging baby boomer population, the baby boomer retirement wave and the need to replace NPs who leave the workforce to raise a family, retire or transfer to alternate occupations.

The Future of Nursing Today

An M.S.N. is key to establishing a career as a leader in nursing. The University of North Dakota’s online Master of Science in Nursing program provides prospective students with the curriculum and clinical experience to work at the forefront of health care. Our program offers Family Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specializations.

Learn more about how our M.S.N. program can help you achieve your nursing goals.

Recommended Readings

5 Skills Needed to Be a Nurse

9 Study Tips for Nursing Students

What Is Family-Centered Care?


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “The Value of Nurse Practitioner Leadership”

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

Kaplan, What Is the NCLEX-RN?

Payscale, Average Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) Salary .

Payscale, Average Family Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

Payscale, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

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