M.S.N. vs. D.N.P.: Scope, Salaries and Job Outlook

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Smiling nurse with stethoscope in health care office.

The health care job market affords ample opportunity for tomorrow’s nurse leaders, with some advanced roles, including nurse practitioners, experiencing a projected job growth of more than five times the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Additionally, more states are granting advanced practice nurses full practice and full prescription authority. Nurses also have the opportunity to pursue nursing specializations that focus on specific patient demographics, providing advanced nursing professionals to get involved in the type of care that particularly fuels their passion.

Indeed, the future looks bright for individuals interested in an advanced nursing career to pursue. However, these opportunities require the attainment of certain educational benchmarks before they can be realized..

Students interested in advanced practice nursing careers, such as nurse practitioner, must attain a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) degree, but their education doesn’t have to end there. Nurses can continue building specialized knowledge and skills by attaining a Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) degree, opening up even more job and leadership opportunities. Nursing students must understand the differences between M.S.N. vs. D.N.P. degrees to choose the right education track.

Similarities Between M.S.N. and D.N.P. Degrees

An M.S.N. degree prepares nurses for advanced careers as practitioners in specialty roles, such as family nurse practitioner and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner. An M.S.N. program covers subjects such as health care policy, nursing theory and health assessment, all of which can be used to provide advanced patient care.

A D.N.P. degree builds on an M.S.N. by covering more advanced skills and subjects, such as evidence-based practice, health care informatics, quality improvement and nurse education. A D.N.P. degree prepares registered nurses for leadership roles, in which they can develop, critique and influence health policies and manage patient care operations.

Both M.S.N. and D.N.P. degrees are advanced degrees that allow registered nurses to become advanced practice registered nurses or nurse practitioners, with the ultimate goal of improving health care and patient outcomes. Both programs can also prepare students to sit for certification exams in clinical specialties.

Registered nurses can enroll in an M.S.N. program after completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) program, and they can enroll in a post-master’s D.N.P. program after earning a master’s degree.

M.S.N. vs. D.N.P.: Different Options for Nurses

On the other hand, contrasting M.S.N. vs. D.N.P. degrees generally means focusing on nurse leadership. An M.S.N. program is aimed at preparing nurse practitioners to develop specialized competencies in various areas of clinical nursing, such as family, adult gerontology and mental health. M.S.N. programs cover the foundations of advanced nursing and direct practice skills, such as administering anesthesia and conducting health care assessments.

In contrast, D.N.P. degrees are terminal degrees in the field, preparing nurses for work in higher leadership and administrative positions. Students in D.N.P. programs go beyond direct practice skills to develop skills for managing health care systems by conducting research and focusing on evidence-based practice. D.N.P. graduates may go on to become directors, executives or educators in the nursing field.

M.S.N. vs. D.N.P. Salary

Earning an M.S.N. or a D.N.P. degree can be a gateway to a wide range of fulfilling, well-paid career paths.

M.S.N. Salary

The median annual salary for M.S.N. degree holders is $98,000, according to July 2022 data from Payscale. The precise salary an individual may receive depends on a few factors, such as the role attained professionally and the number of years of experience one has in the role. Job location can also play a factor in determining compensation, as nursing professionals working in areas with a higher cost of living may earn a higher salary than those working in areas with a lower cost of living.

D.N.P. Salary

The median annual D.N.P. salary is $107,000 according to July 2022 data from Payscale. As with an M.S.N. salary, the exact compensation an individual may receive in a D.N.P.-level position depends on several key elements. These elements include career path, years of experience in the field or in a specific position, type of facility, and the job’s geographic location.

M.S.N. Jobs

The M.S.N. prepares graduates for roles in advanced practice nursing such as nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife and nurse practitioner. These jobs represent a rapidly growing occupational category, with projected growth of 45% between 2020 and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is significantly greater than the 8% growth that the BLS projects for the average profession.

Additionally, students who earn an M.S.N. can pursue a range of specializations that focus their practice on a specific health care area or demographic. Their expertise and experience with particular types of patients may allow them to provide more expert care. Some of these specialty M.S.N. jobs include the following:

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners treat patients of all ages and perform functions similar to physicians, including treating and diagnosing diseases, prescribing medication and providing referrals. These registered nurses may also develop treatment plans for patients, taking into account diet, exercise and home environment.

The median annual salary for family nurse practitioners is about $98,300, according to July 2022 data from Payscale.

Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner

Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners treat patients across the life span — from adolescence to adulthood and advanced age — offering health assessments, illness prevention solutions and customized treatment plans. These nursing professionals commonly work in private practice and specialize in certain health areas, such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS.

The median annual salary for adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners is about $90,200, according to May 2022 data from Payscale.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners help patients manage psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse and schizophrenia. These nursing professionals are trained in evaluating disorders, communicating with patients, monitoring progress and administering customized care based on medical history.

The median annual salary for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners is about $111,600, according to July 2022 data from Payscale.

Worth noting is that in the future, D.N.P. degrees may be required for advanced nursing roles that can currently be done with an M.S.N. Organizations like the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) have spent the last few years advocating for the D.N.P. to be the educational benchmark for nurse practitioner roles by 2025.

D.N.P. Jobs

What can you do with a D.N.P.? Plenty. Several dynamic D.N.P. jobs can be pursued with the terminal degree in hand.

Nursing Director

Nursing directors are responsible for organizing, managing and optimizing the performance of a nursing team. They must have the skills to evaluate health systems, adhere to compliance measures, procure resources and lead day-to-day operations. Nursing directors may also manage training and educational opportunities to keep teams current on new procedures and technologies.

The median annual salary for nursing directors is about $93,900, according to July 2022 data from Payscale.

Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists are responsible for preparing and administering anesthesia to patients. They must also choose the proper anesthetic based on each patient’s surgery, medical history and physical needs. By 2025, nurses will be required to earn a D.N.P. before being eligible for advanced practice as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).

The median annual salary for nurse anesthetists is about $163,300, according to March 2022data from Payscale.

Chief Nursing Officer

Chief nursing officers (CNOs) are in charge of directing nursing services, supervising managers, and evaluating and improving health care services. CNOs work with other executives and administrators at their facilities to develop patient care strategies, policies and operational procedures that provide optimal care. CNOs must possess strong leadership and communication skills to educate employees on new procedures and uphold legal and safety regulations.

The median annual salary for CNOs is about $134,200, according to July 2022 data from Payscale.

Pursue an Advanced Practice Nursing Career

Nursing professionals should prepare for a future where D.N.P. degrees are required for advanced practice registered nursing careers. The University of North Dakota’s online Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program is designed to provide nursing students with the leadership skills, knowledge,  and experience they need to influence health care policy and manage nursing organizations at the highest levels.

Learn more today about how the University of North Dakota’s online Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program can help you take a leadership role in the future of health care.

Recommended Reading:

What Is the Difference Between a DNP and a PhD in Nursing?

Why Get a D.N.P.?

3 Nursing Trends for 2022


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American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Fact Sheet

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American Psychiatric Nurses Association, About Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing

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