MSN Careers for Nursing Graduates

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A nurse practitioner looking at a computer and writing in a medical facility. Healthcare is a burgeoning industry around the world. As a litany of developments and disruptions continue to reshape healthcare, nurses have found growing employment opportunities. Increased spending and expanded care have led to a growing breadth of opportunity for nurses to take advantage of, as MSN careers become more specialized and numerous.

In the U.S., advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) in particular are filling critical roles across the spectrum of healthcare, meeting the national demand for more graduate educated nurses to take leading roles in primary healthcare services; nurse education; and other specialty areas, such as abuse investigations. The need to fill them comes at a critical time, as the ongoing nursing shortage fuels a substantial demand. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), predicts a 45% job growth rate for APRNs between 2020 and 2030.

However, as demand for nurses increases, so too does the expectation to be highly qualified and keep up with medical innovation and technological advances. Factors that affect nursing and healthcare as a whole necessitate that nurses receive education and training on the modern trends that have led to breakthroughs like telemedicine, as well as contributed to the strain on available nursing resources.

Sometimes, meeting this demand may mean earning an online MSN or a post-master’s certificate program. Pursuing higher education can help nurses sharpen their expertise and have specialized MSN jobs, such as family nurse practitioner (FNP), nurse educator and forensic nurse.

APRNs: Current and Future

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the U.S. has more than 325,000 licensed APRNs. Even with this amount, the healthcare industry is struggling with an ongoing nursing shortage — one that’s not expected to end anytime soon.

In the coming years, nurses and primary care physicians are expected to retire in droves. At the same time, an influx of people will be moving into a different phase of the healthcare system due to age-related diseases, illnesses and injuries, adding to the strain on an already taxed system.

The American Journal of Managed Care points out that APRNs “represent a growing aspect of primary care in the United States.” All APRNs are expected to play a more prominent role in healthcare as a way to tackle the shortages. This is particularly the case in rural settings, where access to quality healthcare may be lacking compared with urban centers. 

The Future of Advanced Education and Nursing

Experts agree that advanced education plays a crucial role in today’s changing workforce. By constantly learning and evolving their skill sets to align with the ever-changing complexities of healthcare, APRNs can demonstrate an ongoing capacity to provide exemplary care in the face of technological innovation, shifting patient demographics and changes to regulatory compliance.

As the industry continues to acknowledge the key role APRNs play in administering quality care, the push toward constantly refreshing and optimizing their advanced education will allow them to match this acknowledgment with positive results.  Because of this, many see APRNs as one of the solutions to the challenges in healthcare staffing.

Enrolling in a post-master’s certificate program can be a critical way for individuals to meet this expectation and advance their MSN careers. Through post-master’s certificate programs, APRNs can broaden their clinical experience, competencies and knowledge by focusing on a subject area different from their original master’s program. That means APRNs who’ve earned post-master’s certificates have secondary levels of expertise for the betterment of patient outcomes.

MSN Jobs

Those that obtain an MSN degree can use their knowledge and skills to make a significant impact in healthcare through numerous career paths. These roles approach care delivery in different ways because of their duties, but they all carry a common goal of optimizing care delivery in a way that may improve patient outcomes.

Family Nurse Practitioner

FNPs are popular MSN jobs and can be found in many settings and specializations. As APRNs, FNPs can serve as primary care providers in hospitals or clinics and are qualified to diagnose and treat many conditions in their patients, who they may see grow from toddlers to adolescents and to adults. According to PayScale, FNPs earn a median annual salary of about $97,000 as of 2021.

Nurse Educator

A new generation of nurses will always be needed, and knowledgeable, experienced nurses will be needed to teach them. For nurses who have a passion for teaching others or who reach a stage in their careers that leads them to the position, becoming a nurse educator can provide the opportunity to shape the modern nursing workforce.

In this position, nurses may teach as faculty in universities or colleges, as well as in research institutions. According to PayScale, nurse educators earn a median annual salary of around $77,400 as of 2021.

Travel Nurse

There’s no better way to experience the global aspect of nursing than by becoming a travel nurse. Whether on assignment domestically or internationally, travel nurses have seen sizable gains in their ranks, as well as increased awareness of the role. Travel nurses are registered nurses who work as contractors with agencies that send them to different areas of need.

Certification and licensing are very important for this role. As laws change with borders, travel nurses need to ensure that they have requisite qualifications. According to PayScale, travel nurses earn a median annual salary of about $80,000 as of 2021.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists

Nurses who work as certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) have a wide range of responsibilities, such as helping administer anesthesia, managing a patient’s pain and overseeing patient recovery and stabilization after surgery. An MSN career with a high degree of specialization, CRNAs often work with other anesthesiologists, surgeons and dentists and can be found in various settings, including hospitals and independent practice.

Becoming a CRNA can also be a very rewarding career. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for nurse anesthetists was $183,580 as of 2020. Additionally, the BLS classifies the role in the same group as APRNs, meaning they’re also subject to the exponential 45% projected job growth between 2020 and 2030.

Gerontological Nurse Practitioner

There’s a shortage of nurses, and one of the leading factors behind the shortage is the aging population of America and the world at large. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Health Care Outlook, the number of persons 65 years and older in the world will reach more than 686 million, or 11.8% of the total population, by 2023.

This aging has magnified the need for nurse practitioners with geriatrics skills due to the expected rise in traditionally senior-related issues. According to PayScale, gerontological nurse practitioners earn a median annual salary of around $99,400 as of 2021.

Health and Public Policy Nurse

With all the shifts and changes healthcare has experienced in recent times, it’s become incumbent on states and nations to craft health and public policy that addresses the needs of modern patient populations. Whether this relates to working on initiatives designed to improve patient safety in developing worlds or helping organizations address the consumer-centric model of healthcare America is transitioning to, health and public policy nurses are needed.

According to PayScale, public health nurses earn a median annual salary of about $59,900 as of 2021.

Research Nurse

While research nurses can still engage in clinical duties, individuals who pursue this MSN career spend more of their time conducting studies and experiments. Research nurses receive the same education as any other type of registered nurse, but get even more advanced training in areas like data collection and academic writing. According to PayScale, clinical research nurses earn a median annual salary of around $72,400 as of 2021.

An exciting prospect for nurses with a passion for research is that after earning an online MSN, they can pursue a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing. The PhD is primarily for research-focused nurses and one of two terminal degrees in the nursing field (alongside the more clinically focused Doctor of Nursing Practice).

Nurse Executives

For nurses who’ve worked their way to the C-suite, the payoff can be big. According to PayScale, nurse executives earn a median annual salary of around $122,900 as of 2021.

Nurse executives may also hold more autonomy and influence. Having a voice on the board or in executive decision-making is a big responsibility for nurse executives, who can use their platform and leverage to advocate for nurses, patients and overall care improvement. Nurse executives can also deal with regulatory compliance, a key trend for healthcare moving forward, according to Deloitte. Some areas are:

  • Cybersecurity and mobility strategies
  • Clinical quality and safety
  • Data and technology adoption

Properly Prepare for an MSN Career

APRNs will likely play a crucial role in healthcare delivery over the next several years. As technology, care concepts and regulations continue to evolve, those in the role will be counted upon to use these shifting factors to meet a healthcare facility’s ultimate goal of providing quality care. Earning a graduate degree in nursing can be an essential step in this process.

Duquesne University’s online MSN can help APRNs achieve this status. With six specialization choices, including forensic nursing, FNP and executive nurse leadership, Duquesne University offers many different options for prospective students who want to make a difference in healthcare. Explore the curriculum and start your career in nursing today.

Recommended Readings

The Importance of Leadership Skills in Nursing as the Industry Evolves

Next-Level Nursing: Exploring the Benefits of Nursing Certification

What Are the Nurse Practitioner Specialties Nurses Can Pursue?


Deloitte, 2020 Global Health Care Outlook

National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Nursing Shortage”

PayScale, Average Clinical Research Nurse Salary

PayScale, Average Family Nurse Practitioner Salary

PayScale, Average Gerontological Nurse Practitioner Salary

PayScale, Average Nurse Educator Salary

PayScale, Average Nurse Executive Salary

PayScale, Average Public Health Nurse Hourly Pay

PayScale, Average Travel Nurse (RN) Hourly Pay

The American Journal of Managed Care, “Current Evidence and Controversies: Advanced Practice Providers in Healthcare”

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