Types of MSN Degrees and What You Can Do with Them

TROY's Master of Science in Nursing programs can open the door to opportunities in advanced clinical practice, leadership and more.

TROY's Master of Science in Nursing programs can open the door to opportunities in advanced clinical practice, leadership and more.

With a growing need for primary care providers, nurse leaders and specialized nurses, the healthcare field offers a wealth of possibilities for new and experienced nurses. As a nurse, you have the opportunity every day to make a positive impact on patients and their families. If you have a passion for nursing and want to take the next step in your career, master’s in nursing programs can open the door to opportunities in advanced clinical practice, leadership and more. 

Dr. Kelli B Whitted, Professor and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Program Coordinator at Troy University, says an MSN can be a great way for nurses to rejuvenate their careers.

“Students tend to join our program after gaining some experience in the field,” she says. “Many are nurses who feel stagnant in bedside nursing but want to stay in healthcare. An MSN degree enables those students to move away from bedside nursing while still improving patient health outcomes, whether that means advancing as a practitioner or moving into a nonclinical role. For bachelor’s degree graduates, the MSN degree helps them gain the specialized knowledge they need to be competitive in the job market.”

Some TROY students who already have an MSN pursue a post-master’s certificate so they can focus their MSN degree on becoming a family nurse practitioner, leadership, education or informatics. 

Regardless of your background, if you’re interested in advanced nursing careers, it’s a good idea to explore the different types of MSN degrees and post-master’s programs to determine which is best for you. 

Understanding the Types of MSN Degrees

The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a graduate program aimed at preparing you for advanced practice or leadership roles in nursing. An MSN program builds on the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) while giving you more specialized skills, such as health assessment, data analysis, research and administration. 

An MSN degree can boost your earning potential, expand your career opportunities and help you improve patient care. With an MSN, you can work in a wide variety of settings, from small practices to large hospital systems.

In Alabama and rural areas, many communities don’t have enough primary care providers. That has created a need for more advanced practice nurses, Dr. Whitted explains. By choosing TROY’s MSN degree with an emphasis on primary care, you can practice in rural and underserved areas and help fill this critical need, she adds.

In addition to primary care, master’s in nursing programs can include other specializations, such as healthcare informatics, nurse leadership or nursing education. Regardless of the MSN concentration you choose, you can take your career to the next level and make an even bigger difference in healthcare. That’s a key motivator for TROY nursing students, says Dr. Whitted.

“The master’s in nursing program gives you the opportunity to improve healthcare, whether through direct patient care or a broad systemic approach,” she says. “The ability to make a positive impact in the field is really exciting for our students.”

Prepare for Direct Patient Care with the FNP MSN Concentration

The Master of Science in Nursing: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) track is the best MSN degree for nurses looking to work directly with patients. Focusing on health assessment, primary care skills, pharmacology and pathophysiology, this option prepares students for advanced clinical practice with patients in clinics, health departments, doctor’s offices and urgent care centers, says Dr. Whitted.

“It affords them a greater degree of autonomy than what they have as a bedside nurse,” says Dr. Whitted. “Health clinics, offices and organizations need family nurse practitioners to help with the volume of patients who need care. This program prepares students to provide that care directly and autonomously by offering advanced training in treating, diagnosing, taking care of and prescribing medications to patients of all ages.”

After the program, students can sit for the family nurse practitioner certification exam and prepare to work in pediatrics, women’s health, adult primary care and geriatrics, she adds.

Another exciting component of this MSN concentration, according to Dr. Whitted, is health promotion and the opportunity to educate patients. 

“Family nurse practitioners are trained to treat chronic diseases and manage medications, but our focus is really on health promotion and disease prevention,” she says. “Rather than simply prescribing medications, we emphasize the importance of diet, exercise and healthy lifestyles as preventative measures. Nurse practitioners play a fundamental role in patient education and their overall wellness.”

To prepare students for FNP certification and nurse practitioner jobs, this track requires students complete 705 hours of hands-on practice. Specific nurse practitioner jobs that can stem from this track include:

  • Family nurse practitioner
  • Primary care provider
  • Urgent care nurse provider
  • Pediatric nurse provider
  • Women’s health nurse provider
  • School nurse provider
  • Public health nurse provider

Move Out of Direct Care with the Healthcare Informatics and Nursing Leadership Track

Healthcare informatics and nursing leadership are two emerging areas in nursing. They are among the best MSN degrees for nurses who want to move out of direct practice. TROY’s master’s in nursing program combines these two types of MSN degrees to prepare students for leadership roles in healthcare organizations.

“While the FNP track prepares nurses to take care of patients, the informatics and nurse leadership track prepares them to take care of units and organizations,” explains Dr. Whitted. 

The healthcare informatics and nursing leadership track focuses on technology, policy and administration in nursing. Students learn to use data analytics tools, health information systems, electronic health records, telemedicine and other technologies to improve healthcare on a systemic level. They also gain business, communication and leadership skills, learning to manage organizations strategically, ethically and efficiently.

The healthcare informatics and nursing leadership track gives students expertise in both areas, which naturally go together. However, the emphasis allows enough flexibility that you can lean more heavily into one or the other depending on your interests in career goals, Dr. Whitted notes. For example, if you want to work as an executive, such as a chief nursing officer (CNO), you could focus your internship on nurse leadership. Or, if you’re more interested in working with data and technology, you could choose an internship in informatics, she explains.

This MSN concentration prepares students for nursing leadership careers in large and small hospitals or healthcare organizations.

“Usually, large hospitals are the ones that will have informatics capabilities, but if you want to work in a smaller setting, almost every hospital has a CNO or nurse manager role. This emphasis prepares you for either setting,” says Whitted. 

Specific nursing leadership careers this MSN concentration can lead to include:

  • Nurse informaticist 
  • Health informatics specialist
  • Chief nursing officer
  • Chief nursing information officer
  • Nurse director
  • Nurse leader
  • Nurse manager
  • Healthcare administrator
  • Telehealth coordinator

Focus Your MSN Degree with a Post-Master’s Certificate

Opportunities also abound for students who pursue a post-master’s certificate at TROY.

“The post-master’s programs offer experienced professionals a way to continue growing in their careers or make a career change,” says Dr. Whitted. “They allow students to gain new skills, particularly in exciting emerging fields like healthcare informatics.”

According to Dr. Whitted, post-master’s students come from diverse backgrounds. Some post-master’s students are long-time family nurse practitioners who now want to share their experiences as nurse educators. Others may have started as nurse educators but want to move into direct practice. 

TROY offers three post-master’s nursing certificates: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Healthcare Informatics and Nursing Leadership, and Nursing Education. The FNP and healthcare informatics/nursing leadership tracks involve the same clinical hour requirements as the master’s in nursing program but with fewer required courses. 

The nurse educator track trains you to teach the next generation of nurses, focusing on pedagogy, curriculum development, teaching strategies and evaluation. It involves 180 practicum hours in which you can apply what you’ve learned and gain nurse education experience. 

Why Choose TROY for Your MSN Degree? An Alumna Weighs In

TROY provides numerous benefits to graduate students in addition to career preparation. According to Haley Bice, a family nurse practitioner who graduated in May 2023, TROY’s program offers benefits that extend far beyond the classroom and workplace.

“TROY was special and beneficial to me on a more personal level than just the gains I got in my professional career,” Bice shares. “My five-year-old daughter has biliary atresia, which is a chronic liver disease. During my time at TROY, I was able to do much research and got to present a project on living liver donation and transplantation. This is not a widely discussed topic, but I was interested in this subject because I knew that if my daughter ever required liver transplantation, I wanted to be her donor.”

Bice continues, “The knowledge that I gained about living donor liver transplantation while at TROY prepared me in ways that I can’t explain. Knowledge is power, and knowledge can provide peace in difficult situations such as these. We were referred to Pittsburgh, PA, where they lead our nation in living donor liver transplants, and I am currently in the process of becoming my daughter’s living liver donor.” 

Bice shares that she is grateful for TROY’s faculty, as well. With their guidance and flexibility, she was able to succeed in the program. 

“I feel like TROY has exceptional staff that genuinely care about the well-being of their students. They were willing to make accommodations within reason to help me accomplish what I needed to do as a wife, mother, employee and as a student. They seem to grasp that ‘student’ wasn’t my only role in life and gave reasonable deadlines for coursework,” says Bice. “The MSN-FNP program is by no means a walk in the park, but it is an obtainable goal that is guaranteed to improve your life and career. At TROY, you will have the support and encouragement you need to meet your goals.”

Learn More About the Types of MSN Degrees and Post-Master’s Certificates at TROY Ready to take the next step in your nursing career? Whether you’re interested in direct practice, leadership or informatics, TROY’s experienced, dedicated faculty will help you realize your goals. View the Master of Science in Nursing degree program for more information.