Opportunities for advancement are important in any career, but the benefits of career advancement in nursing are particularly powerful. As a 2023 report in the medical journal Cureus noted, strong nursing career pathways can:

  • Stabilize the healthcare workforce
  • Facilitate the delivery of high-quality healthcare services
  • Reinforce resiliency and diversity within the nursing ranks

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is a good option for nurses who have a desire to pursue career advancement. Equipped with the skills and expertise that an advanced degree can provide, nurses can move up the career ladder to a wide variety of MSN careers. Nurses who are considering enrolling in an online MSN program can benefit from exploring these career options.

What MSN Degree Programs Offer

As the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) explains, advanced-level nursing degree programs, such as an MSN degree program, educate nurses in 10 domains of advanced nursing practice. Those domains are as follows:

  • Advanced nursing scholarship 
  • Informatics and healthcare technologies 
  • Interprofessional partnerships 
  • Knowledge for nursing practice
  • Person-centered care
  • Personal, professional, and leadership development 
  • Population health 
  • Professionalism 
  • Quality and safety 
  • Systems-based practice 

To educate nurses in the 10 domains, MSN programs offer courses in topics such as:

  • Advanced health assessment
  • Advanced theory, leadership, and management
  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Global healthcare
  • Pharmacology
  • Research methods for evidence-based nursing practice
  • Roles, responsibilities, and relationships of nurse educators

MSN programs also encompass capstone projects in which students have the chance to apply what they’ve learned while a preceptor mentors them. 

General MSN Career Outcomes

MSN programs offer nurses expertise they can use to pursue various careers. For example, nurses who earn an MSN can work in:

  • Advanced clinical roles with higher levels of autonomy and responsibility
  • Advanced roles that aren’t directly related to clinical work, such as positions in administration, health policy, or informatics

To earn certain nursing certifications, nurses need to earn a graduate degree, such as an MSN. For example, nurses need to have a graduate degree to earn the following certifications:

  • Clinical nurse leader (CNL) from the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC)
  • Nurse executive advanced - board certified (NEA-BC) from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  • Certified nurse educator (CNE) from the National League for Nursing (NLN)

5 MSN Careers That Nurses Can Pursue

Reviewing specific examples of MSN careers can highlight the various positions available after earning the degree, as the examples below demonstrate.

1. Director of Nursing

Earning an MSN can enable nurses to fill a range of positions in nurse leadership. For example, a nurse with an MSN can work as a director of nursing. In this position, nurses rely on their expertise and years of experience to oversee the entire nursing practice for a healthcare organization. 

Directors of nursing devise nursing policies, represent nurses to top executives, and budget for nursing staff. To boost their credentials, nurses who aspire to become directors of nursing can earn certifications such as the director of nursing services - certified (DNS-CT) offered by the American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing (AAPACN).

Medical and health services managers have a bright employment outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 28% employment growth for medical and health services managers between 2022 and 2032, a growth rate that significantly exceeds the 3% growth projection for all occupations.

2. Nurse Educator

Nurses who earn an MSN also can become nurse educators. In this role, nurses conduct tasks including the following:

  • Teach aspiring nurses as members of a nursing school faculty
  • Train nurses who work at a healthcare organization to acquire certain skills and remain up to date on changes in nursing practice

The responsibilities of nurse educators include developing curricula, evaluating student performance, and mentoring aspiring and new nurses. Earning certifications, such as a CNE, can enhance the credentials of a nurse educator.

As an important factor in addressing the ongoing nurse shortage, the position of nurse educator is an in-demand field. For the 2023-2024 academic year, AACN identified 1,977 full-time faculty vacancies at 922 U.S. nursing schools. Filling these vacancies will be important in educating nurses and reducing the nursing shortage.

3. Nurse Researcher

In the position of nurse researcher, nurses care for patients who participate in medical research and write reports conveying research results. Recordkeeping duties also can represent a significant component of a nurse researcher’s responsibilities. 

Earning certifications can bolster the credentials of a nurse researcher. For example, the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) offers the ACRP - certified professional (ACRP-CP).

A 2023 report in the journal Clinical Trials discussed a shortage in the clinical research workforce and specified that for every clinical research nurse, there were 10 job openings.

4. Nurse Consultant

Careers with an MSN also include nurse consultant. Individuals in this position conduct the following tasks:

  • Work with healthcare organizations to help them identify solutions to issues they face
  • Educate patients and their families about healthcare 
  • Offer expertise on healthcare issues associated with legal matters

Earning certifications such as the legal nurse consultant certified (LNCC) from the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board (ALNCCB) can enhance a nurse consultant’s credentials.

A 2023 report by market research firm IBISWorld specified that demand for healthcare consultants increased in the five years leading to 2023 due to technological advances and changes in regulations. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted healthcare providers to hire consultants to manage issues such as increases in costs and decreases in reimbursement.

5. Nurse Ethicist

Nurse ethicists specialize in helping nurses deal with moral distress and ethical dilemmas. They help healthcare organizations implement ethics programs, hold ethics forums for clinical staff, and identify training needs related to ethics. They also work to encourage ethics discussions among the members of a healthcare team and develop policies related to ethics in healthcare.

In a 2023 survey conducted by online medical community Sermo, 73% of physicians reported that ethical issues in healthcare increased after the COVID-19 pandemic began. This suggests that opportunities for nurse ethicists also could be on the rise.

MSN Careers Offer Nurses the Opportunity to Conduct Rewarding Work

Nursing careers requiring an MSN enable nurses to assume greater responsibility and specialize in work that aligns with their interests. The skills and expertise that MSN programs provide prepare nurses well for advanced roles in the profession they love. 

Nurses who are interested in earning an MSN can explore Denver College of Nursing’s online Master of Science in Nursing degree program to learn how it can help them achieve their goals. Preparing nurses for rewarding roles in areas such as nurse leadership and education, the program could set the stage for career advancement.

Denver College of Nursing also offers on-campus Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs for individuals who are at the beginning of their careers, as well as an online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) program for RNs wanting to earn their next degree. Start progressing on the nursing career path today.

Recommended Readings
Find Your Nursing Niche
Higher Learning: Nursing Jobs Increasingly Require Advanced Degrees
Starting an Online Nursing Program? Tips for Maximizing Online Learning

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “CNL Certification Guide”
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positions for Academic Year 2023-2024
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, The Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education
American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing, Director of Nursing Services - Certified
American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board
American Nurses Credentialing Center, Nurse Executive, Advanced Certification (NEA-BC)
ANA Enterprise, How to Become a Director of Nursing
ANA Enterprise, How to Become a Research Nurse
Association of Clinical Research Professionals, ACRP-CP Certification
Clinical Trials, “Now Is the Time to Fix the Clinical Research Workforce Crisis”
Cureus, “The Vital Role of Career Pathways in Nursing: A Key to Growth and Retention”
IBISWorld, Healthcare Consultants in the US — Market Size, Industry Analysis, Trends and Forecasts (2023-2028)
Indeed, Learn About Being a Nurse Educator
Indeed, “Roles Beyond the Bedside: How to Become a Nurse Educator”
National League for Nursing, CNE Eligibility
National Nurses in Business Association, Nurse Consultant
Relias Media, Nurse Champion Role Helps Identify Ethics Issues
Sermo, Identifying and Navigating Ethical Issues in Healthcare
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers