Oklahoma City University Online Nursing Blog
MSN salary and career outlook: What can you do with a master's in nursing?

MSN salary and career outlook: What can you do with a master's in nursing?

Hospital administration consulting on report, database or medicine study.

Are you considering an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)? Whether you already have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or you’re just starting out on your nursing career path, an MSN is a valuable step that will provide a wealth of opportunities for your future.

Nurses with an MSN degree are in high demand—the projected growth rate for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is 38%, which is nearly 13 times the national average .1 By pursuing an MSN, you’re setting yourself up for a successful career in specialized nursing, education, or leadership.

Current salary trends in nursing

Nursing salaries vary depending on your degree, specialization, and location. For example, California and Hawaii are among the highest-paying states for nurses in 2024.2

Although salaries vary, nurses with an MSN generally earn a higher salary than nurses with a BSN. In 2022, the median annual salary for a registered nurse was $81,220, while the average salary for nurse anesthetists, midwives, and practitioners (roles that usually require an MSN) was $125,900.3,1 That doesn’t mean earning an MSN will automatically guarantee you a six-figure salary. However, with hard work and specialization, your earning potential will be higher with an MSN than with a BSN alone.

MSN specializations and career paths

Getting your MSN opens up a wide variety of career paths. Because nurses with advanced education are in high demand, pursuing an MSN is a great way to access more high-paying careers or to climb the ladder in a certain specialization.

The following are a few high-paying careers you can pursue with an MSN degree.

Nurse practitioner

Advanced nurse practitioners (NPs) are among the most sought-after professionals in the United States.4 As an NP, you can choose your specialty and work as a primary care or urgent care provider, in collaboration with a licensed physician.

Nurse midwife

Nurse midwives provide care for pregnant mothers through uncomplicated pregnancies and births. As a certified nurse midwife (CNM), you can deliver babies, perform gynecological exams, and assist with C-section births. The average annual salary for a nurse midwife is over $120,000.5

Nurse educator

Nurse educators train nursing staff in hospitals and medical centers. You can either work locally as a nurse educator or visit hospitals around the country as a travel nurse educator. Either way, you’ll be able to positively impact health care organizations and their overall patient care.

Clinical nurse specialist

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) provides direct patient care in a specialized area of medicine, such as oncology, gynecology, or pediatrics. To become a CNS, you might need to pursue a specialist license or higher education after completing your MSN program.6

Other MSN career paths

Other career paths and specializations you can pursue with an MSN include becoming a nurse anesthetist, community-public health nurse, nurse consultant, or nurse administrator. Each of these career paths offers high salaries for experienced, educated professionals.

Job settings for MSN graduates

Nurses with an MSN degree can work in several institutions, including:

  • Hospitals and health care systems
  • Private practices
  • Colleges and other educational institutions
  • Public health agencies and research centers
  • Policy centers

In addition, many MSN graduates choose to pursue career paths as traveling nurses, taking on temporary assignments at hospitals and institutions around the United States or abroad.7

Benefits of earning an MSN

Earning an MSN takes more time, dedication, and resources than earning a BSN alone. However, for people interested in an advanced nursing career path, those investments are worth it.

An MSN will increase your earning potential and expand your available career options. It can also lead to faster advancement in your chosen nursing specialty. For example, if you’re interested in maternal health care, you can further your career by becoming a nurse midwife with an MSN.

An advanced degree in nursing also allows you to have a greater impact on patient care. As a researcher, educator, nurse administrator, or clinical nurse specialist, you’ll have the opportunity to make a difference in the health care industry.

Earning and certification requirements

Your path to earning an MSN will depend on your location and specialization. In most cases, students who graduate with a BSN can pursue an MSN in a range of specialties.8 Some career paths require additional certifications and degrees. For example, several certifications, such as a Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC), can lead to a career in nursing administration.9

It is possible to pursue your MSN degree while working as a nurse in your desired field, especially if you opt for an online MSN program. An online program lets you complete coursework from wherever you prefer on a schedule that works best for you. This way, you can keep making money while you study to move to the next step in your career.

Job outlook for MSN graduates

The job outlook for nurses with an MSN degree is promising. For example, employment for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is expected to grow 38% between 2022 and 2032.10

One reason behind this growth is that nurses with advanced degrees fill a vital role in our health care systems; people will always get sick and need the care and attention of a qualified nurse. As the American population ages, the demand for skilled nurses continues to grow.

Success stories and real-world experiences

Pursuing an MSN degree might feel like a gamble. To make sure you’re making the right decision for your career, it might help to learn about the experiences of other MSN grads. Check out this story from OCU graduate Pamela Stokes. Her MSN degree allowed her to take her career path from clinical nurse to nursing professor, administrator, and recruiter.

You can learn more about the real-life success stories of MSN grads by browsing OCU’s online nursing blog or connecting with an admissions outreach advisor.

Considerations for prospective MSN students

If you’re thinking about pursuing an MSN degree, here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Choosing your specialization: The best way to kick off your career path is to choose a specialization that fits your passions and future plans. Browse specializations (e.g., community public health, education, and leadership) and consider your options before you start your degree program.
  • Balancing work, life, and school: Like any advanced practice, your MSN program should fit with your busy life. An online MSN program will allow you to continue balancing your work and family life while you go to school.
  • Financial considerations: Higher education is an investment in your future. Talk to an admissions outreach advisor about program costs and financial aid options.

If you think an online MSN degree is the next step in your nursing career, talk to an OCU admissions advisor today.

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