What Can I Do With a Master's Degree (MSN) in Nurse Administration?

Nursing is one of the most in-demand medical professions with no shortage of opportunities for career growth. Registered nurses (RNs) seeking leadership roles in nursing and hospital administration can expand their career opportunities with a master of science in nursing (MSN) nurse administration degree.

MSN degree programs go beyond the general nursing curriculum and prepare RNs for specialized leadership positions such as clinical nurse leaders, NPs, and nurse managers. Aspiring nurse administrators can choose from a range of MSN program specializations such as nursing leadership and administration, clinical nurse leadership, gerontology, and patient safety and quality.

Why choose an MSN degree? An investment in a master of science in nursing degree is a sound career move in response to rapidly expanding healthcare demand in the United States. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that from 2019 to 2029, the need for registered nurses is projected to grow 7 percent nationally, which is faster than the national average for all occupations at 4 percent during the same decade (BLS 2020). An estimated 221,900 new nursing positions are anticipated to be needed in the same time period.

To manage large teams of RNs, nurses who enroll in master’s degree programs have the option of pursuing careers that blend nursing and management expertise as medical and health services managers. The BLS predicts that medical and health services managers are expected to expand rapidly at a rate of 32 percent from 2019 to 2029, creating 133,200 fresh healthcare management positions around the country (BLS 2020). Based on this data, pursuing a career in nursing and leadership can lead to endless possibilities of specialized careers in healthcare.

With an RN license and an MSN degree, graduates have access to a wide variety of management career options in nursing. Admissions requirements for MSN programs vary; some programs are designed for RNs while others are designed for bachelor’s degree holders without a nursing degree. And while graduates from masters of science in nursing programs earn a degree designation of MSN, the careers listed in this article are position titles.

Read on to learn more about nurse administration careers for MSN degree-holders.

Become a Head Nurse

Head nurses manage teams of nurses. Also known as a chief nurse, head nurses are responsible for upholding standards of patient care through an ethical and healthcare accreditation lens. Some head nurse positions require at least a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) but many positions prefer an MSN degree from an accredited educational program.

Most positions require three to five years of RN experience as a minimum requirement. MSN programs prepare head nurses for this entry-level leadership role by building on nurses’ clinical knowledge and expanding their expertise in communications and leadership.

Certification for head nurses is typically voluntary and two certifications are offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC):

  • Nurse Executive (NE-BC): for active RNs with a bachelor’s degree and at least 2,000 hours of leadership experience within the last three years, and 30 hours of continuing education
  • Nurse Executive, Advanced (NEA-BC): for active RNs with a graduate degree, at least 2,000 hours of leadership experience within the last three years, and 30 hours of continuing education

According to Payscale.com in 2020, a self-reported aggregate of salaries, head nurses earn average annual salaries of $68,984.

Become a Charge Nurse

Charge nurses are tasked with staffing teams of nurses and approving patients for admission to and discharge from hospitals. Typical responsibilities including personnel scheduling, supply inventory, and performance evaluations.

Charge nurses may also report to hospital administration on behalf of their department requiring them to have exceptional written and verbal communication skills for medical and administrative purposes. Most positions require a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement and master’s degrees are preferred for some positions.

Beyond having a current RN license, certification is optional for charge nurses. However, taking continuing education courses in an area of specialization is recommended for all, especially those seeking optional NE-BC or NEA-BC certifications. Most positions require a minimum of three years of clinical nursing experience.

In 2020, Payscale.com reports the average annual salary for charge nurses is $72,030.

Become Nursing Shift Supervisor

A nursing shift supervisor splits their time between patient care and administrative tasks during a day or evening shift at a hospital or healthcare facility. Examples of patient care tasks include administering medication to patients, assisting physicians, and fielding patient complaints.

The administrative duties of a nursing shift manager include managing teams of nurses during a specific shift and giving performance evaluations to nursing teams. As with the aforementioned positions, a bachelor’s degree is typically a minimum requirement and master’s degrees are preferred.

To become a licensed RN, all nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) with a minimum score and fulfill other state licensure requirements. Most nursing shift supervisor positions require a minimum of three years of clinical experience. Additional leadership experience can help applicants for these positions stand out as exceptional candidates.

Payscale.com shows the average annual salary for nursing supervisors is $75,524 in 2020.

Become a Nursing Coordinator

Nursing coordinators serve as lead managers of nursing teams. They oversee the medical management of a department or procedure to ensure patients are receiving quality care. As well, they are tasked with making sure the needs of a nursing team are met. Because they work with patients, families of patients, employees, and healthcare administrators, they must possess a unique blend of bedside manner, advocate, manager, and leader. Nursing coordinators work all types of shifts including nights and weekends.

Bachelor’s degrees such as a bachelor’s of science in nursing BSN are typically minimum requirements and MSN degrees are preferred for some positions. Having specialized certification such as the Certified in Care Coordination and Transition Management (CCCTM) offered by the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB) credential can be valuable when applying for specialized positions.

According to data from Payscale.com in 2020, the average annual salary for nurse coordinators is $72,211.

Become a House Supervisor

A house supervisor is in charge of many hospital departments. Also known as a unit manager, house supervisors handle clinical management and administrative duties related to nursing. They are responsible for ensuring adequate staffing and patient care management across multiple departments. As well, house managers triage administrative issues and communicate with clinical teams as well as hospital administration.

House supervisors are typically licensed RNs with five years of clinical experience and one to three years of supervisory experience. BSN degrees are required for most positions and MSN degrees are preferred.

In 2020, Salary.com reports the median salary for a house supervisor is $103,438.

Become an Assitant Nursing Manager

Assistant nursing managers lead clinical teams and advocate for patients. While most positions require a BSN, applicants living in areas with saturated nursing job markets may find it easier to land an assistant nursing manager position with an MSN degree. Many charge nurses work their way up to becoming assistant nursing managers. After a few years of experience in this role, assistant nursing managers can pursue leadership expertise in more advanced nurse leadership roles which are detailed below.

If an applicant plans to change facilities or move to a different city, having a certification such as the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) certification given by the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC) can bolster one’s credentials in tandem with years of nurse leadership experience and solid references from supervisors.

In 2020, Payscale.com shows the average annual salary for assistant nursing managers is $85,701.

Become a Clinical Nurse Manager

Clinical nurse managers hold leadership positions in clinical settings such as physician’s offices, health clinics, and hospitals. They lead teams of nurses and communicate with physician teams and executive leadership. Depending on the work environment and position requirements, they may coordinate community outreach and be involved in research and teaching capacities. Some healthcare facilities may require a clinical nurse manager to have demonstrated experience in an area of specialization such as oncology, pediatrics, emergency services, or surgery.

When choosing an educational program, RNs can opt for MSN or health administration programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). Certifications such as the Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) certification given by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) can give applicants a competitive advantage while demonstrating their commitment and experience.

Payscale.com (2020) reports that clinical nurse managers earned an average annual salary of $83,050.

Become a Nursing Director

Also known as directors of nursing (DON), nursing directors are nurse managers with three or more years of leadership experience. In addition to providing clinical nurse leadership, nursing directors are the link between teams of nurses and physicians. As well, nursing directors liaise with executive leadership, manage budgets, and write and revise department objectives and policies for the benefit of patients, nursing teams, hospital accreditation regulations, and other key stakeholders.

As with most nurse leadership positions, a BSN is considered a minimum requirement for nursing directors while having an MSN or a DNP (doctor of nursing practice) degree is a preferred qualification. Having certification such as the NE-BC, the NEA-BC, or the Directors of Nursing Services (DNS-CT) through the American Association of Directors of Nursing Services (AADNS) can strengthen an applicant’s qualifications.

For those applying for positions in long-term care, the National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration in Long Term Care (NADONA) offers the Certified Directors of Nursing (CDONA). To be eligible for this qualification, applicants must hold current RN licensure and have two years of full-time experience as a director or assistant director of nursing.

Salary data from Payscale.com shows the average annual salary for nursing directors in 2020 is $88,513.

Become a Director of Patient Care Services

As the title indicates, patient care services directors make sure that personnel matters, budgets, and workflow processes for patient care run efficiently in a healthcare facility. Patient care directors report to executive leadership in hospitals and can be in charge of multiple or all departments. Daily tasks include overseeing operations, coordinating budgets, hiring, and reviewing employees. Most patient care directors hold current RN licensure and have some management experience in a hospital or a home health setting.

Depending on the position, certification may or may not be a minimum requirement, but having a verification such as the Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) can help applicants stand out as committed professionals who have met industry-recognized standards in nurse management and leadership.

Data from Payscale.com in 2020 shows the average annual salary for directors of patient care services is $100,309.

Become a Chief Nursing Officer

Chief nursing officers, also known as CNOs, serve in the high-levels of nursing leadership. Although they have clinical backgrounds, CNO responsibilities fall entirely under management in medical facilities. In the hierarchy of nursing management, CNOs are the top-level executives who oversee RNs in a variety of clinical and leadership roles.

In addition to policy implementation and human resource management, CNOs partner with physicians and other healthcare executives to ensure that nursing teams have what they need to deliver the highest level of care to protect patients and meet local, regional, and national hospital requirements.

To be considered for a chief nursing officer position, having an MSN degree with a specialization in healthcare administration or nursing leadership is a minimum requirement. Some CNOs have doctoral nursing program (DNP) degrees which may be preferred but are not typically required. In addition to an MSN degree, aspiring CNOs should seek executive nursing management positions and consider earning one or more nurse leadership certifications such as the NE-BC, CNML, CNL, or NEA-BC.

According to Payscale.com, chief nursing officers in 2020 earned an average annual salary of $129,240.

Rachel Drummond, MEd
Rachel Drummond, MEd

As a contributor on MHAOnline, Rachel Drummond has brought her expertise in education and mindfulness to the healthcare management field since 2019. She writes about integrating innovation into healthcare administration, emphasizing the importance of mental and physical well-being for effective leadership and decision-making in the fast-paced world of healthcare management.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.

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