Actually, it's probably academia that puts weight on those rankings more than any other nursing group. The methodology itself proves that. The rankings are determined by sending surveys to CCNE and NLNAC accredited schools
and colleges of nursing. As the US News site states:
"All the health rankings are based solely on the results of peer assessment surveys sent to deans, other administrators, and/or faculty at accredited degree programs or schools in each discipline. All schools surveyed in a discipline were sent the same number of surveys. Respondents rated the academic quality of programs on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding). They were instructed to select "don't know" if they did not have enough knowledge to rate a program. Only fully accredited programs in good standing during the survey period are ranked. Those schools with the highest average scores appear in the rankings."
US News also ranks specialty programs in nursing (NP and CNS) and states that the methodology used in those were:
"The nursing specialty programs are ranked based solely on input from educators at peer nursing institutions, who nominated up to 10 schools for excellence in each area; schools with the most votes are listed."
In other words, it's a popularity contest among the exclusive group of people who gets to answer the survey. Chances are the respondents are graduates of the highly ranked programs. It may be a safe bet to say that if you graduated from those programs, you have a high likelihood of being accepted into PhD and DNP programs in that exclusive group of highly ranked schools should you decide to advance further after your Master's.
Clinical expertise is not assessed in that ranking. You wouldn't know which schools excel in clinical placements in terms of your areas of interest. However, it may also be a safe bet that the larger schools that attract highly trained faculty have a better chance of providing the kind of expert clinical training you need.
Another thing to consider is although some of the highly ranked schools (Top 20 maybe) are nationally-renowned, you may find schools in your immediate metro area that are just as good and have a great network of alumni and faculty who can provide the clinical placements you need. I am not saying that just because I attended a local state university (lower ranked, Top 50) as many people agree that it's worth considering those regional universities too.