MSN Specialties: How to Decide Which Degree Is Best for You

Discover some of the best MSN specialties and take your nursing career to the next level. Education

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As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree specialties remain instrumental in meeting the diverse demands of the nursing profession.

MSN Degree Specialties

There are two main categories of MSN specialties: advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) and non-APRN.

While non-APRN MSN degrees focus on preparing RNs for non-clinical nursing roles, APRN degrees provide further education to specialize in a particular nursing discipline. Depending on the state where they practice, APRNs may be qualified to assess patient health, diagnose medical conditions, order lab tests, develop treatment plans, and prescribe medication.

APRN Specializations

Non-APRN Specializations

  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Nursing Executive Administrator
  • Nurse Educator
  • Nurse Researcher
  • Public Health Nursing
  • Nursing Informatics

Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP)

An AGNP is an APRN specializing in providing comprehensive healthcare to adults and older adults. AGNPs hold at least an MSN, and many have a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. They are trained to diagnose and manage acute and chronic illnesses, conduct physical examinations, interpret lab results, and prescribe medications.

There are two primary types of AGNPs: Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (AGPCNPs) and Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioners (AGACNPs). AGPCNPs focus on health promotion, disease prevention, and management of chronic health conditions, often working in outpatient or community-based settings. AGACNPs, on the other hand, provide care for patients with acute, critical, or complex chronic conditions, typically in hospital or specialty clinic settings.

  • According to Payscale, AGNPs make an average annual salary of $96,198.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

A CNM primarily assists women with all pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum healthcare stages. A CNM may also assist female and male patients with reproductive health issues and sexually transmitted diseases.

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), CNMs make an average annual salary of $122,450.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

A CNS provides direct patient care, serves as an expert consultant for nursing staff, and takes an active role in improving healthcare delivery systems. They often work in management positions and may develop or work with a team to develop policies and procedures.

  • According to Payscale, a CNS makes an average annual salary of $97,817.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

An FNP is a specialized RN who provides advanced nursing care to patients of all ages. They work independently or in a team to focus on family health services such as disease prevention, counseling, diagnosis, and treatment of complex health conditions.

  • According to ZipRecruiter, FNPs make an average annual salary of $128,141.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)

The role of the NNP is to provide care to high-risk infants, including infants with low birth weights, complications of prematurity, heart abnormalities, infections, or other conditions. NNPs may also care for infants with long-term health conditions until they reach two years of age. NNPs can also work in emergency rooms, delivery rooms, and outpatient developmental clinics that provide follow-up care to infants.

  • According to ZipRecruiter, NNPs make an average annual salary of $125,877.

Related: 10 Best MSN Programs in 2023

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)

PNPs specialize in delivering health care to individuals younger than 21 years old. They usually interact with family members more than any other caregiving discipline. These medical professionals diagnose illnesses, evaluate childhood growth patterns, prescribe medication, screen and manage mental illness, provide education, perform annual checkups, and requisition patient testing and consulting with clients and their family members.

  • According to ZipRecruiter, PNPs make an average annual salary of $125,190.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

PMHNPs provide treatment for patients with psychiatric illnesses along the lifespan in an outpatient setting. Treatment includes assessing, planning, implementing, coordinating, and evaluating patient care among a multi-disciplinary team.

  • According to ZipRecruiter, PMHNPs make an average annual salary of $131,543.

Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)

A CNL is a nursing specialist focused on analyzing, improving, and transforming current processes and educating other nurses on best practices for the continuum of care within any healthcare environment.

  • According to ZipRecruiter, CNLs make an average annual salary of $84,631.

Nursing Executive Administrator

Nursing administration involves different executive-level nursing tasks that help oversee nurse departments in hospitals and other healthcare organizations. The nurse administrator manages medical staff and reports the nurse department's development and productivity to the hospital's CEO.

  • According to ZipRecruiter, nursing executive administrators make an average annual salary of $113,500.

Nurse Educator

A nurse educator helps prepare future nurses for employment or allows nurses already working in the field to improve their job performance. Nurse educators serve as instructors, mentors, and role models for prospective and current nurses. They work with other faculty at post-secondary educational institutions or management at hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other healthcare institutions to establish learning goals and develop curricula to achieve them.

  • According to Payscale, the average annual salary of a nurse educator is $81,974.

Nurse Researcher

A nurse researcher conducts scientific research to advance nursing and general health care. They organize nursing studies to gather data, analyze patterns and trends, and report results. A nurse researcher studies various aspects of health care and applies research techniques to discover new methods of improving health care services and patient outcomes.

  • According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary of a Nurse Researcher is $119,911.

Public Health Nurse

Public health nurses use the information they derive from analyzing data to work with other healthcare professionals to create public health initiatives that benefit the community. These initiatives may focus on disease prevention, vaccination campaigns, or screenings.

  • According to ZipRecruiter, the average hourly wage of a Public Health Nurse is $36.

Nursing Informatics

A nurse informaticist is an RN who relies on advanced technology and data to provide patients with quality care. These healthcare specialists combine their nursing expertise with IT knowledge. They use computer programs and software to identify optimum solutions for better delivery of patient care.

  • According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary of a nurse working in Nursing Informatics is $97,795.

How to Choose an MSN Specialty

Choosing an MSN specialty track is not an easy decision. It is essential to consider your interests and preferences. Other aspects of selecting a specialty track include looking at the program's length, admission and graduation requirements, the job market, and earning potential for the MSN specialty track you choose.

According to a survey conducted by allnurses, the top 11 factors students consider when picking their nursing schools are:

  1. Cost (tuition, housing)
  2. High pass rates for licensing (NCLEX) and/or certification exams
  3. Location
  4. Academic reputation
  5. Availability of financial aid and scholarships
  6. Length of time to obtain degree
  7. Flexibility of schedule
  8. Curriculum
  9. Campus and surroundings
  10. Nursing clinicals location
  11. Availability of online courses


Q: What is the highest-paid MSN specialty?

According to the BLS, the highest-paid MSN specialty is a CRNA, who makes an average annual salary of $205,770.

Q: What are the requirements for MSN programs?

There are various requirements for MSN programs and four routes to earning a degree. Choosing the most appropriate one will largely depend upon your current educational and professional background.

  • Direct Entry or Entry-Level MSN Program – This program is for those who have earned a bachelor's degree outside of nursing. This type of program generally takes three years to complete. It provides an accelerated path to learning clinical skills in the first year, followed by two years of Master's level education.
  • RN to MSN Program – This program provides nurses with an Associate's degree (ADN) with a path to a graduate degree. This type of program acknowledges the clinical experience that the ADN brings with them and generally takes two to three years to complete, incorporating baccalaureate-level education in the first year followed by two years of Master's level education.
  • BSN to MSN Program – This program is for nurses who have earned their Bachelor of Science in Nursing.  It acknowledges their clinical experience and allows them to pursue a specific area of interest or practice. If pursued full-time, BSN to MSN programs take between 18 and 24 months to complete.
  • Dual MSN Program – This program is for those who want to enhance their graduate nursing education with another graduate field of study, such as Business Administration or Public Health. The amount of time needed to complete these programs varies.

Q: Is an MSN worth it?

With an MSN, you will find yourself eligible for many more positions and offered much higher compensation while at the same time finding yourself highly respected by colleagues and sought after for consultation, making it a worthwhile degree to pursue.

Editorial Team / Admin

Carly Elliott has 9 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Hospice Palliative Care and Home Health.

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