I've been an RN for 10 years and earned my RN to BSN on campus. To advance to a management position at my hospital and leave direct care, I need a master's degree. I am familiar with the MSN. What other types of master's in nursing online are available, and how do I choose? One interest I have is in geriatrics or care for the elderly.
—Kim in Wisconsin
There are several types of master's of nursing online that a seasoned RN like you might consider. All of them can help you move from direct patient care into nursing management.
Online Nursing Master's Degrees
The most common online nursing master's program for you to consider would be the master's of science in nursing (MSN). This is the traditional capstone nursing degree. Because there remains such a severe shortage of nurses, many colleges—indeed, even hospitals—are sponsoring online learning nursing master's.
You can earn a general MSN, but many online MSN degree programs offer majors that are keyed to management. Two of the most popular of these would be the MSN in leadership or health systems management.
One caveat: to be eligible for an online MSN, you have to already be an registered nurse (RN) with a BSN (bachelor's degree in nursing), ADN (associate's degree in nursing) or nursing diploma. As long as your RN license is current, you can enter several programs.
You also will need to be employed in a workplace that will allow you to complete the supervised clinical practice requirement of your MSN degree. Check with the hospital where you work. Chances are good your current employer meets all the educational criteria to serve as a supervised practical learning center.
The traditional MSN emphasizes practical patient care issues and may be needed if your primary job will be to supervise floor or practice RNs, for example.
However, you don’t have to limit yourself to the traditional MSN degree. You said you'd like to move out of direct patient care and into higher level management. There is tremendous demand for nurse managers in all sectors of healthcare. Below are some other online nursing master's degrees that you may wish to consider.
Masters in Nursing Online — Alternatives for Managers
• Online Master's in Healthcare Administration
Many nurses faced with moving up to administrative careers opt to complete health management degrees, such as the master's in healthcare administration (MHA). There are almost 50 different online degree programs available in the medical administration area, and this kind of degree, combined with your RN experience, could qualify you for multiple careers managing either facilities or medical care teams.
The MHA degree focuses on health law, management, human resources, leadership, quality control, budgeting and finance. It will not deepen your experience or knowledge of direct patient care. Instead, it will teach you to manage business units and both inpatient and outpatient services and operations.
• Online Healthcare Master's — Service Specialty Majors
Since you know the specialty you are moving toward—geriatrics (care for the elderly)—you could also earn a master's in gerontology, geriatrics or aging. A graduate degree in a services specialty area such as this would expose you to the deeper issues—both in policy and in care—that face this sector of the healthcare population.
While such a master's degree won’t give you a deeper understanding of management issues such as human resources, budgeting and quality control, you'll learn much about concerns involving the elderly. Demand for nurses trained in this specialty area remains extremely high.
There are many new and hot career areas using licensed or registered nurses. Specialty online nursing degrees, such as in patient advocacy or in the psychiatric treatment of terrorism victims, are also becoming plentiful.
• Online Graduate Certificate in Healthcare
You might also consider an online graduate certificate in a specialty area of nursing or healthcare. A certificate requires less courses and hence takes less time and money than a master's degree. A specialty certificate in healthcare would allow you to re-specialize at the fastest speed.
Some of the most exciting new health management certificates are in areas such as disaster or emergency management, healthcare administration and gerontology.
GetEducated.com's Best Buys in Online Masters Degrees in Healthcare
GetEducated.com's Healthcare & Nursing Career Center
Vicky Phillips was cited in 2009 by US News & World Report as "for 20 years the leading consumer advocate for online college students." In 1989 she designed America's first online counseling center for distance learners on AOL. In 1998 she authored the first print guide to online graduate degrees, Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools put out by the Princeton Review. In 2001 she authored Never Too Late to Learn the Adult Student's Guide to College.