Job Description for MSN-Educated Nurses in Clinical and Nonclinical Roles

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Master’s-prepared nurses have the skills and knowledge necessary to work independently or as team leaders in complex situations, both in clinical and nonclinical settings. Momentum is building in support of advanced nursing education, and as a result, more RNs are answering the call for a more highly educated nursing workforce, taking advantage of the growing number of opportunities available to master’s-educated nurses.

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According to the 2015 National Nursing Workforce Study—a survey conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and the National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers—nearly three-quarters of nurses surveyed were aware of the emerging opportunities for advanced clinicians and other master’s-prepared nurses, and the majority of respondents planned to seek a higher nursing degree. It comes as little surprise then that enrollment in master’s-level nursing programs climbed 8 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nurses (AACN).

MSN-prepared nurses satisfy the needs of employers who are showing a stronger preference than ever before for nurses with advanced degrees. A 2012 survey conducted by the AACN found that nurses with a master’s degree were very likely to land new jobs or advance professionally within four to six months after graduating.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), nursing schools throughout the country awarded more than 24,000 master’s degrees in nursing in 2011 alone. In the four-year period from 2007 to 2011, the number of nurses that graduated from master’s and doctoral level programs increased dramatically by 67 percent.

MSN degrees prepare RNs to qualify for advanced positions, both in the clinical and non-clinical settings:

Clinical Nursing Jobs:

  • Clinical nurse leaders
  • Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs)
    • Nurse practitioners (NP)
    • Certified nurse-midwives (CNM)
    • Clinical nurse specialists (CNS)
    • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs)

Non-Clinical Nursing Jobs:

    • Nurse administrators
    • Nurse informaticists
    • Nurse educators

In an effort to address the growing demand for nurses throughout the nation, and with an eye on diversifying the nursing workforce, resources like provide nursing-specific job boards to help connect employers with new nursing graduates and experienced nurses that specialize in areas that align with the patient populations these institutions serve.

Clinical Roles for MSN-Educated Nurses: Jobs for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN)

An Advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) is a clinical expert trained in advanced health assessment, advanced pathophysiology and advanced pharmacology specific to one of four distinct roles:

  • Nurse Practitioners (NP)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS)
  • Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNM)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA)

Regardless of their role, APRNs must possess a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or higher degree to qualify for the national certification and state licensure required to practice. In all these roles, APRNs serve as independent practitioners as well as vital members of the multi-disciplinary healthcare delivery team.

After completing a graduate degree program and earning national certification specific to one of these four roles, APRNs are capable of making health assessments, diagnosing diseases and medical conditions, and developing and managing treatment plans within the scope of their role.

Depending on state regulations, APRNs may prescribe medications and practice without physician oversight of any kind. This allows them to be part of the solution to the national physician shortage and provide much-needed healthcare services, particularly in medically underserved areas.

RNs with aspirations of working in a clinical capacity often choose an APRN program in one of the four APRN roles:

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse practitioners (NPs) practice in both primary and acute care settings. In all cases, NPs are educated and nationally certified in one of a number of patient population foci:

  • Adult-Gerontology (Acute or Critical Care)
  • Family/Individual Across the Lifespan
  • Neonatology
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health
  • Women’s Health/Gender Specific

Their job duties focus on comprehensive patient care, which includes assessing, diagnosing, and treating acute and chronic illnesses within their patient population focus. Nurse practitioners are widely considered critical to serving the primary care needs of patients amid the growing physician shortage, especially now that many states have taken steps to remove the barriers that prevent NPs from practicing and prescribing independently.

As of January 2016, 21 states and the District of Columbia have granted full practice authority to APRNs, allowing NPs to assess patient health, diagnose medical conditions, interpret test results, and prescribe medications independent of physician oversight.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), in the ten years from 2001 to 2011, the number of nurses graduating from master’s programs with a nurse practitioner track increased by nearly 70 percent.

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Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

The job of a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) involves administering anesthesia in collaboration with surgeons, dentists, podiatrists, and anesthesiologists. CRNAs work in every setting where anesthesia is delivered, and are most commonly found working in:

  • Delivery rooms
  • Critical access hospitals
  • Ambulatory surgical centers
  • Traditional hospital surgical suites

They also serve as the primary providers of anesthesia care in rural America, offering trauma stabilization, obstetrical, surgical, and pain management services.

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) 2014 Practice Survey, CRNAs administer anesthetics to about 40 million patients in the U.S. each year.

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Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)

Certified nurse-midwives provide healthcare throughout a woman’s lifespan. Their job duties focus on gynecologic and obstetrical care, including childbirth services. CNMs work in private practice, hospitals, birth centers, and public health settings, among others. The majority of CNM-attended births (94.6 percent) in 2013 occurred in hospitals.

The National Center for Health Statistics reported that certified nurse midwives attended nearly 321,000 births in 2013—or about 12 percent of all vaginal births in the U.S. The percentage of CNM-attended births has steadily increased every year since 1989.

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Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Clinical nurse specialists (CNS) remain a valuable component of today’s healthcare delivery team. This unique advanced practice clinical role involves promoting patient safety, facilitating evidence-based nursing practice, and supporting staff retention, with a particular focus on applying theory and the latest research to improve efficiency and patient outcomes. In many cases, CNSs are responsible for leading hospital efforts to attain Magnet status, promote change, improve patient outcomes, reduce costs and streamline operational efficiency.

Clinical nurse specialists focus their education and become nationally certified in one of several patient population foci:

  • Adult-Gerontology (Acute or Critical Care)
  • Neonatology
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health

The National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists reported that the majority (71 percent) of CNSs specialized in adult/gerontology as of 2014. The most common job duties of CNSs during this time were:

  • Providing direct patient care
  • Consulting with nurses/staff
  • Teaching nurses/staff
  • Leading evidence-based practice projects

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Non-Clinical Roles for MSN-Educated Nurses: Nurse Educators, Nurse Administrators, and Nurse Informaticists

Career opportunities for MSN-prepared nurses extend far beyond direct patient care. Non-clinical nursing jobs allow nurses to draw from their clinical expertise and use their leadership skills in new and exciting ways. Many nurses earn a master’s degree in order to transition from clinical practice to new and challenging roles related to healthcare leadership, education, and technology.

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By earning an MSN degree, nurses can build on the knowledge and experiences they develop while in the clinic, bringing a unique level of expertise to non-clinical roles that incldude:

Nurse Informaticist

Nurse informaticists help ensure the effective storage, organization, and retrieval of critical healthcare data. Though they work outside of the clinical environment and do not provide direct patient care, the data they manage is critical to ensuring efficiency and efficacy within clinical practice. Nurse informaticists manage information related to diseases and treatment options, as well as patient-specific data, all with the goal of improving patient outcomes, reducing cost and improving efficiency within the clinical environment.

The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) has reported that careers in nursing informatics are on the rise, publishing estimates in 2013 that indicate that as many as 70,000 nurse informaticists would be needed in the coming years to fill the growing need for health data management services. A 2010 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) report revealed that a full two-thirds of all healthcare providers surveyed had already planned to add full-time informaticists based on the projected need for more health information technology experts on staff.

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Nurse Educator

According to the 2014-15 AACN report on Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, U.S. nursing schools turned away nearly 70,000 qualified applicants from bachelor’s and graduate-level nursing programs in 2014. The reason: too few qualified nurse educators on staff.

It is no surprise then that the job outlook for nurse educators remains strong. For many nurses, making the transition from clinical practice to teaching is a rather natural step. Nurse educators prepare and mentor future nurses, strengthen the nursing workforce and directly contribute to increasing the number of nurses in practice by preparing entry-level nurses for general practice and educating APRNs in specialized roles and patient population groups.

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Nurse Administrator

Nurse administrators, whether serving as department managers, facility directors, or senior-level executives, work to address emerging trends and ensure quality, efficiency, and excellence in nursing practice. Nurse administrators contribute to an organization’s success by overseeing the nursing practice and creating an environment that supports professional practice.

While some nurse administrator jobs focus on nurse advocacy and the ways in which to achieve effective communication between the nursing staff and middle-upper management, others are positioned at the executive level, focusing on fiscal matters and strategic planning.

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