Career Salary Overview

Nurse Practitioner $90K
Clinical Nurse Specialist $110K
CR Nurse Anesthetists $150K
Certified Nurse-Midwives $90K
Nurse Researcher $70K
Nurse Educator $70K
Nurse Administrator $90K
80K100K120K140K160K

What can I do with a master's in nursing?

With a master’s in nursing, you will be prepared for one of four career paths:

  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
  • Nurse Researcher
  • Nurse Educator
  • Nurse Administrator

The APRN pathway includes:

  • Certified Nurse Practitioner
  • Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
  • Certified Nurse Midwife

Regardless of the path you choose to follow, graduates of an MSN program are called to serve leadership roles in patient care, and often to assume responsibilities formerly managed by physicians like diagnostic testing, medication management or resource allocation. Credentialed APRNs are ripe for career advancement; in fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that by 2022, the number of existing jobs for advanced practice nursing professionals will have nearly tripled. Consequently, many nurses with graduate degrees are taking advantage of this shift and moving into APRN specialties.


Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse practitioners perform many tasks that were formerly off-limits to nurses, making them invaluable to overworked medical staff everywhere. Additionally, NP training heavily emphasizes wellness and disease prevention. This holistic approach is a hallmark of NP-provided care, as they focus particularly on delivering healthcare options to needy populations. In any of these clinical settings, an NP can expect to be well-compensated.


$89,960 Average Salary

Major Responsibilities

  • Diagnosing acute or chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or an ear infection
  • Ordering, performing or interpreting the results of diagnostic testing
  • Developing treatment strategies, including medication management and follow-up care plans
  • Conducting annual physicals and administering vaccinations
  • Educating patients about diagnoses and the lifestyle choices that can impact them

Work Environment

  • Family practice or emergency services
  • First point of contact for patients who need care

Education Required

All NPs must hold at least a master’s degree in nursing, and sometimes a doctorate.

Specializations and Certifications

Though individual states do have jurisdiction over practicing NPs, nearly all of these professionals hold a national certification from an accredited granting body, such as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Career Path

While many nurse practitioners work in larger practices, others choose to specialize in a patient population like women’s health, family health or gerontology. Still others may choose a subspecialty of medicine, like emergency medicine, sports medicine, oncology or gastroenterology.


Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Sometimes referred to as Clinical Nurse Leaders (CNLs), these professionals are often confused with NPs. Clinical nurse specialists are APRNs with a master’s degree in nursing and advanced training in a clinical subspecialty, whether that be a particular patient population, healthcare setting, diagnosis or care level.


$110,000 Average Salary

Major Responsibilities

  • Clinical Nurse Specialists work directly with the patient
  • Coordinate resources of the medical team and facilities
  • Direct care
  • Skillful internal communication

Work Environment

  • Varies by speciality

Education Required

Master's degree with advanced training

Specializations and Certifications

The American Nurses Credentialing Center, which certifies CNS professionals in adult health, adult psychiatric and mental health, child psychiatric and mental health, diabetes management, gerontology, home health, pediatric and public health.

Career Path

Varies by speciality


Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs)

CRNAs belong to the oldest lineage of certified nurses, dating back to specialized training and certification provided during the Civil War. Now responsible for so much more than battlefield pain relief, CRNAs enjoy a level of autonomy that may not be replicated in some other nursing specialties.


$148,160 Average Salary

Major Responsibilities

  • CRNAs administer anesthesia.
  • Work independently or with physician anesthesiologists
  • Surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic and obstetric procedures
  • Provide pain management and emergency services

Work Environment

  • Any healthcare setting
  • Very often employed in rural areas

Education Required

Master's degree with one year of experience in acute care.

Specializations and Certifications

CRNAs have a long path to certification. They must demonstrate current nursing state licensure and at least one year of experience in acute care before sitting for the CRNA credentialing exam.


Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNMs)

CNMs are APRNs licensed as independent practitioners of women’s healthcare, comprising reproductive and obstetric care, as well as primary care. Many families who desire a more personal birthing experience work with CNMs as an alternative to a hospital setting.


$89,600 Average Salary

Major Responsibilities

  • Monitor pregnancies and attend childbirth
  • Assess patients, diagnose and treat illness
  • Perform annual examinations
  • Screen for potential problems
  • Provide education and counseling on women’s health issues

Work Environment

  • Hospitals
  • Freestanding birthing centers
  • Clients’ homes

Education Required

A master’s degree in nursing is required to become a midwife; a small percentage also hold doctoral degrees.

Specializations and Certifications

Professional certification must be acquired from the American College of Nurse-Midwives.


Nurse Researcher

Nurse researchers advance strategies that prevent disease, promote health, better manage illness and improve palliative care experiences through the analyses of scientific data. Nurses in research rarely interact directly with patients, but instead collaborate with clinical, academic and facilities staff to create actionable care plans.


$67,930 Average Salary

Major Responsibilities

Design and implement studies that examine patient care models.

Work Environment

  • Laboratories
  • Healthcare facilities
  • Government entities
  • Universities
  • Non-profit research institutions

Education Required

A minimum of a bachelor’s degree, though often a master’s degree is required. Nurses who progress to doctoral level study are also welcome among research teams, though this degree is not always required.

Specializations and Certifications

Current state licensure.

Career Path

Job titles could include investigator, principal investigator, grant writer, research assistant or clinical data coordinator.


Nurse Educator

These instructors can teach at all postsecondary levels, from two-year nursing diploma programs to master’s or doctoral level programs. Educators in this environment must be able to adapt quickly to changes in our healthcare system and how these changes impact nurses; they must also be prepared to manage rapidly changing educational methods. Many professionals in academia conduct and publish research, as well as speak at professional conferences.


$65,940 Average Salary

Major Responsibilities

Nurse educators are responsible for preparing nursing students to be competent professional clinicians.

Work Environment

  • Teach lecture-based classes
  • Supervise student nurses
  • Conduct hands-on learning experiences

Education Required

Instructors who teach in a clinical practice setting are required to have a master’s degree in nursing. Likewise, clinical preceptors, staff development educators and faculty in allied health programs are expected to hold a master’s degree. Nurses who aspire to teach in a 4-year baccalaureate program should hold a doctoral degree in nursing.

Specializations and Certifications

Further certifications may be required to teach various specialities.

Career Path

Nurse educators can pursue further education to teach higher level nursing classes or specializations.


Nurse Administrator

Nursing administrators serve in managerial and leadership roles. Though some interact with patients, many of them do not. Instead, these professionals spend their days managing a nursing staff, a patient floor or a department, coordinating workflows to ensure that all patient needs are met.


$88,580 Average Salary

Major Responsibilities

  • Reviewing resumes and recruiting new nurses
  • Interviewing staff
  • Supervising small or large group of nurses
  • Collaborating with physicians and other facility staff
  • Managing disciplinary paperwork
  • Overseeing records management
  • Maintaining budgets and financial statements

Work Environment

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Private practice

Education Required

In some cases, other master’s degrees may be applicable; for instance, a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a Master of Public Health (MPH), or a Master of Health Administration (MHA) could each prepare a qualified nurse for a management role.

Specializations and Certifications

Professional certification programs are available from the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Organization of Nurse Executives.

Career Path

After gaining experience some nurse administrators opt to move into private consulting, while others may aim for positions such as hospital director.