What Can You Do With a Master’s in Nursing?

Family nurse practitioner talking with patients

As a registered nurse, you already know that continuing education is critical for your professional development. And now that you’ve earned a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), you’re wondering, What’s next? What can you do with a master’s in nursing?

There are many benefits of a master’s degree in nursing, as it can allow you to pursue more advanced roles. In addition to considering your master’s in nursing degree options, you may wish to explore potential opportunities with a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, also called a DNP degree.

In This Article:

What Can You Do With a Master’s in Nursing?

Once you have obtained your MSN, you can pursue a variety of career opportunities. Before deciding which specific role suits you best, consider whether you would prefer to work in a clinical setting or if a non-clinical role might suit you best. With an MSN, you could be prepared to pursue either career pathway.

Here are a few nursing positions you may want to consider:

Certified Clinical Nurse Leader

The role of a certified clinical nurse leader (CNL) is focused on improving patient outcomes and the quality of patient care. CNLs are certified by the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC)1 and are MSN-prepared nurses who take a collaborative approach to patient care. They work closely with the entire team of providers who are caring for any given patient, which may include physical therapists, speech therapists, physicians, home health aides and so on.

Through this collaborative model of care, CNLs can enhance communication and information-sharing among providers to ensure that patients are receiving the care they need. The work that CNLs do can also reduce the risk of medical errors, such as medication mistakes, and enhance patient outcomes. Sometimes, CNLs are also responsible for overseeing the management of internal hospital policies and care delivery systems.

CNLs may not always provide care directly to patients. Rather, they oversee and coordinate care for all patients within a particular nursing unit. CNLs direct patient care, but generally do not supervise other nurses.

Clinical Research Nurse

If you have a passion for advancing healthcare for a larger population of patients, then you might like to work in clinical research. One possible role is that of clinical research nurse. A clinical research nurse typically works in clinical research settings, such as teaching and research hospitals, which conduct clinical trials.

The role of a clinical research nurse is to serve as a liaison between the clinical researchers who design research trials and the patients who volunteer to participate in them. They are responsible for the following tasks:

  • Monitoring patient safety and ensuring that the clinical trial follows all pre-established safety protocols
  • Providing patient education, such as by explaining the research process and treatments to the patient participants, answering their questions and obtaining informed consent
  • Collecting patient data to allow the researchers to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the clinical trial

The work that clinical research nurses do plays a vital role in the development of new treatments and the advancement of disease prevention knowledge.

Public Health Nurse

Another role to consider outside of clinical settings is that of public health nurse (PHN). A PHN specializes in studying the health of an entire population, rather than individual patients, for the purpose of promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing diseases and injuries. In other words, PHNs focus on preventive wellness.

The work that PHNs do can have a multipronged effect. First, it can lead to new policies and regulations that promote health. Second, PHNs can serve as advocates for the health of the population they study. Third, their work fuels patient education initiatives.

A PHN may work on any number of issues. These can include the following:

  • Helping patients to understand that immunizations are safe, effective and save lives
  • Encouraging policymakers to create pathways for a more effective response to the opioid epidemic
  • Responding to disease outbreaks, such as by studying the origin of the outbreak and best practices for managing affected patients
  • Developing more effective smoking cessation/prevention programs and policies
  • Encouraging children to use proper protective equipment when playing contact sports

Become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) With Your MSN

An APRN is an RN who has advanced education and training in their chosen specialization. They have in-depth nursing knowledge, which they can apply to improve patient outcomes and enhance the quality of patient care. As of 2023, an RN who aspires to become an APRN needs to earn at least an MSN and successfully complete a certification in their chosen specialty to obtain an APRN credential.2

If you do decide to become an APRN, you’ll need to decide exactly which type of APRN credential best suits your career goals. There are four main types of APRNs:

  • Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
  • Nurse practitioner (NP)
  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM)
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)

Clinical Nurse Specialist

A CNS can choose to specialize in a particular patient population (such as pediatrics or adults) or a particular type of care (such as critical care). They can even specialize in a particular area of health, such as oncology, cardiac care or gynecology. Their in-depth knowledge in their area of specialization enables CNS providers to deliver evidence-based care and serve as advocates for their patients within the hospital unit.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners can assess, diagnose and treat diseases and injuries. There is a focus on preventive healthcare and health management. NPs can specialize in areas such as family nurse practice.

Certified Nurse Midwife

A certified nurse midwife specializes in delivering reproductive, gynecological and primary care to women throughout their lifespan. Their job tasks are wide-ranging, including everything from educating prospective mothers about their birthing options to monitoring prenatal health to providing postpartum healthcare and lactation assistance.

Given that the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among industrialized countries,3 there is a critical need for a higher quality of care in this area. If you choose to become a CNM, you could make it your life’s work to improve the quality of maternal healthcare and reduce preventable deaths.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

A CRNA specializes in administering anesthesia to surgical patients. They are responsible for evaluating the health of patients prior to operations, obtaining informed consent, administering the anesthetic drugs and monitoring the health of patients during and after surgeries. CRNAs may also manage conscious sedation and offer pain management options to patients giving birth.

What To Do With a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree

MSN-prepared nurses who want to advance their careers but desire to remain at the front of patient care may want to pursue a DNP degree. In the DNP program, you will be taught how to apply research-based principles to provide favorable outcomes for your patients. A DNP can open doors to more opportunities in nurse leadership, public health and clinical application.

No matter where your nursing career takes you, you can prepare for your future by earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Grand Canyon University. Our DNP degree can prepare nurses to step into leadership roles and pursue careers such as nurse educator and other advanced practice roles. Complete the form on this page to explore our graduate education opportunities, including our DNP degree and master’s in nursing degree options.


1 American Association of Colleges of Nursing (n.d.). CNL Certification. Retrieved on May 16, 2023.

2 Nurse Journal Staff (2023, March 22). Ask a Nurse: MSN Nurse Practitioner Programs Are Changing to DNP Programs by 2025. What Does This Mean for Me? Nurse Journal. Retrieved April 27, 2023.

3 Taylor, J., Bernstein, A., Waldrop, T., Smith-Ramakrishnan, V. (2022, March 2). The Worsening U.S. Maternal Health Crisis in Three Graphs. The Century Foundation. Retrieved on April 27, 2023.


Approved by the associate dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions on May 22, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.