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What are the Best Degree Options for Nursing Leadership?

While there are many paths available for the pursuit of a career in nurse leadership, ultimately, the best road to securing a career as a nurse leader is to obtain a master of science in nursing with a focus in clinical nurse leadership. This enables nursing students to go straight to the pinnacle of professional patient care.

Nursing Leadership Degrees Provide Career Focus

Nurses play a meaningful role in health care. They are responsible for essential tasks that include not just patient care but also operations oversight, finance and budget, and recordkeeping. While nurses of all qualifications have obligations relative to these roles, only nurses with advanced degrees such as a master of science in nursing (MSN) have the clearest path for advancement and leadership opportunities.

Understanding Nurse Education
Given the variety of degree options available, prospective graduate nursing students may find themselves overwhelmed when contemplating a master’s-level program. It is not always clear what degree program focus leads to what nursing career outcomes. For example, would a degree focused in nurse education facilitate a profession in nurse management? Would any MSN be substantial enough for one to pursue all of one’s professional goals? Below you will find answers to these questions and more.

Top Nurse Leadership Degrees
While an MSN in any concentration is going to be beneficial for nurses looking to advance in their careers, there are differences in the opportunities afforded by the various nurse leadership degree options. Top nurse leadership degree options include:

  • Nurse Manager/Administrator – Nurse managers/administrators are tasked with managing personnel, resources, and overall patient care. They may be responsible for one or more units, and specific responsibilities may include budgeting, establishing standards and guidelines of care, and employee training.
    • Becoming a nurse manager/administrator requires earning at least a BSN. Most hold a master’s degree in health administration or nursing. Although there is no mandatory certification, many choose to obtain a voluntary certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
  • Nurse Educator – Though nurse educators may have practical experience at the bedside caring for patients, their primary role is in the classroom preparing future generations of nurse leaders. Nurse educators often cross into nurse research as well.
    • Becoming a nurse educator means earning a BSN, MSN, and sometimes a PhD in addition to passing requisite licensing and organizational examinations.
  • Nurse Practitioner – Nurse practitioners can be qualified to provide services in several health care areas such as mental, women’s, or children’s health. Nurse practitioners assume a great deal of independence in their work as they are qualified to diagnose ailments and prescribe treatments.
    • Becoming a nurse practitioner means earning a BSN, an MSN, and passing requisite licensing and organizational examinations to qualify as a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner (CRNP).  
  • Nurse Case Manager – In addition to working with patients, nurse case managers focus specifically on a particular population in providing a continuum of care. Both assessment and monitoring are integral in case manager roles.
    • Becoming a nurse case manager means earning a BSN, MSN, and passing requisite licensing and organizational examinations.
  • Clinical Nurse Leader – Clinical nurse leaders (CNL) have a significant level of oversight in a health care setting. They work with all medical team members to oversee patient care. CNLs implement current research as well as medical and technological innovations into the care they provide.
    • Becoming a clinical nurse leader means earning a BSN, MSN, and passing requisite licensing and certifying (Commission on Nursing Certifications clinical nurse leader certification exam) examinations. 

The Pitfalls of Acquiring Specialized Degrees
There are over one hundred master’s concentrations available for nurses in various medical and leadership specialties such as gerontology, mental health or midwifery. Given that, some pursue courses of study that provide a central concentration targeted toward one or two career options. However, while a graduate may have an advanced degree, there can be limitations if the degree does not lend itself to advancement beyond a certain point or beyond a specific medical specialization. Nurses looking to advance to leadership roles within their organizations may find their opportunities limited. Oftentimes, these nurses need to return to school to pursue a separate advanced degree in leadership to pursue their career goals.

Criteria for Selecting a Nurse Leadership Degree Focus
When selecting an MSN concentration, nursing students should ultimately select a leadership degree focus that suits their professional goals and interests. Students should also consider that some degrees are more limiting in professional growth than others. For example, a student who pursues a degree as nurse educator may not have the same professional credentials as one who pursues a degree as a clinical nurse leader as CNLs have command over the following:

  • Patient care, including risk assessment
  • Patient documents, data, and records
  • Utilization of research and technology
  • Collaborative relationships centralized around patient-care

When selecting an MSN degree focus, consider everything including current and future career goals, workplace environment interests, patient population desires, and compensation. Nurses who choose a graduate education with a holistic curriculum have a greater likelihood of success in nurse leadership positions. The Queens University of Charlotte online Master of Science in Nursing program offers a clinical nurse leader focus. With a comprehensive curriculum that includes policy, research methods and clinical management, graduates of Queens’ MSN program are given the tools to provide better patient care while becoming leaders in their organization. For more information about Queens University of Charlotte and the online Clinical Nurse Leader MSN program, call us at 866-313-2356, or visit this page.