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Master's Nursing Graduate Curriculum

By Kathleen Dracup updated on Friday, October 18, 2013

The nursing master's degree builds on the baccalaureate degree to enable the student to develop expertise in one area. That specialty can range from running a hospital to providing care for prematurely born babies, from researching the effectiveness of alternative therapies to tackling social and economic causes of health problems. It is an opportunity for the student who has assessed his or her personal career goals and matched them to individual, community, and industry needs. Students can a lot with their master's degree in nursing.

Nursing Graduate Program Structure and Expectations

Full-time nursing master's programs consist of 18 to 24 months of uninterrupted study. However, many graduate school students fit their master's-level studies around their work schedules, which can extend the time it takes to graduate.

Master's-level study incorporates theories and concepts of nursing science and their applications, along with the management of healthcare. Research provides a foundation for the improvement of healthcare techniques. Students also have the opportunity to develop the knowledge, leadership skills, and interpersonal skills that will enable them to improve the healthcare system.

Classroom and clinical work are involved throughout the nursing master's degree program. In class, students spend less time listening to lectures and taking notes and more time participating in student-and faculty-led seminars and roundtable discussions. Extended clinical work is generally required.

Nursing Master's Coursework and Specialization

Graduate-level education in many programs includes courses in statistics, research management, health economics, health policy, healthcare ethics, health promotion, nutrition, family planning, mental health, and the prevention of family and social violence.

When students begin to concentrate their study in their clinical areas, any number of courses that support their chosen specialty may be included. For example, a nurse wanting to specialize in pediatrics may take courses in child development.

A clinical nurse specialist can focus on acute care, geriatrics, adult health, community health, critical care, gerontology, rehabilitation, cardiovascular, surgical, oncology, maternity/newborn, pediatric, mental/psychiatric, and women's health nursing.

Areas of specialization in nurse practitioner programs include acute care, adult health, child care, community health, emergency care, geriatric care, neonatal health, occupational health, and primary care.

Nursing Graduate Program Admission Requirements

The admission requirements for master's programs in nursing vary greatly. Generally, a bachelor's degree from a school accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission and a state RN license are required. Scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT), college transcripts, letters of reference, and an essay are also typically required. Non-nurses and nurses with non-nursing degrees have special requirements.

It is important to remember that admissions officers look at a student's transcripts, clinical work, and letters of reference together. A low grade point average is not an automatic knockout — admissions officers are after a composite package. Also, some specialties require specific courses. Students in the nurse anesthetist program, for instance, must have taken an upper-level college course in biochemistry.

Other Nursing Graduate Options

Students may desire to continue their nursing education beyond a master's program and pursue a nursing Ph.D. or other type of nursing doctorate. Master's-level work is excellent preparation for work in doctoral programs, and a master's degree is often a requirement for admission into nursing Ph.D. programs.

Nursing Programs Offering a Master's Degree
About the Author

Dr. Kathleen Dracup (D.N.Sc adn RN) served as the Dean, School of Nursing, of the University of California, San Francisco, from 2001 through 2010.

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