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Today’s nursing master’s programs have increased the amount of clinical practice required by students so that graduates enter the job market ready for certification. There is also a greater emphasis on applying new research findings to methods of patient care. This might involve students’ reading literature about new treatments and then incorporating the appropriate changes.

The impact of managed care in nursing graduate school

All master’s program candidates should consider courses in cost-benefit analysis. As managed-care systems become more predominant in the industry, health-care workers will be asked to justify the expense of each treatment, as well as its effectiveness. This leads to the crucial issue of quality. There will always be a strong effort to minimize costs in every health-care procedure, but that cannot compromise the quality of care. It’s safe to say that discharging a newborn too soon from a hospital due to shortsightedness can be quite costly.

Depending on the specialty, nursing master’s candidates entering the job market may be expected to oversee auxiliary-care providers, such as nurse aides or other unlicensed employees. They may work in a team structure, and in this capacity, the nurse specialist may be expected to manage, motivate, and steer the group. This requires team-building and other management techniques.

Opportunities for those with nursing graduate degrees

While everyone in the health-care facility will have a part in ensuring patient satisfaction, nurses—particularly advanced practice nurses—will shoulder a great deal of this load. Developing interpersonal and communication skills and having an understanding of human behavior will make it easier for the advanced practice nurse to help patients to understand modern health-care procedures, which will no doubt improve their feelings of satisfaction.

Nurses at all levels should be aware of the need for flexibility. Many health-care organizations are reducing the number of beds in hospitals and transferring the care of a growing number of patients to other types of facilities or settings. In light of this trend, it’s best for the master’s program student to gain experience in a variety of settings, including homes, clinics, and community-based facilities.

The demand for high-quality care will continue to grow. Medical innovations and technological advances will continue. The quality and effectiveness of health care will continue to improve, and nurses with graduate degrees — nursing master’s degree or nursing Ph.D. — will play an active role in this trend.

Hot employment spots

The health-care industry has undergone such radical transformation in the last five years that administrators feel they cannot predict whether any one geographic region will have more hirings than another. Generally, nurses with a nursing master’s degree or nursing doctorate will be in demand in all regions of the country, in both the United States and Canada.

Industry trends indicate that, along with continuing opportunities in hospitals, more and more nurses will also work outside the hospital in outpatient clinics and community settings—and even in businesses. As patients spend less time in hospitals, the need grows for nurse specialists to oversee home-care settings and ensure that the quality of care is high. In this vein, some nurses are taking the initiative and running their own businesses as health-care providers, offering services as they see fit in whatever locations are appropriate.

By Kathleen Dracup, D.N.Sc, RN, Professor and Dean, School of Nursing, University of California, San Francisco