Types of MSN Specialties - Which One is Right for You?

Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

So, you have been thinking about leaving bedside nursing, but you are just not sure what you want to do. Do you keep debating if you want to pursue an advance practice degree like a nurse practitioner, or do you want to take on a non-clinical role like a nurse educator? There are so many MSN specialties out there to choose from, but how do you choose an MSN specialty track that is right for you? In the article ahead, I will show you some of the most popular MSN degrees along with their key points and what your earning potential could be in these careers. The information provided below will give you the insight you need to choose a track that is best for you.

How Many Types of MSN Degree Specialties are Currently Being Offered?

There are many different types of MSN specialties currently being offered. MSN specialization can be further divided into advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) specialties such as nurse practitioners and non-advanced practice registered nurse (Non-APRN) specialties such as a nurse educator. Regardless if you choose the path of APRN or Non-APRN, each MSN degree has their own uniqueness about them. Below you will find a list of all the major APRN and NON-APRN MSN degree specializations.

APRN Specializations
1 Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP)
2 Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
3 Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
4 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
5 Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
6 Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
7 Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
8 Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP)
9 Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP)
10 Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
11 Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
Non-APRN Specializations
1 Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)
2 Nursing Executive/Administrator
3 Nurse Educator
4 Nurse Researcher
5 Public Health Nursing
6 Nursing Informatics

In-Depth Look at The Different Types of MSN Specialties

There are a total of 17 major types of MSN specialties. Below you will see what each one of these MSN specialties is about and how they are utilized in the healthcare world.

1. MSN-Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP)

The Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner track will enable you to care for patients from adolescents to the advanced age population. As an AGACNP, you will have the authority to assess, diagnoses, order diagnostic tests and treatments, as well as order prescriptions. Some of the settings you may find yourself working in are the inpatient setting, such as in critical care or acute care, specialty clinics, and emergency rooms, to name a few.

2. MSN-Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)

The MSN specialty of an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner can work in many settings. Some examples of settings you will find yourself working in are a primary care physician’s office, home health, and long-term care facilities. You will be caring for the adolescent patient to the advanced age patient. Your primary role will be to manage chronic health conditions and health promotion activities and behaviors. You will have the authority to assess, diagnose, and treat this patient population.

3. MSN-Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

The Certified Nurse Midwife is an MSN specialty track that has not only trained to work with the pregnant woman; they are also trained to care for women from adolescents to the aged population. The CNM will assess, diagnose, and treat their patients in a variety of settings such as clinics and in-patient units. Some of their responsibilities will include well patient annual women’s health visits, family planning, gynecological services, care during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum.

4. MSN-Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

The MSN specialty of Certified Nurse Anesthetist will find you providing anesthesia to patients in collaboration with a physician. You will be caring for your patients pre-procedure, during the procedure, and after the procedure. You may also find yourself working as part of a pain management team. It will be your responsibility as the CRNA to develop a safe and effective anesthesia and pain plan. The CRNA is utilized in many settings where anesthesia is delivered.

5. MSN-Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

The Clinical Nurse Specialist is seen as an expert within their field of nursing. The type of CNS you are will be defined by many things such as the population you work with, the setting you are in, the specialty you work in, the type of work you do, and the type of care you deliver. The CNS will serve as a clinical expert and serves as a consulting role. You will be providing support to the bedside nurse as well as instituting any evidence-based practice guidelines and changes.

6. MSN-Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

The Family Nurse Practitioner is an MSN specialty that cares for patients across the lifespan. Their role will be to assess diagnose and treat patients in many different settings. Some examples of settings you may find yourself working in as an FNP is in primary care or an inpatient hospital unit. Some FNPs may choose to work in specialty areas such as Oncology or Cardialgy. Depending on the specialty, additional education and training may be required.

7. MSN-Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)

The Neonatal nurse practitioner cares for babies. You may find yourself caring for the healthy newborn or the critically ill baby. This type of advanced practice nurse assumes total care of the patient from their assessment to their treatment. The NNP does not just work in NICUs; they can also be found in delivery rooms, specialty clinics, and emergency rooms.

8. MSN-Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP)

The Pediatric acute care nurse practitioner is a type of APRN-MSN specialty, where you will be trained to care for the pediatric patient from birth to the young adolescent. You will be assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients in settings such as critical care units, ambulatory care, emergency rooms, and inpatient units. The types of patients you will be caring for will have chronic illness, complex illness, and those who are requiring acute care.

9. MSN-Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP)

The pediatric Primary Care Nurse practitioner specializes in caring for the pediatric population. As an MSN-PPCNP, you will serve as the primary care provider offering assessment, diagnoses, and the treatment of children with acute and chronic illnesses and injuries. You will also provide families and patients with health promotion and health maintenance education.

10. MSN-Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

The MSN specialty of PMHNP is to treat the mental health needs of those across the lifespan. As a PMHNP you will assist in the diagnosing and treatment of patients with psychiatric disorders, not medical disorders. As a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, you would be providing your services in many settings such as hospitals, community health centers, and schools, to name a few.

11. MSN-Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)

The Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner provides care to women throughout the life span. Your primary focus as an MSN in this specialty will center around reproductive, obstetric, and gynecological care for your patient. You will provide a diagnosis and treatment to those seeking care. You will also focus on preventative care and maintenance for your patients.

12. MSN-Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)

As an MSN-clinical nurse leader, your main focus will be analyzing the health care system and improving it in order to improve patient outcomes. As a CNL, you will still provide hands-on care to your patients but not in the advanced practice role. Some examples of focus areas of the CNL are quality improvement, outcome measurement, transition of care, and risk assessment, to name a few.

13. MSN-Nursing Executive/Administrator

A Nurse Executive/Administrator is a non-clinical advance role. In this role, you will manage a team of nurses and or other health care team members. Some nursing executive/administrators will serve as the unit manager or may even be in a more expanded leadership role.

14. MSN-Nurse Educator

The role of the Nurse educator is one that can be utilized within a health care institution or an educational institution. Your primary role as an MSN-nurse educator is to assess the educational needs of your audience. Once you have assessed the needs, your primary focus will shift to implementing an education program and evaluating if a need still exists. You may be delivering education to students in a nursing program or to those who are already in practice.

15. MSN-Nurse Researcher

If you choose the MSN-Nurse researcher track, you will find yourself implementing and conducting nursing research in order to improve the health care setting. As a nurse researcher, you can work in different settings, such as in a healthcare facility, for private companies, or in a university. The outcomes that are achieved from nursing research will help to guide evidence-based practice guidelines.

16. MSN-Public Health Nursing

The duties that you will find yourself charged with if you choose a career in public health at the masters level are monitoring and studying health trends, analyzing health risk factors, and educating the community on any health disparities you identify. One other important role you will have is implementing community-based programs to educate patients and the community on topics that could have a positive benefit on health.

17. MSN-Nursing Informatics

Nursing Informatics is a field that incorporates your skills as a nurse with computers and information science in order to create systems that will improve patient outcomes. As an MSN working in informatics, some of your responsibilities will include the security of systems, analyzing trends and errors to improve patient outcomes, and training nurses to use these systems.

Earning Potential for Different Types of MSN Specialties

Each MSN specialty will come with a different earning potential. Generally speaking, those MSN specialties that come with a higher degree of responsibility will also come with a greater earning potential. However, there are a few exceptions here and there. When trying to decide which career path is right for you, the amount of earning potential will play a role in your decision making. Below is a list of the MSN degrees discussed and what you could expect to be making hourly and yearly.

APRN Specializations Per Hour Per Year
1 Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP) $50.82 $105,713
2 Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP) $53.07 $110,393
3 Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) $47.60 $99,015
4 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) $81.17 $168,836
5 Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) $50.83 $105,718
6 Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) $51.89 $107,925
7 Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) $53.56 $111,408
8 Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP) $49.59 $103,138
9 Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP) $54.43 $113,210
10 Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) $54.29 $112,928
11 Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) $48.81 $101,527
Non-APRN Specializations Per Hour Per Year
1 Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) $50.01 $104,024
2 Nursing Executive/Administrator $37.86 $78,754
3 Nurse Educator $41.99 $87,332
4 Nurse Researcher $38.32 $79,696
5 Public Health Nursing $34.53 $71,829
6 Nursing Informatics $42.78 $88,980
(Source: ziprecruiter.com)

How to Choose Your MSN Specialty Track?

Choosing an MSN specialty track is not a light decision. One of the most important things to ask yourself is, what am I interested in? You want to choose a career that you know you will enjoy. Another aspect of choosing a track is looking at the length of the program and the program’s admission and graduation requirements. Knowing the job market for the MSN specialty track you choose is also very important. You want to ensure that you will have a job after your training. Work-life balance is another important aspect to consider. Knowing what your job requirements and expectations are is something that you should investigate before starting your education in a particular area of study. As discussed earlier, the specialty track's earning potential is another important attribute to a job and may entice you on deciding which career is right for you. There really is a lot to consider, but hey, going back to school is a big decision.

Summing It Up

So, as you can see, there are many MSN specialties to choose from. MSN specialization can be in the form of an APRN and a Non-APRN. Choosing which one is right for you can be a challenging decision, but it does not have to be. Now that you have had an in-depth look at the different specialties and have some great tips on what to consider when choosing your specialty, you should be able to make a solid and sound decision about your future. Ultimately you will have to do what makes the most sense to you and what you know will make you happy.

Top Questions Answered by Our Expert

What are the Requirements to Apply for an MSN Program?

If you choose to pursue a more advanced degree and earn your MSN, you will have to meet certain requirements to apply. You must first be an RN and hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from an accredited institution. Each university and specialty can also set its own requirements such as undergraduate level courses that must be successfully completed, a certain GPA in your undergraduate course work, years worked at the bedside in a particular type of care, and student interview and essay.

Can I Change My MSN-Specialty Midway Through the Program?

You will most likely be able to change your MSN specialty midway through a program, but you must realize that this may cause you to incur longer coursework and further expenses. It is best to clarify with your educational institution regarding a change in your MSN track since they will have the final decision.

APRN Specialties vs. NON-APRN Specialties: What’s the Difference?

The APRN specialty is an advanced practice degree. This essentially means that you, as the APRN have the education and requirements to work as a higher-level health care provider in the clinical environment. The Non-APRN degree is not an advanced practice degree, meaning that you do not serve the provider role. You will tend to work in a non-clinical role.

Which MSN Specialty is the Highest Paid?

The MSN specialty that is paid the highest is the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. This MSN specialty degree is mainly procedural based and comes with a great deal of risk. Sure, they make a lot of money, but they have a lot of responsibility for it.

Which MSN Specialty Offers the Best Career Opportunities?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse practitioners, Nurse midwives, and Nurse anesthetists are expected to grow by 45% by 2029. This growth is much faster than other specialties making these career choices the best career opportunity.

Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.