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Grad Program: Nursing

Basic Information

At the graduate level, nursing students engage in the advanced study of a health-related area, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, surgery, and healthcare policy. Graduate prepared nurses, also known as advanced practice nurses, typically return to the field as Nurse Practitioners (NP) or Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS), although some also work as administrators, teachers, or consultants. Master degree programs in nursing prepare students for advanced practice in a variety of health care agencies, hospitals, and programs.

For the most part, graduate students in nursing are practicing, licensed nurses looking to gain managerial skills, focus their careers, or increase their scope of practice. A few graduate schools also offer a Master's Entry Program in Nursing, a three-year master's program for students who already hold an undergraduate degree in another subject and who would like to pursue an advanced degree in clinical nursing.

Most nursing programs require students to select a field of specialization upon entry into the program. After graduation, nurses will be trained to practice in that specialty as a primary care provider. Typically, specialties are offered in one of the following general categories: Family Health Care Nursing, Community Health Systems, Adult and Elderly Nursing, Psychological Nursing, and Health Care Systems Administration. Within these specialties nurses focus more specifically on a field such as pediatrics or nurse/midwife.

Ph.D. programs in nursing are more scholarly. Ph.D. students are generally researchers who, through their studies and after graduation, contribute to the science of nursing through research.

Degree Information

Most students will earn a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.). Joint-degree programs are possible. One of the more common joint degrees is a Master of Science in Nursing and Master of Public Health (M.S.N./M.P.H.). Doctoral students earn a Ph.D.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • What types of nursing specialties are offered?
  • What hospitals and clinical facilities are affiliated with the school?
  • Is the hospital urban, suburban, or rural?
  • How does the school/hospital setting influence the types of patient populations you will be exposed to?
  • Can students work while they are completing the degree? Does the school offer part time programs for practicing nurses?
  • How many hours of clinical experience does the program require?

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