Expanding Nurses’ Career Options: Masters’ Programs which combine Nursing with Health and Business Administration

Are you a nurse? Want to enhance your career, and earn more? A master's degree could be your answer — in fact, a graduate degree is essential for nurses who are considering a future senior administrative role. Is there a specific degree that is required? In a word, yes. The master's degree of choice for nurses, continues to be the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN); if you want to be able to apply for senior nursing administration jobs, including Chief Nursing Officer (CNO), the MSN is a must.

The MSN core curriculum typically includes courses such as nursing theory, nursing leadership, ethical issues, nursing informatics, nursing research, pathophysiology, and pharmacology. In addition, MSN programs offer students the opportunity to specialize, with many programs offering an administration track. For instance, the MSN program at the University of Texas at Austin offers a concentration in nursing administration and healthcare systems management, (along with nine other specialty areas). Another example is the MSN program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which offers a healthcare systems track, focusing on administration, the clinical nurse leader, education, informatics and outcomes management.

But what if you want to further expand your career possibilities? A fact worthy of emphasis is that the key skills that are required of today's nursing leaders are nursing skills combined with business skills. With that in mind, the good news is that there are a growing number of dual degree programs, such as Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Healthcare Administration (MSN/MHA) and Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Business Administration (MSN/MBA), which allow graduate nursing students to develop these two skills simultaneously. Students complete two degrees — a nursing degree (MSN) and a business-related degree (e.g. MHA, MBA) — at the same time. The dual MSN/MHA or MSN/MBA degree allows students to combine training in the traditional nursing topics outlined above, along with healthcare administration and business topics (e.g. healthcare finance, health economics, healthcare policy, organizational behavior, quality improvement, strategic planning).

One example of a dual degree program is the University of Phoenix dual MSN/MHA program, which allows students to combine the established nursing curriculum with healthcare business skills. Another example is the Johns Hopkins University dual MSN/MBA program, which teaches students how to "adapt business and nursing theory to discover financially, ethically, and medically sound healthcare solutions and contribute to public and private health policy."

It is worth noting that while graduates with a single MSN degree are typically restricted to nursing administration positions, a dual MSN/MHA or MSN/MBA allows nursing graduates to apply for non-nursing (as well as nursing administrative positions) within the healthcare sector (e.g. Chief Operating Officer, Chief Executive Officer).


The bottom line is this: if you have aspirations for a senior nursing role, you'll need an MSN. For maximum flexibility, and the opportunity to apply for healthcare administration jobs that are not nursing-specific, a dual MSN/MHA or MSN/MBA is a great choice.

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Clare Xanthos is a writer, editor and researcher residing in Marietta, GA. She holds a PhD in Social Policy from the London School of Economics, and is the author of numerous articles in the field of public health. She recently served as an editor for a groundbreaking book relating to social determinants of health.

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