How to Choose Your MSN Speciality in 3 Easy Steps

One of the best ways to take your nursing career to the next level is to get your master’s of science in nursing (MSN). The issue, however, is that you should have an idea of what that next level looks like before applying to graduate programs.

For some, the next level is moving into a managerial role where they can oversee the operations of a small practice or healthcare wing. Others want to serve patients as nurse practitioners or dive into nursing informatics or education. Yet it’s also quite common to have a foggy idea of what the next level looks like.

If the latter resonates with you, you’re in the right place. This blog reveals three easy steps to choose your MSN specialty.

Popular MSN Specialities

Before we dive into the three-step process, we should define what some of the most popular specialties are.

A master of science in nursing (MSN) is a two-year specialized degree that gives someone expertise in a particular area. Unlike an ADN or BSN program, an MSN is usually for one specialized area of nursing, such as family practice or nurse education.

Four of the most popular nursing specialties include:

  • Nursing Education: a degree to become a trainer and educational resource for other nurses
  • Nursing Administration: this specialty prepares students to work as nurse managers or as other leaders within the healthcare field.
  • Nursing Informatics: technology is becoming more engrained with nursing every day, and those with an MSN in this specialty are leaders in implementing and interpreting health informatic technologies.
  • Nurse Practitioner: to be eligible for the nurse practitioner license, someone must complete an MSN with NP licensure.

Within NP programs, there are often subspecialties, such as family, geriatric, and psychiatric/mental health. If you’re interested in becoming an NP, it’s important to note which concentration you’re most interested in pursuing.

Turn Inward

Before researching different career paths, take a look at what aspects of nursing resonate with you most. This reflection should encompass your strengths, passions, and career deal-breakers.

Write Your Nursing Strengths

To start, open a blank Google doc or take out a journal. Make sure you’re in a quiet environment where you won’t be disturbed. Once settled, it’s time to reflect on your nursing strengths, passions, and preferred work environment.

These could include:

  • Nursing hard skills you want to develop more, such as informatics or serving in a specific healthcare setting
  • Soft skills you’re proud of, like being an effective time manager or dealing well in fast-paced environments
  • Nursing passions, such as a serving in specific type of healthcare
  • Aspects you love about your current or past workplaces
  • Traits of an ideal work environment for you

You can also journal about what your ideal workday would look like. For example, if you want to provide more mentorship to other nurses, nursing education or administration may be a better fit than becoming an NP.

Define Dealbreakers

Along with your strengths and passions, get clear on what you don’t want. Dealbreakers can include:

  • Specialties or healthcare settings you don’t want to work in
  • Tasks you don’t want to spend as much time on, such as administrative work or directly serving patients
  • Unpreferred work types, such as an in-person job or shift work. For some, working a 9-5 schedule could also be a dealbreaker.
  • Not wanting to complete more clinical hours, which is a requirement for many NP programs
  • Looking for an MSN program that can be completed online

When brainstorming dealbreakers, write any that come to mind and determine if they correlate to specific specialties. For example, if a dealbreaker is sitting behind a computer all day, an MSN in informatics may not be the right fit.

Consider Pay, Demand, and Benefits

Along with looking at what lights you up internally, pay attention to the external benefits of different careers. Each MSN specialty leads to professions with a different average salaries and demand.

For the most popular specialties, the average annual pay is:

It’s important to note these numbers are national averages. In-demand fields and expected salaries differ from state to state and even city to city. Pay and demand aren’t everything, but they are important to consider before choosing a specialty.

Talk to Nurses in Each Speciality

Reading about specialties and talking to those who are already working in them provide different perceptions of the field. Both are important, yet many MSN hopefuls skip the latter.

Once you’ve narrowed down potential MSN specialties to two to four, talk with an MSN nurse who works in each. A one-on-one conversation over Zoom or at a cafe can reveal the best and worst parts of the job.

During these conversations, here are some questions to ask:

  • What is your favorite part of your job?
  • What do you wish you could change about your job?
  • Why did you choose this MSN specialty?
  • If you could go back and reapply for MSN programs, what would you change?
  • What were the best and worst parts of your MSN program?
  • What would be your advice to other nurses looking to specialize in the same field?

If you’re confused about where to find nurses to chat with, you can ask nursing friends if they know anyone with an MSN in a specific field. You can also search the staff on your current employer’s or a nearby healthcare system’s website or reach out to alumni from programs you’re considering.

Making the Final Decision

After you’ve reflected on your strengths and deal breakers, assessed the demand and salary potential, and conducted informational interviews with nurses in each specialty, it’s time to decide.

Hopefully, these three exercises provided you with enough data to choose a specialty. If not, talk to programs with each MSN type or see if you can shadow an MSN nurse in each specialty you’re considering.

Deciding on an MSN concentration is a big choice, and it’s not one you should rush. Take your time and enjoy learning more about yourself and the nursing field along the way.