March 22, 2023
MBA vs MSN: How to Choose the Right Degree for You

As a nurse, you play a pivotal role in the health and well-being of every community that you touch, and no matter what level of education or experience you’ve attained in your career you should take great pride in your accomplishments. 

At some point, you may consider investing in yourself further and advancing your education as a nurse. There are plenty of options available to you, and two of the most popular are pursuing either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA). But how do you decide which is right for you?

Both are nursing master’s degrees that offer significant opportunities, but each offers extremely different future career paths. In this article, we’ll provide the information you need to better understand each path so you can determine which is the best choice for you.

Part One MSN vs MBA

Let’s start with the basics. What’s an MBA? What’s an MSN? And how exactly are they different?

What is an MSN? 

MSN stands for Master of Science in Nursing. It’s a degree that can advance a nurse’s skills and understanding from both a clinical perspective and a leadership perspective. 

Nurses that earn their MSN complete core nursing classes as well as courses in a chosen specialty. Those specialties can be chosen based upon a wide range of interests and future roles, including becoming an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse/Nurse Practitioner in a clinical area like orthopedics, pediatrics, cardiology, or gerontology, or can guide the individual nurse into a non-clinical role via an MSN in Nursing leadership and administration or an MSN in nursing education

MSN-degreed nurses are offered higher compensation levels and greater opportunities than RNs with BSN degrees, and have the ability to work more independently, to prescribe medications, to diagnose conditions and even to run clinics and medical practices. 

What is an MBA? 

MBA stands for Master of Business Administration, and though the area of study in business may feel a world away from your nursing duties, an MBA provides insight and understanding of where caring and business intersect. 

Nurses that have earned an MBA engage with high-level problem-solving to help their facilities improve in many different ways. 

  1. They gain an understanding of how medical facilities function as businesses and why certain financial decisions are made.
  2. They strengthen their management and leadership skills and are prepared to take on leadership roles in both nursing and in administrative roles. 
  3. MBA-degreed nurses earn higher salaries and receive high levels of respect from healthcare professionals, business leaders, and patients alike. 

What’s the Difference Between an MSN and an MBA?

If you’re not entirely sure whether an MSN or an MBA is more appropriate for you, the question is best answered by thinking about your career goals and the work environment and job responsibilities you want to have.

  1. Both degrees can lead to a management position and higher compensation, but if you want to remain in clinical practice but with a greater degree of expertise, autonomy, and responsibility, or if you want to teach other nurses about the clinical side of the career, then an MSN is most appropriate. 
  2. However, if you want to move away from the patient side of care to focus on business outcomes and operational strategies, an MBA is probably your best bet. 

But we’ll dig into each of these degree options in greater depth, just keep reading!

Part Two MBA in Healthcare Administration

After dedicating yourself to becoming a nurse, pursuing a business degree may seem like you’re turning your back on healthcare. But the truth is, there’s a straight line from clinical practice to management, but nursing programs rarely address the business side of healthcare. 

Understanding the drivers and challenges of the business side will give you a greater understanding of why things are done the way that they are, and how they can be improved. 

Combining your first-hand knowledge of patient care with a higher-level understanding of the organizational, staffing, policy, and financial sides will make you invaluable to any organization you work with and will give you a significant advantage if you choose to start your own practice or health-related business. 

Show Me Healthcare Administration Programs

Though there are many different types of MBA programs, the MBA in Healthcare Administration offers the curriculum that is most appropriate for nurses. 

How Long is an MBA in Healthcare Administration?

Earning this degree generally takes between 12 months and three years, depending upon which program you choose and whether you opt for a full-time or part-time program. 

What Can Nurses Do with an MBA?

An MBA degree helps nurses to become innovative leaders and managers, arming them with high-level insights into the complexities and challenges involved in the business of health. MBA in Healthcare 

What Will You Learn in a Healthcare Administration MBA Program?

Administration programs offer health-specific learning that equips graduates with the ability to inspire change and create lasting value for the organizations for which they work. 

Students can expect to take the following courses as part of the curriculum, 

  • Accounting for Leaders
  • Accreditation Audit
  • Decision-Making for Managers
  • Ethical Leadership
  • Financial Management
  • Global Economics for Managers
  • Managing Organizations
  • Marketing
  • Operations Management

Career Outlook for Nurses With an MBA

The healthcare industry is growing exponentially, and healthcare facilities need professionals with insights specific to both their particular organizational challenges and the everyday functions performed on behalf of consumers and patients. Nurses who have earned their MBA in Healthcare Administration will be increasingly important and in demand. 

Careers for Nurses with an MBA in Healthcare Administration

An MBA in Healthcare Administration gives nurses a lot more options for career growth. No longer restricted to clinical care, a nurse with an MBA has the advantage of strong management and leadership capabilities.

Some of the jobs a nurse with an MBA can hold are:

  1. Nurse Manager: Supervises healthcare staff and nurses and plays a critical role in the outcomes of the department and the organization
  2. Nurse Administrator: Responsible for the management of patient care within a healthcare organization
  3. Healthcare Manager: Responsible for the operations of organizations ranging from multi-facility healthcare systems to small practices, including insurance companies and others serving the healthcare industry
  4. Health Information Manager: Responsible for the security and accuracy of a facilities information management
  5. Director of Nursing: Managing care for all patients seen by a healthcare institution and supervising relations and communication between patients and staff
  6. Chief Nursing Officer: Responsible for improving patient care as one of the organization’s corporate executives
  7. Chief Financial Officer: Responsible for managing and overseeing operating costs for the healthcare facility
  8. Chief Operating Officer: Responsible for all business operations
  9. Chief Executive Officer: Responsible for the most critical decisions made by the business as well as the management and operations of all resources for the organization 

Where Can Nurses With an MBA Work? 

Nurses who have earned an MBA in Healthcare Administration are highly valued for their combination of business knowledge and clinical experience.

They are in high demand in companies and public sector industries that provide medical services, insurance companies, suppliers of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, and healthcare facility administration. 

The opportunities within these organizations range from administration to project management to creating policy and may also include research. 

Additionally, Nurses who have an MBA in Healthcare Administration will be well prepared for taking on the challenges of running their own businesses, whether that is a medical practice or a business providing medical services. 

Is an MBA Degree a Good Choice for You? 

It might be! If you’re a nurse with critical thinking and problem-solving abilities and are interested in moving into leadership and management, an MBA could be the right career move.

Not only will the curriculum inspire and prepare you for a leadership position in a field with unlimited growth potential, but it will also open new opportunities within your existing career and make you eligible for promotions, greater responsibilities, and significantly higher compensation. 

Part Three Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) 

For nurses who want to pursue graduate work to advance their careers, a Master of Science in Nursing degree offers options and opportunities in the clinical realm, education, informatics, and in administration. 

How Long is an MSN Program?

These programs typically take two years to complete if pursued on a full-time basis, though if a nurse chooses to continue working while taking classes part-time it can take up to five years. 

>> Find MSN Programs Accepting Applications Now

Careers for Nurses with an MSN Degree

There are multiple career paths and areas of study for which MSN degrees are available. They include: 

  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) 
  • MSN in Public Health Nurses with an MSN in Public Health frequently work in the public sector for federal, state or local government agencies. Their work focuses on healthcare policy and community health.
  • MSN in Nursing Education 
    • Nurse Educators work in both hospital and academic settings providing clinical and classroom education to nursing students. They also conduct research. 
  • MSN in Nursing Informatics 
    • Medical informatics has revolutionized the healthcare field, and nursing informatics combines the information and knowledge of the nursing profession with state-of-the-art technology to improve the delivery of nursing care and patient health. Nurses with this degree frequently work in large hospitals, clinics, government agencies and academic institutions 
  • MSN in Nurse Leadership or Healthcare Administration 
    • This MSN degree prepares nurses to take on leadership or executive roles within healthcare organizations, combining the clinical side of nursing with knowledge about health administration and organization. The degree prepares nurses to work in hospital settings, clinics, nursing homes and private practices as well as in corporate settings for organizations that provide healthcare equipment or services, including insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

Is an MSN Degree a Good Choice for You?

By earning an MSN degree in any of these areas, not only will you be better able to care for your patients and specialize in an area that is of particular interest to you, but MSN-degreed nurses are in high demand. 

MSN-degreed nurses typically earn salaries that are significantly higher than those of BSN-degreed nurses and are the first to be considered for promotion.

Additionally, changing attitudes about the role of nurses in our healthcare system has led many hospitals to require nurses to have advanced degrees. 

Part Four The MSN/MBA Dual Degree 

As an alternative to pursuing either an MSN or an MBA, nurses who wish to expand their clinical nursing background into business and healthcare administration can opt for a hybrid MSN/MBA program. 

What is an MSN/MBA?

An MSN/MBA dual degree prepares you for a career in health services leadership and management and confers both a Master of Science in Nursing with a leadership and management specialty and a Master of Business Administration degree. 

How Long Does it Take to Complete?

Programs require approximately 72 credits of required coursework and can be completed in two years full-time. Part-time studies may take as long as seven years. 

What Can You Do With an MSN/MBA Dual Degree?

Though these programs are rigorous, graduates are positioned to become true leaders within a healthcare system, able to apply advanced business solutions to complex issues and to make senior management-level decisions on topics as wide-ranging as strategic planning, staffing, and governance. 

With an MSN/MBA dual degree, you will be prepared to lead a medical facility as a chief nursing officer, to work as a consultant, to work within the marketing or finance of a health organization, and more. 

Part Five How to Decide Whether an MSN or an MBA Degree is Right for You 

By now you’ve learned that both the MSN and MBA degrees have their merits. But unless you're going for the dual degree option, you’re going to need to choose between them. In short here’s how to determine which one is right for you.

Which Nursing Masters Degree is Right For You?

MSN Degree

MBA in Healthcare Administration Degree

If you want to teach clinical nursing, manage other nurses, or continue to provide hands-on care, choose an MSN.

An MSN degree will give you the education and knowledge you need to teach and lead the next generation of nurses and to provide nursing care with a greater degree of autonomy and responsibility.

If you want to work in the business side of healthcare, choose an MBA

An MBA in Healthcare Administration will build on your clinical expertise and provide you with insight into business and finance that you need to move into a leadership position. Though many MSN programs teach leadership, an MBA is more commonly viewed as a necessity by many executives leading healthcare organizations.

Part Six Masters in Nursing Resources

Whichever path you decide to take, is here for you! Check out these other master's degree resources for more information on each degree:

  1. MBA in Healthcare Management Degree Guide
  2. Master in Healthcare Administration (MHA) Degree Guide
  3. How to Become a Healthcare Administrator
  4. MSN Degree Guide
  5. The Ultimate List of Masters Degrees in Nursing
  6. Was My Master's Degree in Nursing With It?

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