What can I do with an MSN in Leadership?

What can I do with an MSN in Leadership?
What can I do with an MSN in Leadership?

Are you a nurse with a BSN who would like to advance your career into nursing leadership roles? If the answer is yes, learn more about how a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a leadership focus can help you achieve your goal. A master’s in nursing leadership can prepare you to take on one or more roles that suit your interests and contribute to the nursing profession—either in your workplace or the community at large. 

A master’s degree in leadership can open the door to many different opportunities. You may decide administrative leadership is something you might like, or you may prefer to maintain a clinical focus. Having MSN leadership skills available to you can make you valuable to your practice, healthcare facility or other organization.

What an MSN in Leadership Program Offers

An MSN program specializing in leadership prepares the learner to understand and act within various hierarchies, including staff management, interprofessional groups, hospital administration and other organizational systems. Coursework will incorporate elements of the following areas of study:

  • Policy development and implementation
  • Economics and business management
  • Quality improvement
  • Social, cultural and political factors affecting health care
  • Project management and data analysis

Depending on the specific role you accept, you may find you will use one or more of these knowledge areas daily as a nurse leader.

We’ve put together some ideas for paths you can pursue with a leadership-focused MSN. See if any of these roles align with your career plans.

Leading in Clinical Care

There are several roles for MSN Leadership-educated nurses in clinical care. For those who complete the program, clinical care and leadership responsibilities can be combined successfully, whether in a hospital setting, outpatient clinic or rural practice. Care management for patients and leadership in supervising personnel can be very rewarding.

This leadership role positions you to coordinate the activities of health professionals in terms of care delivery, plan-of-care assessment and patient outcomes. In addition, the nurse leader is responsible for consistency of care across all patient populations being served and the implementation of strategies to ensure professional standards and conduct. 

Leading as a Nurse Manager

Nurse managers oversee the day-to-day activities of a nursing staff in a hospital unit, as well as allied health professionals in their department. Because of their expertise in nursing best practices as well as business principles, nurse managers are responsible for executing the organization’s values and conveying its priorities to their staff. In turn, they hear from staff nurses about problems and issues that affect their ability to deliver the best patient care.

Nurse managers also develop and manage budgets, oversee supplies acquisition, evaluate staff performance, review quality metrics for their unit and make reports to administration.

Learn more about RUO's MSN-Leadership Program

Leading as a Nurse Administrator

Although the title sounds similar to nurse manager, a nurse administrator is usually responsible for more than one department in a hospital or other care facility. They make sure that nurses adhere to practice standards and complete their continuing education requirements. Nurse administrators also make hiring and firing decisions, and make or enact policy recommendations. And while it is not a patient-facing role, a nurse administrator must keep abreast of clinical developments to ensure their nursing staff is informed of new practice developments.

This role is one for which so-called “soft skills” are very valuable. Nurse administrators must be good communicators—they need to be able to motivate and support their staff, engage in critical thinking and problem solving, and manage patient complaints. 

A nurse administrator at a long-term care facility might also be responsible for the facility’s licensure with the state, care of the building and interactions with corporate owners. Nurse administrators may also play key roles in companies that provide such services as home health care or telehealth.

Leading as a Nurse Executive

In many organizations, the nurse executive is the most senior nurse leader. Sometimes known as the chief nursing executive (CNE) or chief nursing officer (CNO), this executive oversees all departments with nursing staff and manages their finances. The CNO may also be in charge of insurance reimbursements, regulation compliance and other operational requirements, such as information technology management.

The American Organization of Nurse Executives developed a report outlining the nurse executive’s core competencies. Here are a few examples: 

  • Build credibility with physicians as a champion for patient care
  • Represent nursing at medical executive committee and other departmental/medical staff committees
  • Determine current and future supply and demand for nurses to meet the care delivery needs
  • Understand regulation and payment issues that affect an organization’s finances 
  • Design feedback mechanisms by which to adapt practice based upon outcomes from current processes 
  • Identify areas of risk/liability

As with other leadership roles, a nurse executive must excel at communication, collaboration and change management. Understanding systems thinking and operating with interdisciplinary teams will be keys to success.

Leading in Nursing Education

Another way that a master’s-educated nurse leader can excel is by educating other nurses. This may be through a pre-licensure nursing program (depending on its faculty requirements) or at the hospital where you work. Becoming a staff education specialist allows you to keep nurses up to date on necessary treatments and nursing procedures. You might also take on the critical role of preceptor for nursing students in clinical rotations. 

Leading in Safety and Quality

No matter what title the nurse leader holds, their impact on quality and patient safety is substantial. Press Ganey, a firm that develops and analyzes health care surveys, delivered a special nursing report that analyzed the role of nurse engagement on patient safety and loyalty to a hospital or health system. “Research demonstrates that nurse engagement correlates directly with critical safety, quality, and patient experience outcomes, as do the quality of the nurse work environment, … and the effectiveness of nurse leaders and managers.” 

This analysis also links positive, productive nurse leadership with increased staff retention and fewer medical errors.

Leading in Clinical Research 

A clinical nurse researcher plays a vital role in ensuring that trial participants in clinical research studies are properly assessed and adhere to the study protocols. These professionals may work in research hospitals, academic medical centers, pharmaceutical companies, or public or private foundations.

The nurse researcher may also be involved in grant writing, working with research sponsors, maintaining records of the study to ensure adherence to U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines and much more.

Select an MSN Leadership Program that Transforms Your Career

To reach your leadership goals, you should choose an institution that brings together health care innovation and academic excellence. You will find that winning combination at Rockhurst University.

Rockhurst University offers an online Master of Science in Nursing Leadership program that allows you to study at a pace that works for you—either part-time or full-time. Online coursework covers evidence-based, advanced nursing practice coupled with leadership skills in business, policy, patient safety and advocacy for staff as well as patient-consumers. In addition, students will complete a set number of practicum hours to achieve their degree.

Offered through Saint Luke’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences and guided by Jesuit principles, Rockhurst University’s programs are accredited by the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Rockhurst is ranked among the Best Regional Universities and Best Value Schools in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. 

Become a nurse leader with Rockhurst’s online MSN in nursing leadership program.

Learn more about RUO's MSN-Leadership Program

About Rockhurst University's Online Programs

In the heart of Kansas City since 1910, Rockhurst University is dedicated to learning, leadership and service in the Jesuit tradition, and today is the #1 Regional University in Kansas City (2021 U.S. News and World Report).

Rockhurst University’s online programs are delivered by the highly reputable Saint Luke’s ™ College of Nursing and Health Sciences and the School of Education. As an educational leader serving exceptional students in the field of health care and education, we are committed to preparing the workforce of tomorrow with our unique programs designed to prepare graduates to meet the needs of diverse populations and work in various organizations.

To learn more about our highly competitive online programs, please visit onlinedegrees.rockhurst.edu, or read more here: