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MSN, MBA degrees prime nurses for leadership
Nurses pursue degrees that align with their goals
By Heather Stringer
After working in the ICU at a large hospital for 12 years, Stacey Ford, BSN, RN, was at a point in her career when she was ready for a change. Peers who were in the same position started moving to new roles in the post-anesthesia care unit, but Ford was interested in exploring jobs outside direct patient care.
Then she discovered a third option: the joint MSN-MBA program at Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif. The combined degree would allow her to pursue administrative jobs within a hospital or explore her entrepreneurial interests as an independent service provider to hospitals.

Early in 2016, she enrolled in the dual degree program at Holy Names University, where she will graduate in August.
Statistics suggest Ford is not alone in her desire to pursue more education during the middle stage of her career.
According to a survey
conducted by in 2016, 28% of nurses with an MSN degree are 30 to 44 years old, and 25% are 44 to 59 years old.

As nurses wrestle with decisions about which advanced degree to pursue, they should ask themselves “What is your passion and what do you want to learn?” said Michelle Metzger, MSN, MBA, RN, nursing department chair at Herzing University in Kenosha, Wis. “When I was trying to decide, I wanted the most well-rounded education in the shortest amount of time, so I decided to enroll in a joint MSN-MBA program, but some people just want one degree.”
“I saw people forging paths outside of direct patient care, and I was excited about possibilities like working as a nurse entrepreneur or as an administrator in nursing quality or nurse executive roles.”
— Stacey Ford, RN
She had always enjoyed managing projects and administrative details, which prompted her to attend an annual meeting for the National Nurses in Business Association in 2015. “That meeting opened up the world of healthcare for me,” said Ford, 49. “I saw people forging paths outside of direct patient care, and I was excited about possibilities like working as a nurse entrepreneur or as an administrator in nursing quality or nurse executive roles.”
At that point, Ford had several options to position herself for these types of jobs. She could pursue a master’s in business administration to expand her business skills in general, or a master’s degree in nursing administration to learn more about hospital operations and management.
MSNs offer career options
Kathleen White, RN
MSN programs allow nurses to specialize in a variety of different areas, and Metzger encourages nurses to enroll in these programs if they are interested in jobs such as a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist or nursing educator. Schools also may offer a nursing administration track within an MSN program, which covers everything from financial management to health law and ethics to theories of leadership.
These courses position nurses for jobs such as clinical coordinators, clinical managers, nursing departmental directors and directors of quality and safety, said Kathleen White, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, director of the master’s program at Johns Hopkins University. She also has seen graduates go on to work in state and federal government agencies, such as the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Drew Velasco, BSN, RN, first considered the possibility of enrolling in an MSN program when she was earning her bachelor’s in nursing at Herzing University. The school offered a dual enrollment program that would allow her to take master’s level classes as an undergraduate student, and she could earn both degrees in four and a half years. Velasco was interested in the family nurse practitioner concentration because she is passionate about including more mental healthcare in family medicine.
“When people come in for routine exams, I’d like to be able to assess them not just physically but also emotionally and mentally,” said Velasco, who works part time at a correctional facility where see has seen significant unmet mental health needs among inmates.
Explore the business angle
Daryl Cronin, RN
Daryl Cronin, RN, a staff nurse at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, began considering further schooling after he’d worked as a nurse for 14 years. He wanted to apply for higher level leadership roles, but he felt he needed more business training to do the job well. His natural affinity for finance and business had surfaced when he owned and managed property, and he had studied economics as an undergraduate. Cronin, 42, decided to enroll in the online MBA program at George Washington University in the fall of 2017, and he hopes to graduate in 2019.

Cronin is not sure how he will leverage his new business skills, but he’s open to possibilities like helping physicians set up their own practices or entrepreneurial ventures that combine his interests in nursing and social responsibility.
Nurses in the George Washington University Health Care MBA program learn about financial accounting, marketing and business development, human resources, leadership, and other important areas of expertise.
“Medicine is no longer just a practice," said James Bailey, PhD, a professor of management for the program. “It’s a business, and the nurses in the program learn how to think about business issues like increasing the volume of patients in a hospital, cost distribution, hiring and retaining talent and making unbiased decisions."
Bailey, who has been teaching business classes for 20 years, has noticed individuals with a medical background often are among the top students in each class. “They are the ones who are never late, stay organized and turn in high-quality work,” Bailey said. “My guess is that they have a skill in taking complex material and organizing it because that is what they do for a living.”
Take a combined approach
Edith Jenkins-Weinrub, MSN
For nurses who are seeking leadership roles at corporate and executive levels, the combined MBA and master’s in nursing administration is ideal, said Metzger, who originally planned to move up the ranks to a hospital CEO position.
“Nursing was my passion, so I wanted the MSN degree,” she said. “But I wanted to combine this with an MBA to understand the financial side of the business, like balance sheets and how to set up a budget. I learned how everything comes down to understanding the costs of what you do.”
Metzger graduated with her dual degree from Holy Names University in 2013, receiving training that was invaluable when she started working as an assistant nurse manager at Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin. As the unit was preparing to expand, she relied on her new budgeting skills to decide whether it was financially viable to hire additional nurses.

Positioning nurses for situations like this is the reason Holy Names University launched the MSN-MBA program, said Edith Jenkins-Weinrub, MSN, EdD, dean of the school of nursing, health and natural sciences. Jenkins-Weinrub had limited business training when she started working in hospital leadership positions, and learning on the job was difficult. “I saw nurses being passed over for leadership roles because they lacked business training, or they were thrust into situations where they weren’t properly prepared for the job,” she said.
Now she is seeing graduates of the program thrive in roles as directors or nurse executives in large healthcare systems, or as deans of universities. “To really be successful in leadership roles like these, nurses need to speak the financial language,” Jenkins-Weinrub said. “An advanced education can give them the knowledge they need to join and influence the conversations at these high levels.”
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Heather Stringer is a freelance writer.
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