MSN Degree vs MBA Which is Best?

Created by Henry Steele

By Henry Steele - June 15, 2018
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Reading Time: 7 minutes

After you have your bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) and have a few years of experience, you may be thinking about continuing your education with a master’s degree. The question is: Do you want to earn a clinical-focused degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), or a business-focused degree, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA)?

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The option you select will depend upon myriad factors, but it really all comes down to what your professional goals are. Is your desire to become a nurse practitioner or other type of advanced practice nurse? Or do you prefer to pursue a more business/administrative career in the healthcare field?

We detail in this article the critical information you need to make the correct decision: MSN or MBA?

Overview of Master of Science in Nursing

For experienced nurses who want to take their clinical nursing career to the next level, earning a master of science in nursing is generally the best way to do it. An MSN will arm you with the skills and advanced training that is needed to provide high quality nursing care in specialized roles, such as nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist.

Earning your MSN degree will qualify you to offer many of the healthcare services that doctors do. Given the greatly expanded need of healthcare services today with our aging population, nurse practitioners and other advanced nursing practice professionals are in great need – the Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS reports a huge 31% spike in demand for NPs by 2026.  You need your MSN degree to work in these roles, including the following:

  • Nurse practitioner: NPs provide specialized primary, acute and specialty healthcare to diverse populations. They can treat conditions, illnesses and provide evidence based health education to patients. They perform many of the same roles as doctors, but they spend approximately ½ the time in college as MDs do. NPs can focus specifically on acute care, adult and adult/gerontology, neonates and pediatrics.
  • Certified nurse anesthetist: Offer anesthesia and related services before, during and after surgeries. They also give pain management and some types of emergency services. Nurse anesthetists provide most of the same care as anesthesiologists.
  • Clinical nurse specialist: Offer direct patient care in a variety of specialities, such as mental health or pediatrics. May also provide indirect care as they work with other nurses and staff to enhance quality of care that patients receive. May serve in leadership roles and advise/educate nursing staff.
  • Certified nurse midwife: Offer specialized care to women, such as gynecological exams, family planning and prenatal care. They also deliver babies, manage emergencies during labor and can provide surgical help to doctors during a cesarean birth.

Earning your MSN degree allows you to focus your career on a specific role of advanced nursing practice. Registered nurses do a bit of everything in their clinical work, but an advanced practice nurse is heavily focused on one of the specialized nursing practice roles above.

When you choose your MSN degree program, you will need to choose which advanced nursing practice concentration you want in your career. Each MSN degree will have a core set of classes that all students take. Then you will take courses focused on that particular nursing speciality.

Vanderbilt University

For example, the nurse practitioner curriculum at Vanderbilt University is as follows:

  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Health Assessment and Clinical Reasoning
  • Advanced Pharmacotherapeutics
  • Advanced Practice Nursing in Primary Care of the Adult
  • Advanced Practice Nursing in Primary Care of the Adolescent
  • The Context of Primary Care: Family Nurse Practitioner Domains and Core Competencies for Practice
  • Advanced Health Assessment Lab
  • Clinical Decision Making for the Family Nurse Practitioner

University of Southern California

Another solid MSN option is the program at the University of Southern California. This program is designed for nursing professionals with a BSN and have at least a year of clinical experience. This is a 49 credit hour nurse practitioner program that has live, face to face classes on video conferencing. It features a rigorous curriculum that looks at psychological, social, cultural, environmental, economic and biomedical influences in healthcare.

Other important features of the MSN program at USC:

  • Earn your degree in as few as 21 months
  • Build networking relationships with students all over the US
  • Attend live online courses taught by regular USC faculty
  • Access your coursework from anywhere 24/7.
  • Complete clinicals in your community

Required courses are in these subjects:

  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Quantitative and Qualitative Data Analysis and Research Methods
  • Community Based Research
  • Healthcare Technology and Innovation
  • Healthcare Policy
  • Healthcare Management

Capella University

Also worth your consideration for an online MSN program is Capella University. This program’s curriculum is based upon the standards of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Essentials of Master’s Education in Nursing.

The Capella program offers these MSN specialities:

  • Diabetes nursing
  • Nursing education
  • Nursing informations
  • Nursing leadership and administration
  • Care coordination

Potential courses you will take are:

  • Healthcare Law and Policy
  • Economics and Decision Making in Healthcare
  • Evidenced Based Practice for Patient Centered Care and Population Health
  • Biopsychosocial Concepts for Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Quality Improvement and Interprofessional Care
  • MSN Practicum and Capstone

Another reason you may consider an MSN is you will be exposed in part to some of the business and administration aspects of nursing. You will probably have a few courses in management, leadership, finance and policy. That said, the bulk of the MSN program is focused on clinical care. If it is a business administration or healthcare management career you want, you may prefer to earn your MBA, possibly with a healthcare concentration (see more about this below).

As noted above, the primary goal for professionals with an MSN degree is to work at higher, more specialized levels in advanced nursing healthcare. While some professionals with an MSN degree may work in the administrative and business side of a healthcare enterprise, those positions are generally held by people with a more business and administration focused degree.

Overview of Master of Business Administration

An MBA is sharply focused on the study of business and management, such how to direct and organize business resources, and commonly includes materials, finance, information and people.

Strong business managers in all environments, including in healthcare, need to really grasp these functions and how they interrelate. Further, they need to understand how a rapidly changing market can have an effect on each. A contemporary business manager or administrative leader in a healthcare setting needs to be part healthcare business forecaster, part a solver of problems, and part supervisor and administrator.

See also 5+ Best Online MSN MBA Options

Obtaining your MBA will offer you the tangible business management skills you need to be a strong healthcare business leader. You will understand how to make good business management decisions in areas such as financial planning, forming policy, quantitative analysis and managing other healthcare workers.

If you decide to obtain your MBA, you can choose this degree with a concentration in healthcare management or administration. This could be an appropriate educational choice for the experienced nurse who desires a career in healthcare administration or management.

Utica College

Utica College has a healthcare management MBA that features tailored, flexible coursework that is based upon current business scenarios and case studies in the healthcare field. This online MBA offers you vital healthcare business management skills at an affordable price. Some of the core business topics you will study in this online MBA are:

  • How to provide ethical leadership in the healthcare management field
  • Philosophies of healthcare leadership and management
  • Cost analysis, budgeting and forecasting
  • Data driven decision making
  • Healthcare market forces
  • Strategic analysis and planning
  • Global supply and demand

Required courses are:

  • Healthcare Ethical and Legal Issues
  • Leadership in Marketing and Strategic Planning
  • Quality Management and Performance
  • Organization Development and Change
  • Health Informatics

University of Delaware

The University of Delaware healthcare MBA offers opportunities for working business professionals in healthcare to further hone their business and leadership skills. One of the major advantages of this program is that it is located near Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City, with some of the largest healthcare employers in the country.

Required courses are:

  • Financial Reporting and Analysis
  • Fundamentals of Analytics
  • Operations Management and Management Science
  • Ethical Issues in the Business Environment
  • Marketing Management
  • Corporate Strategy
  • Population Health Informatics
  • Leadership and Innovation in Population Health
  • Policy and Finance for Healthcare Delivery
  • E-Service Management in Healthcare
  • Patient Experience and Engagement

The online MBA may be completed in as few as 16 months and there is no need to come to campus.

University of Scranton

The University of Scranton has two MBA-related offerings that may be of interest. First is the online MBA in healthcare management that provides you with the skills, training and practical applications that are needed to make a strong impact in the healthcare field. The curriculum in this two year online MBA includes:

  • Accounting for Management
  • Managerial Economics
  • Financial Management
  • Marketing Management
  • Operations Management
  • Healthcare Law
  • Hospital Administration
  • Global Health Management
  • Health Services and Systems
  • Healthcare Financial Management II

The second option at Scranton is the dual MBA/Master’s In Health Administration degree. This three year degree program offers a good combination of business management and healthcare administration courses that can be ideal for the business professional who wants to work in a healthcare administration leadership role in a hospital or healthcare system.

Required courses in the dual MBA/MHA online program are:

  • Accounting for Management
  • Healthcare Financial Management
  • Healthcare Law
  • HR Management
  • Healthcare Statistics and Research Methods
  • Healthcare Economics and Policy
  • Health Services and Systems
  • Healthcare Ethics
  • Hospital Administration
  • Medical Practice Administration
  • Longterm Care Administration
  • Global Health Management
  • Grants Writing and Management

Liberty University

Another MBA in healthcare management option to consider is Liberty University. This is also a two year, fully online degree that will prepare you for advanced positions in the healthcare industry. This graduate degree will provide you with the knowledge and insight in the ethical, professional and financial issues that are related to the healthcare management field. Some of the required courses in Liberty’s MBA healthcare program are:

  • Healthcare Informatics
  • Legal and Ethical Issues for Health Professions
  • Healthcare Administration
  • Managing Human Capital in Healthcare
  • Operations Management

With an MBA focused on healthcare, you may have job titles such as healthcare administrator, project manager, hospital administrator, or healthcare consultant.

Benedictine University

The MBA in health administration at Benedictine University is 100% online, and it demonstrates how operations, financial and marketing activities can be applied to health organizations including hospitals, clinics and pharmaceutical companies, home healthcare providings and other types of healthcare settings. You will be prepared after graduation with the skills and knowledge to work in a  leadership role in healthcare management or administration, and consequently make a vital contribution to elevated patient care. Required courses include:

  • Public Health Systems
  • Environmental Health
  • Marketing of Public Health
  • The Business of Healthcare
  • Managerial Economics
  • Operations Management
  • Financial Management
  • Ethics and Leadership in a Global Environment

Now that you have a solid understanding of what you can do with an MSN and MBA degree, hopefully you will have the tools to make a good decision about your future career. Both the MSN and MBA provide the professional and student with an excellent career outlook; it really just comes down to whether you want a career largely focuses on clinical work or business and administration.


Henry Steele
Managing Editor
Henry is Managing Editor of He is a seasoned business professional who regularly consults with local business's throughout Southern California. Henry pursued his undergrad in Business and Economics at the University of San Diego and gained valuable life changing experience through a unique internship upon graduation.

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