Guide To Online Nursing Programs

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By Whitney Sandoval

Published on November 9, 2020

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Pursuing a degree in nursing can provide a secure, flexible career helping others. Nurses provide medical care and connect patients and their families to doctors and other medical professionals. An ADN prepares graduates to work in a variety of nursing positions, including as school nurse, cardiac nurse, and pediatric nurse. Completing an ADN program prepares graduates to become registered nurses (RNs) and can lead to opportunities working in hospitals, schools, private clinics, and home settings.

Nurses are in high demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nursing is one of the fastest-growing professions in the U.S. The BLS projects that more than 220,000 nursing jobs will be created between 2019 and 2029. Nursing requires compassion and a desire to help others. Additionally, with hundreds of specialties available, aspiring nurses can find a perfect fit. For instance, those looking to work with prenatal patients can become a nurse midwife or a labor and delivery nurse.

Pursuing a nursing degree online is challenging, but rewarding. Read on to learn more about the best online nursing programs and the different degree paths and certifications available.


What Are the Best Online RN-to-BSN Programs of 2020? Here Are Our Top Five:

#1 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
#2 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
#3 Florida International University Miami, FL
#4 University of South Florida Tampa, FL
#5 University of West Florida Pensacola, FL
#6 University of North Florida Jacksonville, FL
#7 Baptist Memorial College of Health Sciences Memphis, TN
#8 Arizona State University Scottsdale, AZ
#9 Florida Atlantic University Boca Raton, FL
#10 Appalachian State University Boone, NC

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Why Earn Your Nursing Degree Online?

Online nursing programs boast several advantages over traditional programs. Current nurses can earn online nursing degrees while working full time, accessing course materials and completing classwork around their busy schedules. Whether earning an RN-to-BSN online or an RN-to-MSN online, nurses can advance their careers while maintaining their jobs.

Accessibility

Accessibility is one of the top advantages of online programs. Online nursing programs give students the ability to access lectures and other course materials at their convenience. This may appeal to working nurses who have limited time and resources.

Flexibility

An online nursing degree provides flexibility, allowing learners to create an education plan to earn their nursing degree online while balancing other responsibilities. Additionally, online programs often offer multiple start dates throughout the year.

School Options

Prospective nurses should choose programs that align closely with their particular interests and strengths. However, the top programs might not be located nearby. Fortunately, pursuing an online nursing degree allows aspiring and current nurses to attend school from a distance.

Diversity

Aspiring nurses benefit from having a diversity of experiences and backgrounds, and online nursing programs bring together students from around the country and the world. This type of program format helps nurses build expansive professional networks.

Technology

Online nursing programs blend technology with practical experience, connecting students to their classmates and faculty members through a variety of delivery methods, while allowing learners to conduct their practicum experiences locally.

Types of Online Nursing Degrees

Median Salaries for Nursing Majors by Degree Level
Associate Degree (ADN) $69,540*
Bachelor's Degree (BSN) $85,250*
Master's Degree (MSN) $94,950*

Source: PayScale

Associate Degree in Nursing

Obtaining a nursing degree at any level is challenging — it requires dedication and hard work. An associate degree in nursing (ADN) takes about two years to complete and requires around 70 credits.

Coursework includes general education credits like technical writing and human anatomy and physiology. Foundational classes, such as leadership, nursing, and pharmacology courses, are also included. Students also complete clinical hours and labs to get practical, hands-on experience and to prepare to take the NCLEX-RN exam.

An associate degree in nursing allows graduates to work in many entry-level roles. Common jobs include positions in hospice care, home care, psychiatric care, and hospital care.

Common Courses

Anatomy and Physiology

Students learn about the make-up of the human body, including its structure and the functions of different body parts. They also cover major systems in the body and how they relate to one another.

Introduction to Pharmacology

Participants develop an understanding of the classifications and various types of drugs. This course typically covers how different medicines affect the body, as well as the governmental organizations involved in monitoring pharmaceuticals.

Nursing Fundamentals

This introductory course focuses on the theories and practices surrounding the nursing profession. From ethics and best practices to defining the role of a nurse in a healthcare team, students learn strategies for patient care.

Leadership Management

From communication skills to effective leadership strategies, this course focuses on how to serve in a leadership position. Students study professionalism in the nursing field and how to collaborate as part of a healthcare team.

Clinical Theory Lab

Students put nursing theory into practice in clinical courses. Starting with clinical labs, students practice skills in a safe environment. These hands-on experiences give nursing students a chance to practice physical examinations and specific skills.

Bachelor's Degree in Nursing

While an ADN prepares students to become an RN, some students opt to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing. Having a BSN allows nurses to work in a variety of healthcare settings, and they can provide specialized care.

For those who enroll on a full-time basis, this is a four-year degree plan. Many who earn a BSN focus on a specialty, and the coursework includes specialized instruction in various areas of interest. Campus-based and online BSN programs include ample hands-on clinical experiences.

More employers are starting to require a BSN, and having a four-year degree can provide more opportunities and help nurses stand out in their field. As a result, many nurses decide to enroll in an RN-to-BSN program.

Common Courses

Microbiology

Understanding small organisms that can cause diseases is a critical component of nursing. This course presents best practices for handling patients with infections and how to work with microbial diseases.

Applied Healthcare Statistics

An introductory course that covers trends and numbers around healthcare, statistical analysis is crucial to sustaining evidenced-based outcomes in healthcare. This class teaches students to understand and interpret healthcare data.

Genetics in Healthcare

This course explores the foundation of genetics and genomic concepts, as well as the influence of these topics on healthcare. Nursing students learn about the implications of genetics on individuals with certain health ailments.

Biochemistry

Students learn about the chemistry of humans and how elements of molecular biology affect the body. This course covers carbohydrates, amino acids, enzymes, and more, as students navigate reactions and processes in patients.

Community Healthcare

Combining the principles of nursing with the science of public health, this course focuses on the societal implications of community health. Students look at populations to understand the effects of diseases and opportunities for intervention in certain groups.

Master's Degree in Nursing

As healthcare continues to evolve and expand, the need for nurses with specialized training becomes more and more important. Professionals can set themselves apart in the job market by completing a master of science in nursing (MSN). Requiring at least 36 credits, an MSN typically takes about two years to complete.

Many nurses who finish an MSN program take on leadership and management roles within healthcare, while others may choose to focus on nursing education. Having an MSN allows nurses to specialize, becoming a nurse midwife, nurse anesthetic, nurse practitioner, or head nurse. Additionally, choosing an asynchronous online MSN program gives working nurses the flexibility to study at their own pace.

Common Courses

Advanced Finance and Operations Management

This course combines the financial aspects of healthcare with business management. Students learn how to create/implement budgets and interpret financial documents as nursing leaders.

Healthcare Advocacy

Learners study how ethics and social policies influence nursing best practices. Delving into healthcare justice and patient relationships, this course teaches the important role of advocacy in the healthcare system.

Nursing Informatics

This course focuses on improving people's health by teaching nurses how to interpret data and use that information to make informed policies and decisions related to healthcare. Examining theories around best practices and patient care, the class focuses on improving healthcare.

Technology and Nursing Education

Focusing on how technology can improve nursing, this class reviews a variety of technologies utilized in academic and healthcare settings to promote health-related information.

Understanding Health Research

This course provides instruction on how to find and interpret relevant research. In addition to covering how to search effectively for information, coursework also teaches students how to be critical of research.

Graduate Certificate in Nursing

Earning an online graduate certificate in nursing allows professionals who already hold graduate degrees in nursing to become specialists in a particular area of nursing. Nurses can complete graduate certificate programs to prepare for roles in administration and education, among others.

With most certificate programs taking less than a year to complete, a graduate certificate in nursing allows nurses to further their careers while studying an area they are passionate about. Many nurses complete a graduate certificate through an online program, allowing them to continue working while furthering their studies.

Common Courses

Curriculum Development

This course is designed for nurses pursuing a nursing education graduate certificate. Students explore how to create and implement meaningful curricula for teaching important health concepts.

Healthcare Policy

Examining the role of healthcare in society, this course focuses on how governmental policies impact the accessibility and costs associated with healthcare.

Nursing Leadership

This course highlights characteristics of good leadership while outlining the responsibilities of a leadership role in nursing. Instruction covers topics like effective management and organization.

Advanced Pathophysiology

Building on a student's understanding of anatomy, physiology, and the organ systems, this course expands into studying specific diseases and chronic illnesses, as well as their impacts on the human body.

Advanced Health Assessments

This course builds on previous knowledge related to advanced assessments of physical and mental health. Drawing on deep critical thinking skills, the course focuses on completing meaningful assessments and creating plans for patient care.

Doctoral Degree in Nursing

A doctorate is the highest degree level a nurse can obtain. In order to enroll in a doctoral program, an applicant must hold at least a BSN, although some programs may require an MSN. Some programs focus on expanding nursing knowledge, while others focus primarily on leadership in the nursing profession. Students typically graduate in 3-6 years, and these programs may require at least 500 clinical hours.

Nurses who complete a graduate program can become advanced practice registered nurses. However, many nurses who earn a doctorate take on administrative positions in hospitals and executive-level roles.

Common Courses

Evidenced-Based Practices in Nursing

This class focuses on the elements of effective research and their implications on healthcare. Students study the history of healthcare policies and the implications these theories have had on best practices in healthcare settings.

Effective Leadership

Examining various leadership strategies, this course focuses on the principles behind effective leadership. Students prepare to take on administrative roles.

Improving Quality and Patient Safety

This course teaches students how to improve the quality of healthcare patients receive. With a focus on patient safety and positive outcomes, coursework delves into delivering quality healthcare while using cost-effective practices.

Scholarly Writing

Participants learn the proper formatting and citation techniques required to write and publish well-researched articles and studies.

Dissertation or Doctoral Project

Students choose their own dissertation/project topic and line of inquiry, and then structure their doctoral studies around it. Designed to put theory into practice, a dissertation/doctoral project represents the culmination of years of research, study, reflection, and passion.

Nursing Concentrations and Specialities

After completing a BSN, nurses may choose to pursue a specialty by taking certificate courses or completing a graduate degree in a specialized area. Focusing on a specialty allows nurses to become experts in their field of study.

Nurse Practitioner

Depending on the state, a nurse practitioner can work independently or under a doctor. They are trained to help diagnose patients, refer patients to specialists, and prescribe medications. A graduate degree is required for this position.

Median Annual Salary: $109,820*

Nurse Anesthesiologist

A nurse anesthesiologist assists doctors or dentists by administering anesthesia and monitoring patients who are under anesthesia or recovering from surgery. A graduate degree specializing in nurse anesthesiology is required.

Median Annual Salary: $174,790*

Nurse Midwife

These professionals assist women in labor and can provide other services, such as gynecological exams. A graduate degree specializing in nurse midwifery is required.

Median Annual Salary: $105,030*

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Nurse

These professionals work with babies who require intensive care. NICU nurses help premature infants and other infants with extreme health needs. An ASN or BSN is required for this position.

Median Annual Salary: $67,610*

Occupational Health Nurse

These nurses work to ensure the health and safety of employees within a company. They monitor employee well-being and may oversee wellness programs that encourage healthier habits. A BSN is required for this position, although some employers may require an MSN.

Median Annual Salary: $72,740*

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale

Nursing Licensure and Certification

Nursing licensure requirements vary state by state. In order to become an RN, candidates must earn a nursing diploma or degree. Many candidates choose to earn an ADN or BSN to meet these requirements. In addition to a postsecondary education, a passing score on the NCLEX-RN — a national proficiency test for aspiring nurses — is required to become an RN.

Nurses must renew their license on a regular basis. In some states, they must do this every year, although the exact renewal timelines and processes vary. To renew their license, nurses usually need to submit a form and pay a renewal fee. They may also need to accrue a certain number of continuing education credits and/or clinical practice hours during each renewal period, depending on their role.

If nurses want to specialize, there are numerous fields to focus on. Some specialties, like a NICU nurse, may require a certificate, while other specialties, such as a nurse midwife or nurse practitioner, require a graduate degree.

Career and Salary Outlook for Nursing Graduates

The job outlook for the nursing field is very positive. The BLS projects that there will be an average of more than 175,000 RN openings each year over the next 10 years, and job growth for registered nurses is expected to be faster than the national average for all occupations.

Although there should be a steady increase in jobs, competition within the field may still be high depending on a worker's location and setting. RN candidates can set themselves apart by completing a BSN and/or certificate program. Furthering your education and training can also significantly increase your earning potential.

Nursing Careers

Hospice Nurse

Hospice nurses provide end-of-life care for patients with a terminal illness. They often perform their duties at a patient's home, doing what they can to make their charges comfortable. They may also interact with and comfort family members of their patients.

Salary: $66,860*

Labor and Delivery Nurse

A labor and delivery nurse helps facilitate the safety and care of a mother and baby during the birthing process. These nurses can help with inductions, cesareans, and monitoring vitals.

Salary: $64,920*

Nurse Care Coordinator

A nurse care coordinator specializes in patient advocacy. They organize teams of various healthcare members to provide care and treatment to patients.

Salary: $70,200*

School Nurse

RNs who work in schools are responsible for administering medications to students and monitoring the health and wellbeing of students and staff at one or more schools in a district.

Salary: $48,510*

Home Health Nurse

Some patients choose to receive ongoing healthcare at home. Home health nurses may monitor vitals, administer medications, and replace bandages.

Salary: $63,970*

Source: PayScale

Nursing Careers by Location

There are millions of nurses employed all over the United States. Currently, bigger states like California, Texas, Florida, and New York employ the largest number of nurses. Without factoring in cost of living, nurses in California, Hawai'i, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and Oregon earn the highest average wages.

State

Interview With A Nursing Major

Mary's vast nursing experience includes adult, neonatal, and pediatric critical care. She focused on transitioning infants and children who were dependent on life-support machines from the hospital to their home, school, and community environment. Her research on shiftwork and the culture of fatigue in healthcare has been published and presented to national audiences. She holds certifications in pediatric critical care and general pediatric nursing. She is also a certified nurse educator and director of nursing for WGU - Indiana.

Why did you choose to go into nursing?

I worked in a nursing home during my college years and really connected to the residents, the work, and the satisfaction it gave me.

What skills are essential to nursing?

Number one is definitely the ability to adapt to change. Nurses have to be smart and hard-working, but that resilience and think-on-your-feet mentality is crucial.

What are some things you do during a typical day on the job?

During my days (nights actually) as a bedside nurse, I provided direct care to critically ill children. Frequent assessments to watch for subtle changes that could spiral into bad situations filled the majority of my time, but I also gave meds, educated patients and families, and provided a listening ear to parents who feel helpless in the face of their child's illness.

Now, I am the director of a nursing program, and I sleep at night. I work directly with students, instructors, and clinical facilities to provide a top-notch education for Indiana's future nurses.

What's the hardest part of being a nurse?

Watching bad things happen to good people and the high-stakes nature of the work. There is no room for error, especially in pediatrics.

What do you like most about nursing?

The variety of things a nurse can do and interacting with people across the spectrum of human existence.

How do you maintain work-life balance?

I'm not sure I do. Sometimes my job becomes all-consuming, and it is difficult to remove myself from that. I sometimes lose sleep over situations related to work. Because nursing becomes too much a part of one's DNA, it is hard to separate work from the rest of life.

Is it important to choose a nursing specialty? What tips do you have for students who aren't sure which focus they would like best?

I think it is not terribly important at the beginning of one's career. I have done inpatient psych, med-surg, adult, newborn, and peds critical care. I've been a private duty nurse, the supervisor of a large hospital, and now an academic administrator. Each of those jobs has given me skills I have applied to the next job. Sometimes I think that having that 'dream job' as a goal throughout nursing school is a detriment — it keeps you from being open to opportunity.

What makes nursing an exciting career opportunity right now?

Nurses are beginning to command respect and a seat at the table when healthcare decisions are made. Being the most trusted profession has certain perks. Nurses are leading in a way that was not even dreamed of at the beginning of my career.

What type of clinical experience should every nurse gain in college?

Any type they can get! Never pass up an opportunity to learn a new skill, hold a hand, or interact with a patient or a family member. Do anything and everything you can.

What does continuing education look like for you?

A continuous process. I started out as a nursing assistant and have progressed through every level of nursing: LPN>ADN>BSN>MSN>DNP. My last three degrees were earned online and after my 55th birthday. An old dog being taught new tricks. I think it behooves every nurse to continually be learning new things. Maybe not in pursuit of another degree, but things relevant to practice and professional development.

How important is networking and what are some easy ways to stay connected to other nurses in your community?

It is critical! I stay up to date and in touch by belonging to several professional organizations, volunteering for health-related activities, via social media, and acting as an ambassador for my university.

How do you stay up to date with the latest advancements and technology in the nursing world?

I follow a lot of professional organizations on social media — Twitter in particular provides me with a vast amount of information. My professional organizations have journals, and I attend two or three conferences per year.

What are some practical tips to prepare for an interview?

Know something about the employer's culture and mission. Be able to relate that to your own practice. Ask about the patient population and think of ways your current experience might be applied to the new group. Be on time. Leave your phone in the car. Ask intelligent questions that will let YOU know if the job would be a good fit.

Scholarships for Nursing Majors

Scholarships help nursing students pay for their degrees, whether they pursue an associate degree to become an RN or a doctoral degree. Some nursing scholarships serve nurses who plan to work in particular fields, such as perinatal care or oncology, while others award scholarships to nurses who come from underrepresented groups.

National Black Nurses Association Scholarship

Who Can Apply: NBNA offers numerous scholarship opportunities to students who hold organizational membership, study nursing at an accredited school, and have at least one year of education remaining. Requirements vary between scholarships.

Amount: $1,000-$5,000

See Scholarship
Creative Biolabs Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Students majoring in scientific or medical fields who hold a 3.0 GPA or higher can apply. Applicants must also demonstrate academic strength, leadership skills, and an interest in social concerns through meaningful participation in volunteer or community activities.

Amount: $1,000

See Scholarship
American Indian Nurse Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: American Indian men and women pursuing education for nursing careers or jobs in healthcare or health education can apply for this scholarship, which is funded by the National Society for the Colonial Dames of America. Recipients work among their communities to improve healthcare.

Amount: $1,500 per semester

See Scholarship
Madeline Pickett (Halbert) Cogswell Nursing Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Supported by the Daughters of the American Revolution, this scholarship welcomes applications from students enrolled in accredited nursing programs. Applicants must hold DAR membership, be a descendant of a member, or qualify for membership.

Amount: $2,500

See Scholarship

Nursing Scholarships for Bachelor's Degree Students

Caroline E. Holt Nursing Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Also funded by the DAR, this scholarship serves students enrolled in accredited nursing programs who demonstrate financial need. Students must submit a letter of acceptance or their college transcript with their application.

Amount: $2,500

See Scholarship
Army Nurse Corps Association Scholarship

Who Can Apply: U.S. citizens pursuing degrees in nursing or nurse anesthesia can apply. Applicants must have a parent, child, or spouse who serves in the U.S. Army. Students who receive this scholarship do not have a military service obligation.

Amount: $3,000

See Scholarship
American Nephrology Nurses Association - Career Mobility Scholarships

Who Can Apply: ANNA offers six career mobility scholarships to a total of 16 recipients. Each applicant must hold ANNA membership for at least two years, demonstrate an interest in nephrology nursing or related healthcare services, and pursue a bachelor's degree or higher in nursing.

Amount: $1,000-$4,000

See Scholarship

Nursing Scholarships for Master's Degree Students

Nurses Educational Funds Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Nurse Educational Funds, Inc has awarded more than 1,300 scholarships. The organization oversees scholarships for graduate-level nursing students. Each scholarship has its own selection criteria, application process, and funding amount.

Amount: Varies

See Scholarship
Nursing Incentive Scholarship Fund

Who Can Apply: Kentucky residents attending a higher education institution for nursing may apply for scholarships funded by the Kentucky Board of Nursing. The board selects recipients using its own set of criteria. Students with financial need receive preference.

Amount: Up to $3,000

See Scholarship
National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be U.S. citizens and full-time students attending an accredited U.S. school. To receive consideration, they must qualify for federal employment and have no other existing service obligations.

Amount: Covers tuition and provides a living stipend

See Scholarship

Nursing Scholarships for Doctoral Degree Students

Hal and Jo Cohen Graduate Nursing Faculty Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be Maryland residents pursuing graduate degrees in nursing at a Maryland university or college. They must hold a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Part-time and full-time students may apply.

Amount: Covers tuition and mandatory fees

See Scholarship
March of Dimes Dr. Margaret C. Freda Graduate Nursing Scholarship Award

Who Can Apply: Registered nurses pursuing graduate degrees focused on maternal-child nursing can apply. Applicants must hold membership with one of the following organizations: the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses; the American College of Nurse-Midwives; or the National Association of Neonatal Nurses.

Amount: Varies

See Scholarship
Oncology Nursing Society Doctoral Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Practicing nurses planning to pursue a research doctoral degree (e.g., a Ph.D.) or a clinical doctoral degree (e.g., a DNP) may qualify. Candidates must hold a current nursing license and demonstrate an interest in oncology nursing to apply.

Amount: $5,000 or $7,500

See Scholarship

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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