With demand for health care on the rise, so too is the need for qualified professionals to work in all types of medical facilities and positions. One of the most important and in-demand careers is that of nursing. Graduates holding a nursing degree are no longer confined to working only in hospitals, offices, or nursing homes. These days, you can find nurses working in assisted living facilities, schools, and even patient's homes.
Prospective students with an interest in healthy living and a desire to help others may be a good fit for nursing degree programs. Nurses spend much of the day on their feet and must have the physical stamina and dexterity to perform heavy lifting. Above all, nurses must exhibit an attitude of caring and compassion while attending to sick and injured patients.
How to Choose the Right Nursing Degree
Becoming a nurse at any level requires a nursing license. To earn their license, nurses must first complete the necessary education and training required for their particular position. Online degrees in nursing are a great way for students to meet these licensing requirements while obtaining the knowledge and skills needed to start a successful nursing career. Due to the flexibility of online learning, these programs are an especially good fit for adult learners seeking to advance their career prospects.
Online nursing degree programs are available at all levels, ranging from diploma programs to doctoral degrees. Students should consider their career goals and the type of nursing they wish to pursue prior to enrolling. Several types of nursing degrees are listed below, along with possible employment outcomes for each:
Length of Completion
Certificate or Diploma in Nursing
These programs take up to one year to complete.
Nursing Assistant, Orderly, Licensed Practical or Vocational Nurse
Associate Degree in Nursing
Associate degrees usually require two years of full-time study to complete..
These programs typically take four years of full-time study to complete.
Registered Nurse, Medical or Health Services Manager
Master's in Nursing
These programs take up to two years of full-time study after completion of a bachelor's degree.
Registered Nurse, Medical or Health Services Manager, Nurse Anesthetist, Nurse Midwife, Nurse Practitioner.
Nurse Anesthetist, Nurse Midwife, Nurse Practitioner, Medical or Health Services Manager, Postsecondary Teacher
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all professional nurses must complete some type of postsecondary education and be licensed by the state in which they work. The type of license granted is usually determined by the level of degree with which the student graduates. Additionally, nurses with more advanced degrees are often able to perform more duties, which could lead to increased opportunities for career advancement and higher pay. Of course, each type of nursing degree comes with a different timeline and financial commitment. Students would do well to consider their career goals prior to enrolling in a particular nursing program.
What to Expect in Nursing Program
Before nurses are able to effectively treat patients in a real world setting, they must first have a strong understanding of nursing concepts and the human body. Online degrees in nursing help students acquire the foundational knowledge needed to successfully pass their licensing exams and assist patients in a prudent and professional manner.
Students pursuing a nursing degree typically take courses in chemistry, biology, pathology, anatomy, physiology, and nursing practice. While specific curriculum will vary widely by school and program, common courses at the undergraduate level include:
- Introduction to Human Anatomy and Physiology
- Foundations of Professional Nursing
- Introduction to Epidemiology
- Pathology for Nursing
- Introduction to Pharmacology
- Pediatric and Maternity Nursing
- Introduction to Public Health Nursing
- Surgical Nursing
- Leadership in Healthcare
- Nursing for Mental Health Patients
Regardless of whether a student pursues a nursing degree online or on-campus, completion of a clinical internship is usually required prior to graduation. These hands-on learning experiences are typically completed at hospitals, clinics, or other health care facilities. In addition to gaining important practical experience, students can also use this time to build relationships with other professionals, which could be lead to future employment opportunities. For students pursuing online degrees in nursing, these internships are often completed in the student's local area.
Nursing Degree Specializations
Some online degrees in nursing are completely career focused, while others provide a broader education through general education requirements. Additionally, nurses work in a variety of settings and hold a number of different responsibilities based on their level of education. In most cases, earning a nursing degree opens the door to entry-level positions within the field. Professionals may wish to specialize as a:
- Licensed Practical or Vocational Nurse
- Registered Nurse
- Geriatric Nurse
- Cardiovascular Nurse
- Critical Care Nurse
- Neonatology Nurse
- Addiction Nurse
- Rehabilitation Nurse
- Nephrology Nurse
- Genetics Nurse
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Nurse Midwife
- Nurse Anesthetist
- Nurse Practitioner
For most nursing careers, choosing a specialization prior to graduation is not necessary. However, some nursing specializations require nurses to meet certain educational requirements. This is especially true of nursing degree programs at the graduate level. In these cases, nurses generally choose a specialized track prior to enrolling in the degree program.
Benefits of an Online Degree in Nursing
Although nursing degrees always require some type of practical element, much of what is covered in school is theory based. Online nursing programs are an excellent way to complete the academic portion of the degree and obtain the foundational knowledge needed to become a professional nurse.
Using current technologies like streaming video, text, video chat, message boards, and more, online students can enjoy the same high-level learning experience previously enjoyed only in an on-campus environment. Video lectures and online textbooks compose the bulk of the coursework, making it easy for students to study at a time of their choosing. The flexibility of online learning is a great way for adult learners to advance their education while keeping the work and family commitments they may already have.
Online programs are typically more flexible than traditional on-campus programs, making them a great fit for working adults or those with family commitments. With round-the-clock access to course materials and lectures, students can pursue their education at a time that is most convenient for them, while meeting prior commitments in other areas of their lives.
Careers in Nursing
Earning a nursing degree can lead to a variety of different jobs in the field. While nurses are still needed inside various types of health care facilities and doctors' offices, they may also find employment in non-traditional settings. Listed in the chart below are some of the most popular nursing career options, complete with wage and job growth estimates provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Expected Job Growth
(2014 - 2024)
|Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aides||2,377,790||$26,320||24.5%|
|Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary||56,210||$75,030||19.3%|
|Medical and Health Services Managers||332,150||$109,370||16.9%|
|Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses||702,400||$44,840||16.3%|
Prospective nursing students should contemplate their ideal career path prior to choosing a program that is right for them. After graduating with a nursing degree and gaining some professional experience, nurses may wish to further their career by pursuing advanced degrees, including those at the graduate level.
To learn more about earning a nursing degree online, or to get information about a specific program, contact any of the schools listed at the bottom of this page.
Online Associate Degrees in Nursing
Nurses represent a vital part of medical teams, whether they work directly with patients, as a nurse educator, or in another capacity. And their services are expected to be in demand in coming years, as the health care industry develops new technologies and baby boomers seek additional medical treatment, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Online associate degrees in nursing can help students gain the tools to earn their nursing license, including the clinical knowledge and problem-solving skills needed to treat patients. The core curriculum in these programs typically includes subjects such as the nursing process, therapeutic communication, ethical issues in nursing, and computer applications used in the profession.
What Does an Associate Degree Program in Nursing Entail?
Students working towards an online associate degree in nursing on a full-time basis generally finish within two years. Coursework in these programs give students the theoretical framework that can help them prepare for the nursing field, as well as the hands-on experience to successfully treat patients on a daily basis. In order to do this, nursing programs cover subjects such as administering drugs to patients, principles of clinical care, patient management, psychological concepts in nursing, and sociological factors that influence patient treatments. Examples of course topics include:
Principles of Pharmacology: Administering drugs to patients is often a huge part of a nurse's duties, so it's imperative for them to learn the best practices. In this course, students look at how different drugs are classified, how drugs affect the systems of the body, how drugs interact with each other, and the side effects associated with drugs commonly dispensed by nurses. In addition, students in pharmacology courses learn about the legal standards of drug administration and how drugs are regulated. Since hands-on experience is vital when learning about pharmacology, students in this course may be expected to complete drug calculations for different kinds of patients, including children, the elderly and pregnant women.
Basic Anatomy and Physiology: In this course, students examine different systems within the human body, including the skeletal, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive and muscular systems. Additionally, students often learn about basic anatomical terminology, cell biology, homeostasis, and how fluid/electrolyte balance works. In order for student to get a full understanding of anatomy and physiology, they may be required to dissect animals or human cadavers in the laboratory section of the class.
Introduction to Psychiatric Nursing: It's not uncommon for nurses to treat patients with psychiatric illnesses. This course trains students on how to deliver quality care to these patients and deal with the challenges that arise when working with them. Typically, students learn about the classifications, causes, symptoms and treatments of mental illnesses, as well as the principles of therapeutic nursing, treating patients in individual and group settings, and supporting the families of mentally ill patients. To demonstrate their understanding of class material, students may be required to diagnose a hypothetical patient and develop a treatment plan.
Family Health Nursing: This course teaches students how to deal with patients such as pregnant women, newborns, and children in different stages of development. Topics covered in this course often include the growth and development of children, unique health care needs of pregnant mothers, and common childhood illnesses. In order to gain hands-on experience in family nursing, students may be required to participate in simulated clinical experiences, allowing them to work with patients during different stages of development.
Students pursuing online nursing associate degrees are often required to take electives that cover different areas of the nursing experience. Students may gain an understanding of societal issues involved in nursing by taking sociology classes, learn about computer resources used by nurses in health informatics classes, or get a primer of what's legally expected of healthcare professionals in ethics classes.
In addition, online students, like their on-campus peers, are required to take on-campus laboratory courses, as well as supervised hands-on clinicals. These sessions give students practical experience in the different types of duties they will be performing throughout their careers.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Nursing
The world of health care is changing at a rapid pace, making this is an exciting time for anyone interested in earning an online bachelor's degree in nursing. Qualified nurses are in high demand according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, thanks to factors such as the aging baby boomer generation and advances in health care technologies.
In order to help prepare nurses for these emerging jobs, bachelor's programs combine nursing theory with practical experience so that students learn the science behind the art of nursing. Core curriculum typically focuses on topics such as case management, community nursing techniques, anatomy and physiology, data management, and the psychology of nursing.
What Does a Bachelor's Degree Program in Nursing Entail?
Offered as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN, this degree generally takes four years of full-time study to complete. Courses may cover a wide range of subjects, including the history of nursing care, the administration of drugs, clinical care principles, therapeutic communication, and nursing ethics. Examples of other topics include:
Fundamentals of Nursing Science: Students in this course are taught the historical evolution of nursing philosophy and how it relates to modern-day nursing, as well as effective decision making for patient care and documentation practices for health care professionals. In order for students to gain a deeper understanding of the class material, they may be required to create a treatment plan for a hypothetical patient or participate in role playing exercises designed to demonstrate their ability to interact with patients.
Introduction to Geriatric Nursing: This course is designed to prepare students for the unique challenges that come with treating elderly patients. Students typically learn about common medical conditions that these patients suffer from, how to prevent diseases in the elderly, and which maintenance procedures should be followed to prevent geriatric conditions from getting worse. In addition, students may learn about the process of aging, including how aging affects patients on a physical, mental and emotional level; how people adapt to the idea of getting older and the prospect of dying; how to support family members as they watch their loved ones approach death; and the societal and governmental responses to geriatric patients and the care they receive.
Evidence-Based Nursing Research: Nurses need to have strong critical thinking skills in order to properly assess each individual patient and determine the appropriate course of treatment. This class helps develop those skills and provides vital information about the research that drives the nursing profession. In order to help students become savvy consumers of scientific research, this class covers the concepts and practices that researchers use when investigating issues in nursing, as well as the ethical standards that guide how research is conducted. Additionally, students learn the basic components of a research study -- including the definition of variables, sample selection, data collection tools and data analysis -- which can help them conduct their own original research. Students may be required to demonstrate their understanding of the relationship between nursing theory and nursing practice by critiquing research articles based on real-world situations, or conducting qualitative and quantitative research themselves.
Introduction to Health Assessment Practices: This course gives students a look at how to holistically assess the health of their patients. Typically, students learn about getting a patient's health history through different interviewing techniques, conducting physical examinations and interpreting the findings from these assessments. In addition, this course covers whether or not findings are normal or abnormal based on a patient's age, gender or ethnicity. It may also explore the physical, social, environmental and psychological factors that influence patient assessments, and how a patient's history can be used to predict future health challenges. To give students hands-on experience with health assessments, they may be required to participate in simulated examinations of diverse patient populations.
Students in online BSN programs are also typically required to take electives, which can include health related courses, as well as courses from other disciplines. For example, students who want to supplement the therapeutic communication skills they learn in the program may choose to take business writing or public speaking classes, while those looking to improve their math skills may take algebra or calculus. Additionally, students might take elective nursing courses such as maternity nursing, mental health nursing, nursing leadership, health care law and ethics, and epidemiology.
Whether studying online or on campus, students must gain hands-on clinical experience in a supervised health care setting, according to the BLS. Furthermore, before students can begin their careers, they are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination and meet other state requirements.
Online Master's Degrees in Nursing
As the health care industry advances, the role of nurses is evolving. Nurses are taking on more and more responsibility in health organizations, and as a result, they often need advanced training to prepare for leadership roles. Online master's degrees in nursing are designed to train existing nurses to adopt these roles and gain expertise in a specific area of the field. Students in these programs can expect to learn about advanced nursing theory and research methods, workforce management, health care technology, public policy, health care finance, and disease prevention.
What Does a Master's Degree Program in Nursing Entail?
An online master's degree in nursing, or MSN, typically takes two years of full-time study to complete. The curriculum in these programs gives students an advanced knowledge of nursing science, while applying theory to the real world of health care. Core offerings include subjects like public health, information technology, health economics, and health care management. In addition, students are often given the opportunity to gain expertise in a specific area of nursing, such as mental health, cardiovascular, critical care, women's health, or surgical nursing. Examples of course topics include:
Health Care Informatics: Technology in the health care field is always advancing. Health care informatics classes give students an overview of the information systems used in the industry, while keeping them abreast of the latest technological developments. Subjects covered in this course typically include database management, information processing, systems development and electronic records. Furthermore, students can expect to learn about the political, legislative and ethical issues associated with health care informatics; privacy concerns that arise from the use of electronic records systems; how to provide management oversight for information systems and communicate effectively with technical personnel; and the theoretical frameworks that shape health care informatics.
Human Resources Management: The success of a health care facility has as much to do with management as it does with medicine. In order to give students the knowledge they need to thrive in managerial roles, this course covers topics such as recruiting, training, appraising and retaining effective employees; the principles of health care management; laws that govern human resources; the allocation of staff resources in a company; and conflict resolution techniques. Since hands-on experience is imperative in this area, students may be required to participate in exercises such as conducting mock job interviews, employee performance reviews, training sessions, or salary negotiations. Additionally, students could be asked to demonstrate their knowledge of the law by writing a sexual harassment policy, a new employee manual or a diversity training course.
Nursing Theory: All practice begins with theory, so in order to understand the underlying rationale behind nursing, students in this class are taught how nursing theories are developed and tested. Course topics can include the factors that influence the development of nursing theory, contemporary nursing theories, historical perspectives, or inductive and deductive strategies for developing new theories. In addition, students are typically required to learn how to evaluate nursing theories and determine the relationship between theory and practical application in the field. Students in this course may be asked to read and critique nursing research studies, identify the theoretical framework behind specific practices in nursing, or construct their own nursing theories.
Legal and Ethical Issues in Health Care: This course gives students an understanding of the legal and ethical matters that affect the nursing field, as well as the health care industry as a whole. Topics in this course include the economic and sociopolitical factors that influence health care laws; how federal and state laws and regulations affect the way health care providers work with patients; and the legal principles governing patients' rights, professional liability, data security, and labor relations. Additionally, students in this course often learn about the major ethical theories in the health care industry and how ethical standards influence clinical nursing practice, academic research, health policy and nursing education. To demonstrate their understanding of the material, students may be required to role play common scenarios in the health care field, applying ethical principles and case law to them.
Students enrolled in master's degree programs in nursing are generally required to choose a specialization to major in, which can help them hone their skills in an specific area of nursing. For example, those who want to teach the next generation of nurses may pursue a concentration in nursing education, while those interested in managing staff at a health care facility might concentrate in nursing administration. Depending on the program, students could be required to complete a master's thesis or a comprehensive examination in order to obtain their degree. Some programs also include hands-on training sessions or labs.
Online Doctoral Degrees in Nursing
The health care industry continues to evolve, and strong leadership is needed to train the next generation of nurses as well as contribute to the research that moves nursing science forward. Online doctoral degrees in nursing help professionals learn how to affect positive change in the nursing field and ensure future nurses are ready for the challenges that await them.
As with other doctoral programs, nursing students can choose to pursue either a professional degree (Doctor of Nursing Practice) or research degree (Ph.D. in nursing). The curriculum of a Ph.D. program is designed to prepare students for an academic role in the nursing field that may include teaching at the college level and/or conducting original research. In comparison, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program can help graduates pursue leadership roles in the health care industry or become advanced practitioners in a specific area of nursing.
What Does a Doctoral Degree Program in Nursing Entail?
When enrolled full time, students can generally expect to earn an online nursing doctoral degree in three to seven years, though this can vary greatly.
Core curriculum in these programs may include health care research methods, health care policy, fundamentals of nursing education, the relationship between nursing theory and nursing practice, and ethical and legal considerations that influence the nursing profession. Examples of course topics include:
Health Care Publication Writing: The nursing profession progresses in part because of research conducted by leaders in the field. Nurses who are interested in contributing to this research must be able to properly present their ideas to professional journals in order to get published. Students in this course learn about the journal publication process, selecting a journal that is appropriate for a particular research idea, understanding submission guidelines, searching for literature to support a research paper and how to use reference management software. In addition, students are taught how to overcome common challenges that research writers face that can sabotage their progress, such as writer's block, poor time management, and procrastination. To give students the hands-on experience they need to succeed in academic writing, students may be required to conceptualize an idea to submit to a journal, conduct a literature search for an article idea, write a publication-ready research paper and review the journal articles of their peers.
Nursing Theory: In order to understand the field of nursing, students must understand the theory that guides the industry. This course gives nurses a comprehensive view of nursing theory and how it has been applied to the practice of nursing. Students can expect to learn the history of nursing science theory, the role of experimentation in determining the validity of a theory, the criteria used to evaluate a theory, and the factors that can influence theory development. To gain a first-hand understanding of the course material, students may be required to develop their own nursing theories, as well as critique the theories of their classmates.
Nursing Education: Developing the next generation of skilled nurses depends on quality education. Nursing education courses give nurses the knowledge, theories and skills needed to take on an academic role at colleges and universities. Students in this course can expect to learn about the teaching and learning processes; the trends, issues and evolution of higher education procedures and policies; communication skills needed to succeed in the classroom; historical and contemporary theories that guide higher education; legal and ethical issues that influence nursing education; and best practices for creating a class curriculum. To give students hands-on experience with the course material, professors may require them to teach an undergraduate nursing class, create a curriculum or critique their colleagues' performance in the classroom.
Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods: This course is designed to give students the tools they need to contribute to the research that shapes the nursing profession. Students in this course can expect to learn qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, data collection, data sampling and validation, and experimental research designs. In addition, this class also teaches students the relationship between research results and health care policy, ethical considerations associated with research, and threats to research credibility. Classwork may include hands-on activities like critiquing published research studies and conducting original research.
In addition, students enrolled in Ph.D. programs are required to write and defend a dissertation on a specific nursing theory topic while those in DNP programs may have to complete a comprehensive examination, clinical practicum and/or capstone project. Students may also be required to choose an area of nursing to concentrate on, such as health care informatics, nursing education, clinical research, or health care management.
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm
May 2015 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
Medical and Health Services Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-servi"