Online Nursing Degree Programs
The nursing profession encompasses one of the largest and most diverse segments of the healthcare industry. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), there are more than 3.1 million registered nurses (RNs) licensed to practice in the US alone, which is more than four times the number of physicians. This large workforce is comprised of different types of nurses with distinct clinical specializations, varying levels of training, and separate yet interdependent roles across the vast American healthcare system. At every level of nursing and in every specialized area of patient care and healthcare administration, nurses must receive formal clinical and didactic training in a range of subject areas pertaining to the evidence-based practice of nursing and the proper and ethical delivery of health services.
Online nursing degree programs are designed to offer specialized instruction and advanced training to RNs who hold a valid state license to practice. Students in online nursing degree programs receive all or most of their classroom instruction online. They are able to complete programs without incurring the cost and inconvenience associated with commuting to a physical campus. Most online nursing degree programs also include practicums, internships, and other types of supervised clinical training. Depending on the type of nursing degree program, the area of specialization, and the certification and licensing requirements in that field of nursing, the number of supervised clinical hours required can vary greatly. This clinical training has to be completed on site at a facility approved by the program.
Types of Online Nursing Degree Programs
Online nursing degree programs are an option for licensed RNs who are looking to further their careers by adding an area of specialization or addition skills to the training they have already received. These programs may offer different pathways for RNs with different educational backgrounds. For example, most online nursing programs admit RNs who have successfully completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program. Some programs may also accommodate RNs with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, and/or RNs who received their training in an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) program or nursing diploma program.
conducts independent research into online nursing degree programs. Programs that require more than three campus visits per year are not categorized as online programs by , and are not included on the site at this time. Programs with three or fewer required campus visits are classified and grouped based on their curricular objectives and the level of degree offered. Currently, groups nursing programs into the following categories:
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Programs for Licensed RNs (RN-to-BSN programs): These programs provide RNs who were trained in ADN (or nursing diploma) programs with the general education coursework and additional instruction in nursing theory and practice required to earn a BSN degree. The RN-to-BSN completion curriculum typically includes coursework in nursing leadership, healthcare technologies, health research methods, and community health nursing. In addition, these programs offer RNs coursework in core and general education areas like statistics, chemistry, Western culture, professional and academic writing, sociology, and psychology.
- Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Programs: These are Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs with a curriculum that targets the skills and knowledge necessary to sit for the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC) CNL examination. Students in these programs receive advanced clinical training in subjects like pathology and pharmacology, as well as instruction in management theories and strategies, healthcare finance, bioinformatics, and the evidence-based delivery of patient care services.
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs (MSN-to-DNP): DNP programs offer a terminal nursing degree to MSN-trained nurses who are aiming to take on leadership positions at hospitals and medical centers. Online DNP programs are designed for post-master’s students, and offer online coursework in areas like research appraisal, scholarly writing, healthcare finance and budgeting, and quantitative methods for improving healthcare.
- Nurse Educator Programs: Nurse educators receive instruction at the master’s degree level in the tools and techniques used to teach nursing in colleges, universities, hospitals, and other clinical educational settings. Online master’s in nurse education programs provide coursework in theories of education, general advanced clinical practice areas of nursing, and the application of research in nursing education.
- Nurse Practitioner (NP) Programs: These master’s degree programs offer instruction in advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) and provide RNs with the training necessary to diagnose and treat a range of medical conditions, prescribe medications, administer physical exams, and perform other clinical functions. They often include areas of specialized training, including but not limited to adult/gerontology care, family care, pediatric care, and psychiatric mental health care. In addition, for some specializations, RNs are able to focus on acute or primary care as well.
- Nurse-Midwifery Programs: These programs are master’s level APRN programs with a specialized curriculum designed to prepare RNs to sit for the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) exam. They include training in general advanced practice nursing (biostatics, pathophysiology, pharmacology), as well as in areas like reproductive health; women’s illnesses; pediatric nursing; and antepartum, postpartum, and newborn care.
- Nursing Administration and Executive Nurse Leader Programs: These MSN programs offer training for RNs who want the skills necessary to work in nursing management, administration, and executive positions. In addition to general MSN coursework, the curriculum targets proficiencies in organizational communications, healthcare information technologies, personnel management, and healthcare improvement strategies.
Additional Nursing Degree Resources on
In addition to maintaining an up-to-date, independently researched database of online nursing programs, provides several other resources for students interested in pursuing a nursing degree or learning more about careers in nursing. We provide detailed information on program structures, accrediting bodies, state and national certifications, and other aspects of nursing education and career advancement. In our FAQ section, we address relevant questions about nursing specializations, careers in nursing, and the various pathways to becoming a nurse. We also provide a full complement of expert interviews and informational resources for students who want to learn more about online education. Check out our nursing school profiles to learn more about featured online programs.