With more than 3.1 million registered nurses practicing across the nation, nursing is the largest healthcare profession in the world. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a projected job growth of 12% between 2018 and 2028 for registered nurses. Students who want to take advantage of the lucrative career opportunities within the nursing profession can review this page to learn more about their options.
Readers can explore the different types of online nursing programs they can enroll in to prepare them for a variety of nursing careers. The online format allows nursing students to take advantage of the flexible delivery that enables them to continue working while they complete their coursework.
Online nursing programs typically align with on-campus counterparts, featuring the same course topics and requirements. Students should enroll in accredited online programs that meet licensing criteria.
Online LPN/LVN Diploma
Earning an online LPN/LVN diploma equips learners with the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue licensure and careers as licensed practical nurses or licensed vocational nurses. Diploma programs typically take students about a year or less to complete.
Some schools offer LPN-to-BSN bridge programs, allowing LPNs to earn their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) by building on the classes they took to complete their LPN diploma. Before nurses can earn their license and work as an LPN or LVN, they must pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Coursework prepares learners for their licensing exams.
Online ADN Degree Program
Many aspiring nurses earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN), providing them with the education they need for a registered nurse (RN) license. Earning an ADN typically takes degree-seekers about two years, allowing them to begin their entry-level nursing careers sooner.
ADN graduates often pursue a BSN after satisfying their associate requirements. Some schools offer ADN-to-BSN bridge programs, enabling enrollees with an associate degree to earn their bachelor’s degree sooner than traditional bachelor’s students. Learners can explore a variety of program options to earn their associate degree, with unique course requirements.
Online BSN Degree Program
Degree-seekers can explore a variety of program options and formats to earn their bachelor of science in nursing, such as a traditional online BSN, BSN bridge programs, or an accelerated BSN. Each program holds its own admission requirements, courses, and graduation requirements. Earning a BSN can prepare nurses for more advanced, specialized career opportunities and a variety of licensing opportunities.
Traditional Online BSN Degree
Nursing students can explore traditional online BSN programs across a variety of colleges and universities. Typically, these bachelor’s programs take learners about four years to complete. They usually require 120 credits of coursework, including general education requirements and nursing-specific classes. While nursing graduates can pursue their RN license after earning an associate degree in nursing, many prospective nurses earn their bachelor’s degree before pursuing their RN license.
The online format can provide learners with the flexibility to continue working as they earn their degree. For associate degree-holders enrolled in an online bachelor’s program, the convenient delivery can allow them to hold an entry-level nursing position while they complete their degree, enabling them to gain educational and professional experience simultaneously.
Online BSN Bridge Program
Many colleges and universities offer bridge programs for BSN students. Degree-seekers can explore RN-to-BSN or ADN-to-BSN options. Enrollees interested in an RN-to-BSN option can earn their bachelor’s degree faster because they already hold their RN license. ADN-to-BSN students must hold an associate degree in nursing to apply.
Bridge programs vary in length depending on both the program type and specific institution. Most students complete these programs within two years, earning their bachelor’s degree in half the time it takes traditional nursing students at the bachelor’s level.
Online Accelerated BSN Program
Nursing students who want to earn their bachelor’s degree in less than the standard four years can enroll in an accelerated program. While completion times differ by program, bachelor’s students in accelerated programs can anticipate taking 2-3 years to earn their degree.
While many accelerated programs offer on-campus completion options, several colleges and universities feature online opportunities, allowing learners to take advantage of a more flexible format. Online programs feature the same course credits, semesters of study, and clinical-hour requirements as on-campus counterparts.
Online MSN Degree Programs
Earning a master of science in nursing (MSN) prepares graduates to explore more specialized, advanced levels of nursing. These programs equip degree-seekers with the knowledge and skills they need to pursue national certification in a specialty area of nursing, such as geriatrics, pediatrics, or obstetrics.
Admission requirements can differ depending on the institution, but candidates should earn both a bachelor’s degree in nursing and an unencumbered RN license. At the master’s level, students can enroll in online direct entry programs, online master of public health (MPH) programs, and MSN-to-DNP bridge programs.
Online Direct-Entry MSN Programs
Direct-entry MSN programs allow ADN and RN program graduates to enroll directly into an MSN program, bypassing the need to first earn their bachelor’s degree elsewhere. Full-time students typically complete their program within two years.
Specific coursework depends on the program, though typical offerings include diagnostic reasoning, healthcare policy and ethics, and global health. Some programs allow learners to pursue a specialization in areas like nurse management, nursing education, and clinical nurse leadership.
Online MPH Programs
MPH programs prepare degree-seekers to pursue careers as health researchers, educators, and advocates. Earning an MPH degree can also prepare learners for careers as biostatisticians, epidemiologists, and nurses. Some institutions offer learners the opportunity to earn a dual MPH and MSN degree.
While specific course topics vary by school, many MPH programs offer courses in population dynamics and public health, environmental health, and methods in biostatistics. During their rigorous curriculum, MPH students prepare for certification opportunities, including the certified health education specialist credential and a certification in infection prevention and control.
Online MSN-to-DNP Degree Program
Students who already hold an MSN along with an active RN license can apply to MSN-to-DNP programs, allowing them to earn their doctoral degree sooner than they would in a traditional format. Admission requirements typically include GRE scores, a minimum GPA, and letters of recommendation.
Completing an MSN-to-DNP takes significantly less time than earning each degree separately. Many students can satisfy their program requirements online in as little as one year. Common concentration opportunities include health systems executive leadership, nurse anesthesia, and family (individual across the lifespan). At this level, learners explore topics in genetics and molecular therapeutics, organizational and management theory, and healthcare public policy.
Online Dual Degree Programs
Nursing students can consider online dual degree programs to increase their earning potential and expand their career opportunities. Dual degrees require learners to complete more coursework than a typical program and include blended coursework focusing on nursing and another field.
Courses often require degree-seekers to complete additional credit hours, exams, and assignments and typically take learners longer to complete. Dual degree options in the nursing field include an MSN/Master of Business Administration (MBA), an MSN/Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA), MSN/MPH, and an MSN/Master of Public Administration (MPA).
Online MSN/MHA Dual Degree Program
Pursuing an MSN/MHA dual degree prepares learners for careers as healthcare administrators and managers. Online learners benefit from a flexible pathway, completing the same clinical hour and internship requirements as on-campus students.
Learners who enroll in MSN/MHA programs follow a faster path to advance into leadership roles in the nursing discipline. While students in MSN or MHA degrees complete courses focused on leadership in healthcare, students in dual degree programs can apply credits from some of the same required course material to satisfy the requirements for each degree.
Online MSN/MBA Dual Degree Program
Online MSN/MBA dual degree programs provide nurses with the opportunity to earn their nursing and business administration degrees at the same time, preparing them for careers as healthcare executives. During the rigorous curriculum, degree-seekers focus on advanced nursing and business topics.
MSN/MBA online programs enable students to graduate with both degrees in under 60 credits while earning each degree separately typically requires more than 70 credits. Courses focus on topics, such as health informatics, advanced health assessment, health economics, and healthcare management.
Online MSN/MPH Dual Degree Program
Earning an MSN/MPH dual degree prepares learners for careers in both the nursing and public health fields. Students interested in supplementing their medical education can focus on learning more about foundational public health knowledge while simultaneously exploring advanced patient care techniques.
Full-time students usually complete their degree in 2-3 years. Credit requirements vary depending on the program, lingering between 60-90 credits. Most programs require a clinical practicum component. Some institutions allow MSN/MPH students to pursue specializations in areas, such as epidemiology, health services leadership and management, and global health.
Online Nursing Bridge Programs
Many nursing students choose to enroll in bridge programs, allowing them to earn their degree sooner than they would in a traditional format. Nursing students who have already earned a diploma, license, certification, or degree can explore different program options, including an LPN-to-BSN, ADN-to-MSN, Paramedic-to-RN, RN-to-BSN, RN-to-MSN, and RN-to-DNP.
These options enable learners with prior experience to apply their existing knowledge and skills during a more advanced curriculum, expanding their career opportunities.
Online LPN-to-BSN Bridge Program
LPN-to-BSN bridge programs and LPN-to-RN programs prepare licensed practical nurses to practice as registered nurses after graduation. Completing these programs equips graduates with the necessary knowledge and skills to advance their career opportunities and increase their earning potential.
During their rigorous curriculum, LPN-to-BSN students focus on understanding different patient populations and developing diagnostic skills and competencies. Graduates can complete their NCLEX-RN exam to begin practicing professionally across a variety of healthcare settings, including long-term care facilities, government agencies, and health clinics.
Online ADN-to-MSN Bridge Program
Graduates with their associate degree in nursing who hold an unencumbered RN license can explore ADN-to-MSN bridge programs, earning their master’s degree sooner than they would if they pursued their bachelor’s and master’s degrees individually.
During their unique curriculum, learners focus on advanced topics in health information and patient care technologies, health promotion and risk reduction, and healthcare environments and care coordination. ADN-to-MSN programs may offer flexible online delivery, highlighting asynchronous coursework for an added layer of convenience and enabling learners to complete their course requirements at their own pace.
Online Paramedic-to-RN Bridge Programs
Paramedics interested in becoming a nurse to expand their career opportunities can enroll in online paramedic-to-RN bridge programs. Every one of these bridge programs is different, featuring unique admission requirements, curriculum components, accreditation, course topics, and program length.
While admissions criteria varies depending on the institution, eligible applicants must be licensed paramedics. Some programs require applicants to hold a license, while others require a specific amount of professional experience. Full-time students typically complete their bridge program within 1.5-2 years, taking 12-17 credits each semester. The curriculum explores course topics, such as pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, and lifespan and human development.
Online RN-to-BSN Bridge Programs
One of the most popular bridge programs for nursing students, the RN-to-BSN option allows applicants who hold an unencumbered registered nurse license to earn their bachelor’s degree in nursing at an accelerated pace. Enrollees can advance their skills and knowledge, building upon the education they gained in their associate program and entry-level job experience.
Upon earning their BSN, graduates can explore careers as clinical specialists, nurse administrators, and nurse educators. Some of the most common employers for BSN degree-holders include hospitals, schools, and long-term care facilities. RN-to-BSN programs typically require learners to satisfy 30 credits of coursework. Full-time students can complete their requirements in as little as 12 months.
Online RN-to-MSN Bridge Program
Registered nurses who do not hold a BSN and plan on earning an MSN to explore advanced nursing roles can consider online RN-to-MSN bridge programs that comprise bachelor’s and master’s-level coursework in one program. During their curriculum, learners focus on building their advanced practice nursing skills, understanding how to diagnose health problems, order diagnostic tests, and prescribe the appropriate medications.
After earning an MSN, graduates can pursue national certification and begin practicing as a nurse practitioner, providing care for various patient populations. Nurses focused on advanced practice care typically work in a specific area of medicine, such as obstetrics or gerontology.
Online RN-to-DNP Bridge Program
Registered nurses who plan on pursuing academic, leadership, and research positions in nursing can enroll in an online RN-to-DNP bridge program to build upon their theoretical competencies and knowledge. During their rigorous curriculum, enrollees explore topics in evidence-based practice, informatics for leadership in health and healthcare, and nursing policy.
In addition to their advanced coursework, learners must complete clinical practice hours, a culminating final project, and comprehensive exams. These programs can take students between 3-6 years to complete, depending on their educational background and program requirements.
Online MSN Specialization Programs
The nursing field encompasses a variety of career opportunities focused on different patient populations. While nursing roles at the associate and bachelor’s levels tend to focus on more entry-level, broad opportunities, master’s level careers allow graduates to explore advanced practice options.
Advanced practice registered nurses can work with specific patient populations to provide care. Some institutions offer MSN specialization programs to prepare learners for certain roles in the field, such as nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, gerontology, family practice, diabetes, neonatal nurse practitioner, nurse educator, nursing leadership, health informatics, and acute care.
Online Nurse Practitioner Program
Online nurse practitioner programs may offer concentration opportunities that allow learners to focus on a specific patient population. Common concentrations include family nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, and women’s health nurse practitioner.
The rigorous curriculum explores information technology and data management, advanced pharmacology, and health politics and policy. Degree-seekers who hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing and an RN license typically satisfy their program requirements within 1-2 years, while associate degree-holders with their RN license take around three years to graduate.
Online Nurse Midwife Program
Designed for nurses who want to specialize their careers and provide care for expectant mothers, online nurse midwife programs prepare students for advanced practice nursing care, offering courses in postpartum care, advanced health assessment, and fetal evaluation.
In addition to the required courses, nurse midwife students must complete clinical hour requirements to prepare them with hands-on experience in patient care. Graduates can pursue American Midwifery Certification Board Certification, Neonatal Resuscitation Program Certification, and Electronic Fetal Monitoring Certification.
Online Gerontology Program
Nurses who want to care for elderly patients and study the process of aging can enroll in online MSN in gerontology programs. The curriculum explores common adult health problems, transitional care for chronically ill adult patients, and adult-gerontology comprehensive assessment.
Gerontology programs allow registered nurses to build upon their existing skills and develop an understanding of common health problems, chronic conditions, and acute and episodic issues. While program length can vary depending on the institution, most learners complete their degree within two years.
Online Family Practice Program
During online MSN in family nursing programs, degree-seekers develop the skills and knowledge needed to pursue leadership roles, manage other RNs, and prescribe medicine. Family practice nursing students learn to build meaningful, lasting relationships with their patients.
Enrollees who hold a BSN typically complete their program requirements in about 20-25 months, while ADN degree-holders take around 30-36 months to graduate. Degree-seekers learn about advanced pathophysiology, leadership and health policy, and advanced pharmacotherapeutics.
Online Diabetes Program
Nursing students who want to work with patients living with diabetes can enroll in an online MSN in diabetes program. Most of these programs require applicants to hold a 3.0 GPA or higher, a BSN, and an unencumbered RN license. Along with a completed application, many schools require candidates to provide a goals statement, resume, and letters of recommendation.
During the curriculum, degree-seekers learn about advanced management of pediatric diabetes, clinical practice in diabetes care and management, and advanced clinical management of adult diabetes.
Online Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Program
Focused on equipping learners with the skills and knowledge necessary to work with newborn babies, online neonatal nurse practitioner programs feature different requirements, depending on the institution. Students learn about neonatal disease practice, pediatric care, and health informatics during their curriculum.
These programs prepare learners for certification as women’s healthcare nurse practitioners, neonatal nurse practitioners, or family nurse practitioners. Most programs require learners to complete around 40 credits of coursework along with clinical hours.
These programs typically require between 36-39 credits. Some institutions offer accelerated online options, allowing learners to complete their degree in between 16-18 months. Students learn about curriculum development, evaluation strategies and methods, and instructional strategies.
Online Nursing Leadership Program
To become a public health nurse, learners can pursue an online nursing leadership program. Most full-time learners can complete their degree in two years. Students who enroll part time take closer to four years to satisfy their program requirements.
Nursing leadership master’s programs prepare degree-seekers for careers as public health nurse managers, directors of health education programs, and directors of community health centers. The rigorous curriculum explores public health nursing theory and practice, population-based public health nursing interventions, and epidemiology and population health.
Online Health Informatics Program
Combining concepts of technology and healthcare, online MSN in health informatics programs focus on clinical nursing skills and emerging technology. Learners explore data management in healthcare, nursing informatics leadership, and nursing research methodologies during their coursework.
Students participate in internships, providing them with the chance to gain hands-on experience. Graduates can pursue informatics nursing certification or the certified professional in healthcare information and management systems credential.
Online Acute Care Program
Online MSN in acute care programs typically require between 35-50 credits of coursework, taking learners between 1-3 years to complete. During their curriculum, students learn about advanced practice care of adults across the lifespan, advanced health assessment and diagnostic reasoning, and advanced pharmacology.
After completing their program, graduates can pursue certifications as clinical nurse specialists, adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners, and acute care nurse practitioners.
Online DNP Degree Programs
Earning a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) prepares learners with the specialized skills and knowledge they need to pursue the largest scope of career opportunities in the nursing field. Specific admission requirements, course topics, program components, and program length may differ by college or university. DNP students typically explore a particular population area, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, or mental health.
Online BSN-to-DNP Program
Students who hold a BSN and plan to pursue a DNP can consider enrolling in an online BSN-to-DNP program to expedite program completion. Doctoral programs typically require between 65-90 credits of coursework, taking learners between 3-6 years to finish.
BSN-to-DNP students can often choose an emphasis area with common options, including women’s health, psychiatric mental health, and neonatal nurse practitioner. In addition to their required coursework, doctoral students may need to complete cumulative experiences, such as research projects, dissertations, or a thesis. Curriculum requirements are often built around state licensing criteria.
Online RN-to-DNP Program
Designed for working RNs who want to advance their career opportunities, online RN-to-DNP programs prepare students for leadership, research, and academic positions. Graduates can work as nurse practitioners, overseeing other nursing staff. During their program, nurses build upon their theoretical competencies and knowledge, focusing on evidence-based practice and nursing policy.
In addition to their required coursework, learners must typically complete about 1,000 clinical practice hours. Most students graduate in 3-6 years depending on their educational background. Doctoral students also complete comprehensive examinations and a culminating final project, preparing them to meet their state’s specific licensing requirements.
Online MSN-to-DNP Program
Students with an MSN who want to earn a doctoral degree at an accelerated pace can consider enrolling in an online MSN-to-DNP program. Candidates who hold a DNP can explore a wider variety of career options and higher salary opportunities.
MSN-to-DNP programs generally require students to complete between 30-40 credits of coursework along with about 500 hours of supervised clinical experience. Learners can tailor their program to align with their personal interests and career goals by choosing a specialization. Common concentration options include health systems executive leadership, nurse anesthesia, and family care.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you become an RN with an online degree?
Earning a nursing degree online provides individuals with the same degree as on-campus graduates, as long as the online program holds the appropriate accreditation. To become an RN, candidates must earn an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor of science in nursing.
Are online nursing programs credible?
When looking for the right online nursing program, degree-seekers should pay close attention to accreditation. Credible nursing programs should feature both regional accreditation and specialized accreditation. Most online programs follow the same rigorous curriculum as their on-campus counterparts.
How quickly can I get a nursing degree?
The amount of time it takes learners to earn a nursing degree depends on the degree level, specific program requirements, and whether they enroll part or full time. Some schools also offer bridge programs or accelerated formats, enabling learners to earn their degree sooner.
Are online degrees easy?
While online degrees afford students with more flexibility, they are not necessarily easier than on-campus programs. Online learners should be disciplined and self-sufficient. Earning a degree online also requires degree-seekers to possess excellent time management skills.
Will my online degree get me a job?
A diploma earned from an online program is the same diploma students earn when they graduate from an on-campus program. Both options follow the same course topics and requirements, preparing enrollees to pursue a variety of job opportunities after graduation.
Why get an online degree?
Online degrees provide learners with the flexibility and convenience they need to satisfy their program requirements while balancing other commitments, including career and family. Online programs also allow students to access advanced technologies and resources.
Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.
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Nurses pursuing their doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degrees attain the highest level of education in the profession. DNP degree-holders become nurse practitioners (NPs), healthcare administrators, nurse educators, and researchers.