There are a number of different degrees that will lead to a job in the nursing profession including a nursing diploma as well as associates, bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees in nursing. As a student, you will find that the best online degrees will prepare you for a nursing job just as well as a program at a brick-and-mortar school. However, it is important to remember that none of these programs are completely online, and every accredited degree will require you to complete on-site clinical training in addition to online coursework.
It is especially important to be sure that the online degree program that you choose is accredited. The field is growing quickly, and there are many suspect websites that promise to provide you with a quick and cheap degree. Fortunately, the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) and the Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) are accrediting organizations that set high educational standards for any school that offers a degree in online or on a traditional campus.
If you decide to get a nursing diploma degree, you can expect to enroll in a 2-year program that is hospital-based and provides a lot of hands-on clinical experience. Unlike LVN and LPN training, a nursing diploma will prepare you to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and work as a registered nurse (RN).
It is not possible to pursue a fully online diploma because of this degree’s emphasis on hands-on training. There are a few hybrid diploma programs that combine on-site clinical work with online classes. However, the vast majority of diploma programs are hospital based.
Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN or ADN)
The nursing field is becoming increasingly specialized and competitive, and as a result students are opting for undergraduate nursing degrees rather than diploma programs. A traditional or online associate in nursing (ADN) is the shortest route to an undergraduate degree and can you take you anywhere from 3 semesters to 3 years to complete.
An ADN program will also provide you with hands-on clinical experience, but unlike a nursing diploma, you will also have to take some general coursework in areas including biology and English composition. This broad coursework usually counts as credits toward higher degrees like bachelors or masters if you decide to continue your education later on. Many students choose the associates degrees programs because they require less time and financial resources than bachelors programs, yet they leave the path to a more advanced education open.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
Many traditional universities offer accredited degrees online or on campus as Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs. A BSN program will typically take you 4 years to complete, which is almost twice as much time required for most associates programs. Students often choose to pursue a brick-and-mortar or online bachelor in nursing because it provides a broader introduction to the science and theory of nursing than a hospital diploma or even an associates degree.
Additionally, most graduate programs and even some entry-level jobs will require you to have at least a bachelors or an associate degree in nursing. A growing number of well-known traditional colleges offer top online degrees at the bachelors level in addition to their on-campus programs. If you work or have a family and are not able to enroll in a traditional campus-based college, these online degrees can help you earn your BSN without giving up your personal obligations.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
A masters degree provides RNs with the credentials they need to pursue a doctorate-level education, while also qualifying them for nurse educator and management positions. An RN to MSN or traditional bachelors to masters program can take you anywhere from 2 to 4 years to complete depending on your previous coursework and experience.
Additionally, a masters degree in nursing is also the minimum requirement that you need to become an advanced practice nurse (APN or APRN). These highly specialized certifications allow you to practice as 1 of the following 4 types of specialists: certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), nurse practitioner (NP) or certified nurse midwife (CNM).
Just like the BSN degree, a number of respected universities now offer nursing online masters programs in addition to their campus-based degrees. These online programs will usually have the same accreditation as traditional programs. However, you should keep in mind that these online programs are hybrid and will require you to earn clinical hours that must be completed on site.
Certificate in Nursing
Earning a certificate in nursing allows you to demonstrate your experience and training in various specialty fields of practice like oncology, cardiology, pediatrics and many more. Most professional certificates are available only at the graduate level. Whether you complete your MSN degree online or on a traditional campus, graduate certificates are a great way to increase your specialized knowledge and make yourself more competitive and valuable on the job market.
You will usually earn a classroom-based or online certificate through a nonprofit professional nursing organization rather than a college or school. Although the requirements for each type of specialized certificate are different, most of them will require you to earn continuing education credits online or in a classroom. However, in almost every case you will also need to gather hundreds or even thousands of hours of on-site clinical training.
Doctorate in Nursing
The highest level of education for nurses is a doctorate, and there are 2 types available: a PhD in Nursing and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). A traditional or online PhD will focus on theory and on teaching you to perform academic research on topics like public health and healthcare systems from a nursing perspective.
By contrast, both brick-and-mortar and online DNP programs will prepare you to use research to evaluate and improve healthcare systems and nursing strategies. The PhD and the DNP play 2 very different but equally important roles in the field of nursing.
While many traditional and top online degrees at the doctoral level require a masters degree to gain admission, some schools also have bachelors-to-doctorate programs. You will typically need 3 to 4 years to complete a DNP program, while a PhD will usually require 4 to 5 years.
Earning a Nursing Degree Online
It is fairly common for students to earn an associates, bachelors, masters and even doctoral nursing degree online. It is important to remember, however, that most of these degrees are actually hybrid programs that combine online instruction with on-site clinical training.
Although an online degree can be a convenient option if you do not want to sacrifice family obligations or jobs, online learners should be aware that some online degrees may not be as competitive on the job market as traditional degrees. This is especially true if your program is new or doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location.
The best degrees online are usually offered by established brick-and-mortar universities that also have traditional programs. Degrees from these schools are often viewed more positively by employers than online-only schools. Online nursing programs offered through traditional colleges will usually provide you with a rich variety of resources, like interactive discussion boards, web conferences and lectures that are recorded or streamed live.
The Importance of Holding an Accredited Nursing Degree
Whether you would like to enroll in 1 of the numerous traditional or online schools, it is critical that you choose an accredited degree program. The National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) and the Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) as well as some individual state boards for nursing are the primary organizations that create and uphold the educational standards for accreditation.
The accreditation boards at these organizations ensure that programs adhere to the professional and ethical standards of nursing and ensure that each school’s curriculum is up to date with the latest standards in nursing science. Accreditation provides a simple standard for students to evaluate nursing schools and it lets healthcare employers know that a job candidate has received a quality education.