Online nursing schools

If you've ever thought about giving nursing a try as a career, now might just be the perfect time. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) cites a generally aging population and the resulting increase in demand for medical and clinical services as the driving force behind some nearly unprecedented job growth projections among nursing careers between 2012 and 2022. Here are just a few of the growth numbers projected by the BLS:

  • Registered nurses: 19 percent
  • Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses: 25 percent
  • Nurse anesthetists: 25 percent
  • Nurse midwives: 29 percent
  • Nurse practitioners: 34 percent

What's more, hundreds of schools all over the U.S. possess the facilities and the faculty to give you the knowledge and skills you need to get the ball rolling on your nursing career. Here's a table showing the number of institutions in each geographical region of the country that are equipped to train nurses at the entry and advanced levels, as well as a count of online nursing schools that offer registered nurse training and online nurse practitioner programs, according to data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):

Region No. of schools offering registered nurse training No. of institutions with online nursing schools No. of schools offering nurse practitioner training No. of institutions with online nurse practitioner programs
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 227 21 16 5
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 86 23 5 1
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 205 46 20 7
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 232 68 16 6
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 566 140 51 17
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 328 83 33 10
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 283 50 32 9
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 106 18 12 3
Total (all 50 states) 2033 449 185 58

Entry-level nursing programs

Entry-level programs from traditional and online nursing schools are one of the most well-worn paths into the nursing profession. Here's some detail about a few types of first- and second-tier nursing programs that you might want to consider:

  • Nursing Assistant/Nurse Aide - Training for nursing assistants and nurse aides often takes about six weeks and typically doesn't require any previous college or university experience. Programs like these are commonly offered at medical training centers, junior colleges and career academies and culminate in a certificate rather than an academic degree.
  • LPN/LVN - Licensed practical nurses, also known as licensed vocational nurses in California and Texas, usually find employment in assisted living facilities, doctors' offices, clinics and home care settings. Two distinct academic pathways can lead to work as an LPN/LVN — an associate degree in nursing, which may take anywhere from 18 to 24 months to complete, or a career diploma which may require less than one calendar year of full-time study.
  • RN - Registered nursing is the largest nursing profession, with nearly three million nurses actively employed as of 2014. RN programs tend to be delivered in similar ways to LPN/LVN programs, being offered as academic degree plans at the associate level or as diploma programs at career academies and medical training centers.
  • BSN - The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree can help working nurses add administrative, scientific and academic knowledge to their nursing skillset, which may be necessary for positions that involve managerial or self-supervisory duties. BSN degrees typically require four years' worth of credit hours to complete, but they can be shortened with transfer credits from associate degree programs or other prior accredited coursework.

Some of these entry-level degrees, particularly BSN programs, can be earned online. Nursing schools across the country understand how difficult it can be for nurses to find time in their schedules, and online programs are often designed to allow working nurses to continue their education without taking undue time away from their professional responsibilities.

Advanced-degree nursing programs

Nurses who want to expand their scope of practice or move into managerial or administrative work may need advanced degrees to move up the ladder. Here's some detail about traditional and online nurse practitioner programs, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs and other options for advanced nursing education.

  • MSN - Master's degree programs are the preferred pathway to a range of advanced nursing careers. Students tend to specialize in one area of advanced nursing — such as nurse midwife, nurse educator, clinical nurse leader and nurse anesthetist — and concentrate a large portion of their coursework on deep study of their chosen subject.
  • DNP - The most advanced practical nursing qualification available is the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. DNP programs exist for master's graduates as well as bachelor's graduates, and at some institutions may come in an even greater list of specialties than the MSN. Online nurse practitioner programs may be available, depending on your specialty.
  • Transitional degree plans- Depending on the institution, programs may be designed to transition a nurse from one certain level of training to another. Here's a short list of programs that may be available:
    • RN to MSN
    • BSN to MSN
    • RN to DNP
    • BSN to DNP
    • MSN to DNP
  • PhD - Nurses who wish to go into scholarship, research or nurse education can go on to earn a PhD in nursing or nursing science. Few practicing nurses hold PhDs, but an academically oriented doctoral degree can help you develop habits of scholarly thinking that can help you solve problems at the systemic level of your discipline.

Most upper-level nursing degrees come with limited requirement for hands-on training, which means that digital distance learning is a common option for advanced degree candidates. Certain specialties may be restricted to campus-based study at some schools, but online nurse practitioner programs, clinical nurse specialist programs and more can be found.

Q&A with experts

Elena RomElena Rom, CEO of Abcor Home Health in Chicago

Why would you encourage someone to consider a nursing degree?

First of all, nursing has become one of the most stable professions in recent years. There is constantly demand for nurses across the country even if one specific position doesn't work out for whatever reason. This demand is due to the aging population and the growth in the number of baby boomers requiring medical services.

What would have been helpful to know when you were looking into nursing schools?

The schools' national ratings are a much overlooked factor when it comes to evaluating schooling options. Candidates frequently will choose a specific school because it's close to the home or cheaper than other options, but when considering long term career prospects, it's helpful to consider how potential employers will view your education.

What's some advice you would give to someone who's just starting out in their nursing education?

I'd advise new nursing students to avoid working on the side if possible to focus on their clinical practice. This will be the foundation of knowledge that will help them throughout their careers, and the effects should not be underestimated. Get your BSN first, then start working. This will help you come out well ahead in the end.

Patti CollinsPatti Collins, director of the MassBay Community College Nursing Program

What are the most common educational paths for those interested in a nursing career?

This depends upon the end goal. If the goal is to work with stable elders or in clinic settings then a LPN is a good option, it is 10 months of full time and then you're ready to work.

Are there significant differences between RN training in diploma programs vs. associate degree programs?

Yes. Not all diploma programs offer college level classes. In today's environment it is important to confirm the diploma program you are considering is affiliated with an accredited college and awards college credit for the work you do.

Which nursing degree would you recommend to new nursing students today? Is it a good idea to go straight to a BSN or should they spend some time working as an RN first?

Either is OK — again it depends upon their end goal. Many nursing students are second career or returning students, so a degree in a non-nursing field positions them well for a direct entry advanced practice program if nurse practitioner is the goal.

Types of nursing careers

Entry-level nurses may not know just how great a variety of careers there is on the nursing spectrum, from nursing assistant to registered nurse practitioner to nurse educator. Here's a table of some of the primary careers available to graduates of traditional and online nursing schools, provided that work experience and educational attainment requirements are met:

Occupation title National mean annual salary
Projected job growth
Total U.S. employment
Entry-level education
Nursing Assistant $26,250 21 percent 1,534,400 High school diploma or equivalent
Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse $43,420 25 percent 738,400 Postsecondary non-degree award
Registered Nurse $69,790 19 percent 2,711,500 Associate degree
Nursing Instructor/Teacher, Postsecondary $70,650 35 percent 67,800 Bachelor's degree
Medical or Health Services Manager $103,680 23 percent 315,500 Bachelor's degree
Nurse Midwife $97,700 29 percent 1,700 Master's degree
Nurse Practitioner $97,990 12 percent 110,200 Master's degree
Nurse Anesthetist $158,900 13 percent 8,800 Master's degree

Common misconceptions about nursing degrees

Nursing may be one of the most popular health care professions, but there's still some imperfect information about nursing schools and degrees floating around. If you're planning to look into traditional or online nursing schools, make sure not to do so with these misconceptions in mind:

  • Misconception: Online RN and LPN training is easy to find. Fact: Programs that can train you to be an RN or LPN/LVN typically include hands-on sections that can't be easily reproduced in the virtual classroom, which tends to restrict these important starter programs to campus-based colleges and medical training centers.
  • Misconception: An MSN is required for all administrative or managerial positions. Fact: While positions of this nature do typically seek candidates with at least a bachelor's level education, adequate experience in the health care field and a few courses dedicated to administrative knowledge or skills may be more important to some employers than an advanced degree.
  • Misconception: Credits will transfer from any one nursing degree program to another. Fact: Not every nursing program is offered at an accredited institution of higher education, and it can be somewhat difficult to transfer credits from an unaccredited institution to one with accreditation. Particularly you're seeking an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing, make sure that the school of your choice has earned regional or national accreditation before enrolling.

How can I enroll in an online nursing degree program?

The process of student admission tends to vary from institution to institution, but you can use the listings below to reach out to individual campus-based and online nursing schools to find out what next steps you can take. Whether you're looking for entry-level training or an advanced nursing degree, with just a little research you can find the right school for you.

1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed October 25, 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. School pages, accessed October 25, 2015: Nursing Assistant Program, Spalding University, https://spalding.edu/academics/nursing/nursing-assistant-training/; Nursing Assistant/Nurse Aide Program, Pima Medical Institute, http://pmi.edu/Programs/Certificate/Nursing-Assistant-Nurse-Aide/LearnMore; Online Healthcare Degree, Western Governors University, http://www.wgu.edu/online_health_professions_degrees/online_healthcare_degree; Associate of Science in Nursing, Kaplan University, http://www.kaplanuniversity.edu/nursing/nursing-associate-degree.aspx; LPN Program, Jersey College, http://www.jerseycollege.edu/nursing-programs/lpn-program/; Practical Nursing/Vocational Nursing Program, MSN Curriculum, Central Methodist University, http://www.centralmethodist.edu/graduate/nursing/curriculum.php; RN to BSN Program - Curriculum, University of Central Arkansas, http://uca.edu/nursing/rn-to-bsnmsn-curriculum/; MSN Curriculum, Xavier University, http://www.xavier.edu/msn/Curriculum.cfm; Online Master of Science in Nursing, University of Cincinnati, http://nursingonline.uc.edu/courses/; MSN to DNP Nurse Anesthesia, University of Pittsburgh, http://www.online.pitt.edu/nursing/Anesthesia.php; Post-Master's Doctor of Nursing Practice, Gonzaga University, https://online.gonzaga.edu/online-doctor-nursing-practice; DNP Curriculum, Case Western Reserve University, http://fpb.case.edu/DNP/curriculum.shtm; Doctor of Nursing Practice, University of Minnesota, http://www.nursing.umn.edu/DNP/index.htm; Post-Master's DNP Nurse Practitioner Track, Union University, http://www.uu.edu/programs/nursing/dnp/practitioner/; BSN-to-DNP Family Nurse Practitioner, Oklahoma City University, http://www.okcu.edu/nursing/programs/family-nurse-practitioner/; PhD in Nursing Science Program, Vanderbilt University, http://www.nursing.vanderbilt.edu/phd/welcome.html; PhD, Nursing, University of California San Francisco, http://nursing.ucsf.edu/academic-program/phd-nursing
3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed October 25, 2015: Nursing Assistants and Orderlies, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Nursing-assistants.htm; Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm; Registered Nurses, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Registered-nurses.htm; Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm; Medical and Health Services Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Management/Medical-and-health-services-managers.htm; Postsecondary Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Postsecondary-teachers.htm
4. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed October 25, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

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