Three Popular Online Nursing Degree Programs

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Nursing, as the saying goes, is a noble profession—and certainly the more than 2.75 million nurses in the U.S. wouldn't disagree. Nurses constitute the largest health care occupation, with 61 percent of registered nurses (RNs) working in hospitals around the country. Nurses perform a variety of duties. They selflessly treat patients, educate the public about various medical conditions and they provide advice and emotional support to patients' family members. Other responsibilities include recording a patient's medical history and symptoms, helping to perform diagnostic tests, analyzing test results, operating medical machinery, administering medication and helping with patient rehabilitation.

While registered nurses routinely perform these general duties, a nurse can also work in a specialized capacity. For example, a nurse may choose to be an occupational health nurse and help prevent job-related injuries or illnesses. An RN may teach patients and their families how to manage their illness or injury, and educate them in post-treatment home care needs or diet, nutrition and exercise programs. Some may choose to work outside of the hospital system to promote general health by educating the public on symptoms and the prevention of disease.

But if any of these specialized nursing career options appeal to you, you'll need to pursue a higher degree. So how can registered nurses augment their skills, salary and professional growth? We've profiled three popular online nursing degree programs available for currently registered nurses—all of which will allow you to continue working at your current nursing job while taking a big step up the career ladder.

1. RN-to-BSN Online Degree Program

The following are the primary advantages of earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN):

  • You can move into a management or administrative role.
  • You'll earn more money.
  • You'll be eligible to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).
  • It can open the path to becoming a nurse midwife or nurse practitioner.

About the Degree Program

Accelerated online degree programs can earn a hard-working registered nurse a degree in as little as three semesters. However, taking into consideration the fact that most RNs continue to work full time while pursuing a BSN, the average length of an online RN-to-BSN degree program is 18 months. The BSN also provides credits for nursing skills already learned through school or work experience.

2. MSN Online Nursing Degree Program

The following are the primary advantages of earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN):

  • You can specialize in a particular area, such as advanced clinical training or research.
  • You'll earn more money.
  • You'll receive an education in business practices so you can take an advanced role in your workplace.
  • You'll receive training in leadership skills.
  • You can become a nursing educator in any number of institutions, including hospitals, community centers, long-term health care facilities or charitable and philanthropic organizations.

About the Degree Program

An online MSN degree typically takes 18 to 24 months to complete. You will need to have your BSN from an accredited school as well as your RN license and some clinical work experience to pursue your MSN. Some schools may require you to provide your GPA and GRE scores.

3. Nurse Practitioner Online Degree Program

The following are the primary advantages of earning a Nurse Practitioner Degree (NP):

  • You will be able to prescribe medications.
  • You'll earn more money.
  • You'll be prepared to qualify for national specialty and subspecialty certification in your area of practice.
  • You'll cultivate advanced skills as an educator, counselor, consultant, manager, researcher and mentor.
  • You'll develop the clinical and professional expertise necessary for primary care and specialty care practice in a variety of settings.

About the Degree Program

The online nurse practitioner program will take 1 to 2 years to complete. The NP degree is the equivalent of a master's degree.

Things to Remember

  • As baby boomers in the United States age, the demand for qualified nurses is increasing, but enrollment in nursing school isn't growing quickly enough to accommodate the aging population. High-quality online education is helping to compensate for the fact that traditional nursing schools aren't able to manage the influx of new students due to space limitations and a lack of qualified educators.
  • When choosing your online nursing degree program, make sure the school you select is accredited. Earning your advanced nursing degree from an accredited school will make you more competitive in the job market because employers understand that accredited graduates are trained under nationally established standards for nursing education.

Sources: Medical-Legal Consulting Institute, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics