Learn How You Can Study Nursing
You can study nursing at nearly all levels of higher education, with degrees available at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels. Degrees are available through offline and online nursing programs, both of which offer thorough and rigorous coursework.
The Top Online Nursing Programs of 2013
Start by clicking on any school to get information on each of the top programs.
Brick-and-mortar nursing programs
Brick-and-mortar nursing programs have an advantage in that they make quality healthcare facilities, and faculty readily available to you during your studies. Some of the best brick-and-mortar nursing programs form partnerships with hospitals and medical research facilities where you can receive your training as a nurse. At a brick-and-mortar institution, you will also have an opportunity to form a community with your peers as you undergo clinical rotations at nearby health facilities and take theoretical coursework as a group.
However, a common perception is that brick-and-mortar nursing programs tend to cost more than online programs and tend to be more highly competitive. In addition, these programs don’t have the same flexible schedule as those offered online. The rigid class schedule of brick-and-mortar nursing schools might present a problem particularly if you’re juggling work shifts with going back to school for an advanced degree in nursing.
Nursing degrees online
Online nursing degrees are acceptable within the nursing field if you have previous experience and education. Nursing involves hands-on, direct care with people, and the online component of a nursing degree will only cover so much material. However, many distance learning programs will cover the majority of your theoretical coursework, meaning the written tests and assignments that you would otherwise do in a college classroom. In online associate’s and bachelor’s programs, these theoretical classes might include health and science subjects that form the foundation of nursing like anatomy, physiology, pathology, biology, and psychology. In advanced degree programs, these theoretical courses might involve subjects like group leadership, human resources management, sociology, and healthcare administration.
You will learn nursing theory online, but you can’t earn the entire degree over the web because you will need to complete a clinical practicum in person to learn direct-care nursing skills like: basic communication in interviewing patients, general health assessments, and supervised care of patients with acute or chronic conditions. Because online nursing degree programs provide mostly theoretical coursework, they are best suited for you if you have prior nursing experience and just need theoretical classwork to complete your degree.
Decide if Nursing is a Good Fit for You
Nursing is a demanding profession. Many nurses, particularly those who work in private clinics and hospitals, work with a number of patients, doctors, and healthcare personnel in a high-stress environment on a daily basis with few chances for breaks. They endure long hours of constant work that ranges from reporting detail-rich patient information to doctors to administering sensitive and highly specialized healthcare to those patients. Nurses ensure the healthcare and wellbeing of their patients, and therefore bear a huge responsibility within their field. Only people with a patient and disciplined temperament and willingness to work in a dynamic environment are suited to be nurses.
You will enjoy nursing as a profession if the above description of the position appeals to you and you have the following interests and qualities:
- You like working with people in informal and confidential settings
- You thrive in stressful situations
- You’re interested in the medicine, disease, and the human body
- You’re curious about the administrative side of the healthcare system, including how healthcare facilities run in an orderly manner
- You have a strong stomach and are not bothered by blood and graphic images
- You have a desire to help people
Nursing is not a good fit for you if you tend to break under stress, particularly in the fast-paced environment of a healthcare setting like surgical ICU or neonatal care. Again, nurses tend work long hours, often in shifts of nearly 10-12 hours per day. Make no mistake, this work will test the limits of your physical and mental endurance. You will also see gruesome images of people in varying states of trauma, distress, and physical harm. You should seriously consider your enrollment options if the thought of working in such an intense setting gives you pause.
Find Out How to Earn a Nursing Degree
In an online nursing program, you will take courses that provide you with a solid foundation in the healthcare, medical, and behavioral sciences. Nursing requires a comprehensive understanding of the human body, including what makes it work, the diseases and ailments that harm it, and the practical applications and strategies of modern healthcare that help defend it. As a student in a traditional or online nursing program, you will learn about the mechanics of the human body and utilize that knowledge to discover what you can do as a nurse to make sure that patients get quality healthcare.
You will spend long hours in the classroom and in clinical trials understanding how to make yourself useful to those in need. Your nursing education will prepare you to make decisions about how to proceed with a patient’s treatment, how to administer medicine to them in a safe and comfortable manner, and how to report your actions and observations to doctors and healthcare administrators.
See What Nursing Courses You Will Take
Online nursing programs may differ slightly from school to school in more particular classes, but any program will offer the same basic core classes. Here are some classes that you should expect to take while earning your degree:
Anatomy: Anatomy is the study of the human body’s structure and composition. In anatomy classes you will learn to identify all parts of the body, from bones to organs to musculature, and implement that knowledge as you work with relevant body parts.
Pathology: Pathology is the study of diseases, specifically how they form and how they interact with the human body. In pathology classes you can expect to learn about a host of diseases that you might encounter in patients in the course of your clinical work.
Public Health: Public health (or community public health) is the process of bettering the collective health of a group of people through information and community outreach. Public health classes will teach you how the nutrition and lifestyle choices of individuals affect their surrounding community, an insight that will be necessary for better understanding a patient’s health.
Health Care Systems: Health care systems (or health systems) is the study of a system organized around the purpose of providing a community with quality healthcare, such as a hospital, a private clinic, or a long-term care facility. You will study the health care systems of various institutions to understand the huge effort that goes into running and maintaining a healthcare facility.
Practicum: You will also undergo hundreds of hours of clinical trials, known as practicums, where your practical skills of administering medicine and quality health are observed and tested. Typically you will be rotated into a number of practicums in different parts of a healthcare facility, like the cardiovascular unit or emergency room in a hospital.
Consider your specialization
From pediatrics to geriatrics, nurses operate in nearly every sector of the healthcare field. When you apply to advanced degrees in nursing you will often have the opportunity to pick a specialty. Your specialty might be restricted to a certain age group, such as in geriatric patient care, or to a specific part of the body, like orthopedic care. Or you may choose to specialize in a certain pathology, like oncology (cancer care). The point here is that though nursing is often used as a general catchall, nurses have as many opportunities as doctors to choose a specialty that best suits the work they naturally gravitate to.
Discover the Nursing Degree Levels Schools Offer
Nursing degrees are available at the following levels in many online nursing programs:
- Associate’s: You will get an associate’s degree in nursing if going to a four-year higher education institution isn’t an option after high school. Associate programs typically take one and a half to two years to complete. With an associate’s degree in nursing, you can work as a nursing assistant or take the exam to become an RN. Though there are jobs available for nurses with an associate’s degree, many nurses with an associate’s degree go on to get at least a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BS).
- Bachelor’s: You can work towards a bachelor’s degree if you can devote the time to the degree program. A BSN can take four years to complete, typically with 50+ hours of coursework specifically related to the nursing field. Nurses with a BSN can apply for most entry level nursing jobs at healthcare facilities such as private clinics, hospitals, and home health care.
- Master’s: It would be appropriate for you to get your master’s degree in nursing if you want to advance your career in healthcare beyond that of a registered nurse, and if you have the time in your schedule to accommodate classes required for a master’s degree program. Generally master’s programs can be completed in 18-24 months. If you have a master’s degree in nursing, you may be able to apply to positions as a nurse administrator in fields such as public health, hospital administration, and medical research.
- Doctorate: You can enter a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) program either after you complete your BSN or MSN. If you have only a BSN, the DNP program can take at least three years to complete. With an MSN, you could earn your DNP in as little time as a year. With your DNP, you may apply to leadership and management roles in clinical and administrative settings.
What You Need to Know About Accreditation
The major nursing accrediting bodies include:
- The National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, Inc. (NLNAC). The NLNAC grants specialized accreditation to nursing degree programs at all levels, from diplomas to doctorates. The NLNAC establishes the standards of excellence for what makes an accredited nursing degree program. They have a comprehensive list of accredited nursing degree programs that you should check prior to enrolling in any specific program.
- The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), a national organization and advocacy group for nurses. Within the AACN is an accrediting agency called the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which grants accreditation to nursing degree programs around the country that meets their high standards. The CCNE also has a list of nursing programs that it has granted accreditation that would be a great resource to cross-reference with programs found in the NLNAC list.
In addition to researching the accreditation of your desired online nursing program, you should also be aware that you must pass a licensing exam before becoming a RN, even if you’ve already earned an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in nursing. The licensing exams differ state by state, but you can read the details about how to prepare for licensing at the National Council of State Boards of Licensing’s website.
Learn What Nurses Do
As a nurse you will perform healthcare duties on the most intimate level, caring for patients and cataloguing what they do for doctors and administrators to review. You will be responsible for giving updates, metrics, and observations. You will also be obliged to teach patients and their families about healthcare plans, strategies for recovery, and other information regarding their health and wellness.
In a given day as a nurse you will administer healthcare to a patient, and this can mean that you’re performing any number of duties you were taught in your nursing program. You may take a patient’s vital signs, turn them over on their bed, administer medication via IV, perform CPR, or assist a doctor in an intense medical procedure. It’s hard to boil down a nurse’s duties because they vary depending on your specialty. For example, a pediatrics nurse will be dealing exclusively with children, administering healthcare as they can, while a hospice nurse will be giving patients end-of-life care.
Discover the Job Landscape for Nursing Professionals
Nursing is among the fastest growing career paths not just in the healthcare industry but among professions in any field. In 2010 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that job availability in the nursing field would increase by 26 percent over the next ten years, nearly double the average projected rate for all professions. In May 2010, the Department of Labor reported that nurses make an average annual salary of $64,690, and the greatest opportunity can be found in rural and inner cities areas.