Online Nursing Programs Pros and Cons

By Contributing Writer

  • Overview

    Many people correctly identify nursing as a potentially interesting (and lucrative) career, but they aren't able to stop working for two years or longer in order to seek the minimum degree required for entry into the profession. For that reason, online nursing degrees can have an obvious appeal--the ability to become a nurse without having to sit in a classroom all day. But there are some things that are important to know about online nursing programs before you proceed.
  • Function

    A few online nursing degree programs allows individuals to seek education to become an entry-level registered nurse by way of distance learning. These programs usually involve a number of self-study courses as well as a need to demonstrate clinical competence. In addition, there are numerous online programs that allow currently licensed registered nurses to complete a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing by way of distance learning.
  • Time Frame

    The time frame for completing an online nursing program depends on the type of program. To become a registered nurse, individuals must have a minimum of an Associate's degree, which usually takes a minimum of two years. Local colleges may offer partial distance learning programs to students who live in that geographical region, which may be less than full-time and thus will take longer than two years to complete. The only accredited entry-level program that is not bound to a particular geographical region is that offered by Excelsior College. Excelsior's online nursing program requires the student to already be a licensed practical nurse or similar level of healthcare professional, which requires at least a year of study time, and then completion of the degree requirements will take at least another year. Online RN to Bachelor of Science in nursing bridge programs may take as little as a year or two. Two years is also the average length of time for any online Master's degree in nursing.


  • Benefits

    The obvious benefit of an online nursing program is that it will most likely not require the student to commit to being in class for a set amount of time each day, and it may even be possible to pursue the educational program on the side while being employed. In addition, students who prefer to be self-directed learners and do not like classroom environments for learning may find online programs to be more appealing.
  • Misconceptions

    The biggest misconception about online nursing programs is that they can be completed entirely from home. Any accredited nursing program is going to require clinical hours. Regionally based online programs will probably arrange clinical placements for students in local hospitals where they can learn the required skills to work as a nurse. The aforementioned online nursing program offered by Excelsior College requires students to complete a rigorous in-person exam demonstrating clinical competence in a wide variety of skills. Online RN to Bachelor of Science in nursing bridge programs will usually require students to complete particular experiences at their places of employment with supervisors signing off on the student's competence, and online Master of Science programs will require students to complete practical experiences in advanced practice nursing.
  • Warning

    Always check the accreditation status of any program that you are considering. It is pointless to complete any program that will not lead to eligibility to take the NCLEX exam, for example, because a passing score on the NCLEX will always be required in order to obtain a nursing license. In addition, note that some state nursing boards do not recognize online nursing degree programs and will not award licenses to students who have graduated from an online nursing program. Others will allow online students to receive licenses only after completing an additional clinical internship.
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