Online Registered Nurse (RN) Programs

By Nikita Nath

Updated January 8, 2024
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Nikita Nath

Nikita is a psychologist working primarily with children using a child rights-based approach. She also writes content for various websites and blogs on diverse topics, focusing primarily on academia. Her hobbies include traveling, reading, and discovering different coffee-making techniques.

Degrees

Bachelors in English, Journalism, and Psychology; Masters in psychology with clinical specialization

Areas of Expertise & Credentials

  • 2 years of experience working as a content writer with various start-ups
  • 1 year of experience working as a child psychologist with Insight
  • Working on various projects of inclusion for neurodivergent children
  • 2+ years of experience teaching psychology online

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The nursing profession includes continuous and empathetic care for the injured, disabled, dying, or sick. The occupation also assumes responsibilities for encouraging the health and well-being of families, communities, and individuals in the community and medical setting. In the United States, completing a registered nursing program online will allow one to take the licensing exam. There are many educational paths to online registered nurse programs, including a diploma or certificate from the nursing degree, an associate degree in nursing, and a bachelor of science in nursing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports around 203,200 openings for registered nurses, on average, for each year, over the decade[1]. One could be entrusted with providing and coordinating the care of the patients while educating the public and patients about varied health conditions.

Registered-Nurse

What to Expect from an Online
RN Program

Various institutions provide registered nurse programs online and on campus. Students can take up two and four-year programs, including an associate’s degree in nursing or ADN, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or BSN, a Master of Science in Nursing or MSN, and a Licensed Practical Nurse or Licensed Vocational Nurse or LPN/LVN. The degrees differ in program delivery, and credits can vary between 35 and 120. Most nursing programs require clinical residency, internships, and preceptorships besides RN to BSN. All these degrees are available online as well as in accelerated nursing schools. Students can expect to learn about patient care, medical equipment, medical terminologies, and more.

Curriculum and
Coursework

The requirements for qualifying RN degrees differ depending on the level of education one pursues. Most nursing degrees cover material ranging from chemistry and math to physiology and psychology. Nursing students can also choose electives based on the specialty they want to pursue, including oncology, pediatrics, or geriatrics.

Even though the curriculum will differ depending on the degree selected, there are a few standard courses that an RN can expect throughout their professional career, including:

Nursing Fundamentals

This is one of the first courses that students need to take in every nursing degree and is often required to be completed in the first semester. It gives an overview of how the nursing profession would look in the world of healthcare and the potential job outlook and roles of nurses. The course aims to teach fundamental nursing skills and components of patient care. It also prepares students to take up more advanced topics in specific domains.

Microbiology

In this course, one studies microorganisms, that is, small organisms to look at without a microscope, inducing bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It is also generally considered a prerequisite course students take before entering the institution. It is an important course as it is necessary to understand various aspects of healthcare to evaluate human health. Some of the topics studied in this course include the emerging field of human biome, prevention of disease, and different microorganisms.

Gerontology

The focus of this course is the study of aging, including topics like the psychology of aging, communicating effectively with aging adults, end-of-life concerns, and conditions associated with aging. Nurses need to take this course as most patients comprise older adults, so the ability to provide them with effective nursing care is important.

Physiology

This course looks at the study of the entire human body and how the body functions. Students recognize the functions and names of different body parts and their functioning in healthy people and those suffering from illnesses and diseases. The course is usually completed early in the curriculum, establishing one’s understanding of the body’s workings. It also includes health and safety related to oneself and patients.

Pharmacology

This course looks at the study of medications, including focusing on administering medications safely, such as substances like opioids with a possibility for abuse; potential interaction of drugs; using various methods to administer substances, and recognizing medication errors. Students also learn about how medicines work and major pharmacology sources of references like texts and databases.

Some other common courses that one can find across nursing degrees are:

  • Psychology and Mental Health
  • Ethics in Nursing
  • Care Transitions
  • Population Health
  • Women and Infant Health
  • Leadership Management
  • Community and Environmental Nursing
  • Clinical Theory
  • Clinical Study

Learning Outcomes and
Skills Gained

The nursing degree empowers students to become successful leaders in learning and promoting professional ethics while dealing with a diverse society. They gain the knowledge and skills required to work in doctors’ offices, healthcare clinics, nursing homes, hospitals, and more. Through the program, one meets the challenges of the ever-evolving systems of healthcare, including the ability to:

  • demonstrate knowledge, behaviors, attitudes, and skills that lead to collaborative healthcare that is patient-centered;
  • apply culturally competent, theory-guided, evidence-based practices in nursing to be able to improve the well-being of various populations within the healthcare systems at international, national, and state levels;
  • demonstrate nursing knowledge to provide information based on clinical competence, evidence-based, professional practice in caring to the individual, family, groups, populations, and communities;
  • demonstrate leaderships skills and maintain professional attributes and roles while dealing with the other stakeholders of healthcare;
  • assist in developing curriculum geared towards empowering nursing students for their integration into the complex, dynamic, healthcare system that is within the wider context of people;
  • demonstrate patience and empathy towards managing healthcare for patients and staying committed to the process of healing; and
  • demonstrate a good understanding of theory and show efficiency in hands-on-work, showing expertise as a professional and providing appropriate healthcare settings, and nursing facilities.

Types of RNs Students
Can Obtain

Online registered nursing programs each has varying curricula and requirements to help students prepare themselves for jobs in various settings. The vast number of programs across different educational schools allows students to choose the right program, best suited for them. The various types of nursing programs available in the U.S. are: Licensed Practical Nurse or LPV and Licensed Vocational Nurse or LVN, Associate Degree in Nursing or ADN, Bachelor of Science in Nursing or BSN, Accelerated BSN, RN to BSN programs, Master of Science Nursing programs or MSN, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist program or CRNA, and Doctor of Nursing Practice or DNP.

Licensed Practical Nurse or LPV and Licensed Vocational Nurse or LVN

Licensed Practical Nurse or LPV and Licensed Vocational Nurse or LVN is roughly a one-year program offered by many colleges across the U.S. The program typically does not require prerequisite classes to be completed. An LVN/LPN nurse can provide basic care to patients by noting their critical symptoms and monitoring them.

Associate Degree in Nursing or ADN

The Associate Degree in Nursing or ADN training degree typically takes around 15 months to two years to complete. It focuses on the technical aspects of training. Through the program, one can treat and educate patients and provide empathetic and emotional support to patients’ family members.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing or BSN

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing or BSN degree is a four-year undergraduate degree where nurses are encouraged to use the fundamental knowledge gained from their curriculum in practical healthcare settings. Some of these programs also include clinical residency as part of the training.

Accelerated BSN Programs

Accelerated BSN programs are usually opted for by students who have received a prior nursing education and want to pursue accelerated baccalaureate programs to learn from a combination of research, clinical studies, and lectures.

RN to BSN Programs

RN to BSN programs are designed for students who have completed an associate’s degree in nursing and want to convert their qualification to a Bachelor of Science. These programs are also chosen by those who want to learn while retaining their jobs.

MSN Programs

MSN programs incorporate components of many advanced nursing disciplines. Students can specialize in many areas and train to become adult nurse practitioners, neonatal nurse practitioners, nurse educators, pediatric nurse practitioners, and more.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Program

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Program or CRNA can be completed in one to two years. Students learn about techniques for applying anesthesia, apply knowledge to clinically oriented problems, and test various theories.

Doctor of Nursing Practice or DNP Program

The DNP degree focuses on training students in different research methods, including the history and philosophy of nursing, data analysis and statistics, and leadership skills.

Areas of Specialization for
RN Students

There is a wide range of specializations in nursing programs available to prospective students, allowing them to choose which path is right for them. Those pursuing an online RN program must choose a specialization that interests them, as it will be vital for their academic and personal growth. Here are some options:

Area of SpecializationDescriptionCareer Options
Clinical Trials ResearchIn this concentration, students learn how professional nurses monitor, check and complete different test procedures and structure some follow-up practices. They will study the different components involved in nursing research, methods to evaluate the validity of research, and nursing theory.Clinical Research Nurse
Adult-gerontologyIn this specialization, students learn about the specialty of nursing that deals with working in collaboration with older adults, families, primary caregivers, and communities in which they live.Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
Psychiatric Mental HealthIn this specialization, students get a foundational knowledge of psychotherapy techniques and psychopharmacology practices existing today. It will prepare professionals to care for the psychiatric needs of those with persistent mental illness.Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
Oncology NursingIn this specialty, students learn how cancer care has evolved over the decades. They will be able to understand the different methods of care and opportunities to address healthcare issues in this demographic.Oncology Nurse
PediatricsIn this concentration, students focus on the broad spectrum of health-related services, including diagnosis and treatment of chronic and acute diseases and preventive health care.Pediatric Nurse
Neonatal NursingIn this concentration, students learn to check vital signs, circulation issues, blood oxygenation mechanisms, and other physical symptoms that will help determine if the baby is showing normal or abnormal medical behaviors.Neonatal Care Nurse

Full-Time and Part-Time
Programs

Since there are many registered nursing programs online, the duration of each will differ from degree to degree and institution to institution. On average, completing the associate’s degree in nursing could take up to two years. A BSN degree could take about 12 months to 4 years, depending on one’s previous qualifications. An online MSN degree could take an average of 2 years to complete. Full-time and part-time programs are available for all these degrees, along with accelerated versions; therefore, the duration varies widely.

Requirements for Getting into an
Online RN Program

Considering there are different levels of nursing students can opt for, the education requirements of the school and program will vary. Some standard admission requirements for nursing programs include a minimum GPA, writing samples, references, and academic prerequisites. Here are some standard requirements for different programs:

ADN Requirements

  • Previous high school diploma or GED certificate
  • high school transcripts with completed prerequisites like algebra, chemistry, and biology
  • Personal essay
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • ACT or SAT scores
  • Other requirements like Test of Essential Academic Skills or TEAS, Kaplan Nursing School Admission Test, and Nursing Entrance Test or NET

BSN Requirements

  • Prior education in biology, chemistry, and anatomy
  • Writing sample
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • GPA of 2.75 or more in high school or associate degree
  • Volunteer experience
  • ACT or SAT scores
  • Other pre-entrance exams like Test of Essential Academic Skills or TEAS, Kaplan Nursing School Admission Test, and Nursing Entrance Test or NET

MSN Requirements

  • Undergraduate transcripts with a minimum GPA of generally 3.0
  • Personal Statement
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • RN experiences
  • GRE or MAT scores; accelerated degrees are available to ADN graduates and those who have bachelors in other domains.

How to Ensure an Online RN Program
Is Accredited

Nursing accreditation is a process carried forth by an independent, non-government organization that reviews nursing programs for their quality and standard; it is a peer review process. The accrediting agency examines all aspects of RN nursing schools online to understand if students get quality education and are eligible to take RN examinations and practice as nurses.

The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) certifies institutions for five years initially and eight years to continue their accreditation process[2]. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education also gives a progress report for the continuous improvement of nursing degrees[3].

  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

To check a college’s accreditation status, students can visit the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website[4] or the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs[5] that lists information about accreditation and the institutions that have received it. More information on accreditation is available in the Guide to College Accreditation.

Where to Find Free Online Courses
for RN Students

Free nursing courses online can help nursing students understand how to improve their management of patient symptoms and make essential clinical decisions within the scope of their nursing practice. Here are some to explore:

CourseDescriptionProvided by
NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours[6]This course elaborates on the health and safety risks of long work hours. It also recommends strategies to help one implement them in their personal lives and improve the quality of their shift work.NIOSH
Introduction to Integrative Nursing[7]In this course, one learns the critical principles of integrative nursing and behavioral indicators. Learners also understand how to apply integrative nursing goals and methods in their practice.Coursera
Injection Safety: A Focus on Infection Prevention[8]For nurses, one essential task is administering injections regularly with a lot of efficiencies. This course refreshes their knowledge about preventive measures before, during, and after administering an injection.American Nursing Association
Cultural and Linguistic Competence[9]This course helps identify the various barriers in the treatment of underrepresented communities and how to develop strategies to overcome them. By understanding aspects of cultural competence, improving health outcomes is possible for diverse patients.Scientiacme

Ways to Pay for an Online
RN Program

Financial Aid are different kinds of monetary benefits that help students pay for college. Students can receive such aid from varied sources; many colleges, high schools, governmental and state agencies, foundations, and non-profit enterprises, give students financial aid. Here are some common funding mechanisms students pursuing registered nursing school online can consider:

Scholarships

Scholarships are a popular form of financial aid based on merit in a particular area, like academics, sports, music, etc.

Grants

Grants are monetary awards that can come from private or governmental sources. They need not pay only for tuition but can also be used for other educational expenses.

Graduate Assistantships

Student loans could come from the federal government or private sources like banks and other financial institutions. Loans are slightly less sought options than other aids, as they attract interest. Federal government loans are subsidized and given at a lower interest than the loans offered by private banks. [Read about donors and grants for student loans.]

FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is an application form students fill out to understand what financial aid they qualify for.

Career Opportunities and Salaries
After Graduating

There are several healthcare professions where those who have completed online registered nurse programs can work. In these roles, they will care for those who need medical attention, are injured, or are sick. Some job roles include:

Occupation Job Description Skills RequiredMedian Annual Salary Job Growth (up to 2031)
Registered Nurse[10]Registered nurses record the history and symptoms of patients, along with operating and monitoring equipment. They may work as part of a physician’s team or with other specialists. They also record patients’ conditions, analyze their treatment care plans, and contribute any additional information required.Critical-thinking skills, communication skills, compassion, detail-oriented, emotional stability, physical stamina, organizational skills$77,6006% (as fast as average)
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners[11]Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses who coordinate a patient’s care and provide specialty and primary care healthcare. They record the symptoms of the patient and also perform physical exams. They create patient plans, complete diagnostic tests, and operate medical equipment.Communication skills, critical-thinking skills, compassion, detail-oriented, leadership skills, interpersonal skills$123,78040% (much faster than average)
Physician Assistants[12]Physician assistants examine, treat, and diagnose patients under the supervision of a registered physician. They obtain, read and review the medical history of patients. Educating and counseling patients and their families on various issues like self-care for asthma is also one of their responsibilities.Problem-solving skills, emotional stability, interpersonal skills, detail-oriented, compassion, communication skills$121,53028% (much faster than average)
Legal Nurse Consultants[13]Legal nurse consultants are employed to collect, audit, maintain, and organize records for legal-related purposes. These professionals instruct people about the different standards of care and potential risks and causality.Detailed-oriented, verbal skills, interpersonal skills, management skills$82,203NA
Nurse Educators[14]Nurse educators typically oversee the evaluation and continuing education of nursing staff and care providers. They work with hospital administrators to develop different education curricula, evaluate their organizations’ teams, and help set policies related to patient care.Interpersonal skills, verbal skills, writing skills, critical-thinking skills$78,967NA
Hospice Nurses[15]Hospice nurses typically care for individuals who have been given a diagnosis of six months or less to live; such individuals choose to hospice care towards the end of their life. Hospice nurses will focus on providing the utmost comfort and enhancing the quality of life of these individuals.Critical-thinking skills, communication skills, compassion, detail-oriented, emotional stability, physical stamina, organizational skills$72,574NA

Certifications and Licensing for Online
RN Students

Certifications are an excellent way for students to expand professionally in their field. Some certifications are crucial for the further promotion and advancement of professionals in their respective fields. In nursing, several certifications are available to take up, which can help advance one’s career. Some of them include:

Family Nurse Practitioner[16]

In this certification, one can make referrals and consult with inter-professionals across medical care settings. They can evaluate the effectiveness of a plan and individualize it for their patients. They can also monitor the ongoing care plan based on the outcomes of patients and identify the barriers that exist.

Primary Care Nurse Practitioner[17]

Through this certification, candidates learn to develop a patient-centered plan that will be timely, individualized, consistent, and cost-effective. They can adjust therapies and include all the active stakeholders, like the client’s immediate family, in providing efficient care.

Emergency Nurse Practitioner[18]

This certification will allow a professional to consult and collaborate with other healthcare providers and optimize their patient management. They will be able to determine the patient’s timely disposition, including discharge, transfer, observation, and more.

Students pursuing online registered nurse programs must check the licensing requirements for practicing as a nurse, as each state has its own requirements and criteria. Professional nurses can obtain licenses from state licensing boards, typically after completing the National Council Licensure Examination[19].

Additional Resources for Online
RN Students

Individuals who have taken up programs at RN nursing schools online can broaden their interests in the field of nursing by accessing resources provided by nationally and internationally recognized organizations. Some of these organizations can provide deeper insights into the field, which can help them prepare themselves for a professional career in nursing. A few organizations available across the United States include:

Organization Job Description
National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners[20]The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioner runs collaborative project programs and provide meaningful resources for their patients as well as the members of the organization. They publish guides for evidence-based practitioners.
American Academy of Nursing[21]The American Academy of Nursing aims to serve the nursing profession and the public by advancing health policy through effective leadership and organizational excellence in nursing. They design and implement evidence-based policy initiatives in progressing healthcare.
Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments[22]The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments is a national association that integrates health and the environment.
American Association for the History of Nursing[23]The American Association for the History of Nursing is a professional organization that has opened its membership to anyone interested in the history of nursing. It aims to stimulate interest nationally and internationally and collaborate in tracing the history of nursing.
American Nursing Association[24]The American Nurses Association supports registered nurses by advancing their careers through free development webinars and resources available on their website.

FAQs About Online
RN Programs

What does a registered nurse do?

Registered nurses can provide healthcare for their patients and support other medical professionals and doctors. They often work in various settings like travel clinics, nursing homes, doctor’s offices, hospitals, people’s homes, schools, etc.

How can you become a registered nurse?

What do I need to do to be an advanced practice registered nurse?

Can you get your RN license online?

What is the difference between an RN and a BSN?

What are the different types of nurses?

Do RNs get a good salary?

Author Bio:

Nikita Nath

Nikita is a psychologist working primarily with children using a child rights-based approach. She also writes content for various websites and blogs on diverse topics, focusing primarily on academia. Her hobbies include traveling, reading, and discovering different coffee-making techniques.

Degrees

Bachelors in English, Journalism, and Psychology; Masters in psychology with clinical specialization

Areas of Expertise & Credentials

  • 2 years of experience working as a content writer with various start-ups
  • 1 year of experience working as a child psychologist with Insight
  • Working on various projects of inclusion for neurodivergent children
  • 2+ years of experience teaching psychology online

Disclaimer:

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