The number of people enrolling in nursing programs has been increasing steadily for more than 15 years in the US, according to figures published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Despite concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic might see the take-up for nursing careers fall, it has in fact continued to grow. With the flexibility that remote learning has to offer, it is not surprising that many people are opting for the flexibility of online baccalaureate and degree programs in nursing.
Embarking on a new study program is exciting, but it can also seem a little daunting with so much to learn. Furthermore, studying online is a different experience from studying on campus, and if you are new to remote study, you may have a lot of unanswered questions. Taking some time to prepare in advance before your online program begins will help you to get the most from your course when you get started. Find out more about what to expect from an online nursing program.
There are several main types of degree course for nursing professionals
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Master of Science in Nursing
- Doctor of Nursing
The course you need will depend on whether you are just starting on a career in nursing or have some years of work experience already under your belt. A postgraduate degree can help you to take the next step in your career. For students just getting started in nursing, the nursing baccalaureate is one option, or for rapid progression, you may find that an accelerated Bachelor of Nursing is the best choice for you. There are many schools to choose from offering online nursing degrees and certificates, such as Marymount University.
Marymount University offers a range of online nursing programs, including:
- Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN)
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner or Family Nurse Practitioner
- Doctor of Nursing Practice
All these programs from Marymount are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). With the one exception of the ABSN, all programs are available in a fully flexible online learning format. The ABSN is a very rigorous, structured program, and therefore needs to be studied full-time – still online, but with classes held at fixed times, which you need to attend live.
Marymount offers a high level of support for online nursing students. This includes providing clinical placement coordinators, who will help you to find the clinical placements that are an important part of your program. There is no additional cost for this service, and it can save you a lot of time that would need to be spent contacting healthcare settings to arrange the placements you need to complete.
Things to consider when choosing your online nursing program
Look for accredited programs. Choosing an accredited course for your online nursing degree assures you of the high academic standards that employers will be looking for.
Find out how much clinical experience and specializations the tutors have – the more extensive their experience, the better. You will be able to draw on their experience to support your learning.
Check the entry requirements carefully as they vary by school. If you don’t quite meet the entry requirements, it is worth contacting the school to check whether there is any flexibility. However, generally you will be expected to have the necessary qualifications. With many applicants competing for places at nursing colleges, you should aim to put yourself in as strong a position as possible by working to get the entry qualifications specified.
Your learning experience will be enhanced by contact with other students. On-campus socializing tends to happen organically, whereas for an online course, you need to look out for opportunities to access social groups, such as online forums and clubs. Join them early on in your program so that you get to know others while everyone is new to the course. Networking online benefits your learning experience as it gives you an opportunity to ask questions and you can support one another as you prepare for assignments. It may also benefit you in the longer term as you never know when someone you studied with previously might be recruiting, or you might find that you are in a position to recruit someone you have studied with and know to be a high-caliber candidate.
Decide on the best type of online learning
Online learning programs usually use a blend of live or synchronous and fully flexible asynchronous remote classes. However, some programs are designed to deliver an intensive learning experience and will have a fixed schedule of classes that you need to attend at set times.
Asynchronous classes give maximum flexibility for your studies. If you learn best in the early hours of the morning, or if you need to fit in classes around working shifts, a flexible study pattern is going to be ideal for you. On the other hand, live classes offer the opportunity for an interactive learning experience in class, both with professors and other students. Your individual circumstances will determine which type of course is most suitable for you.
Preparing for online learning when you are used to classroom-based learning
Studying for a nursing degree online gives you the same high standard of education you would get from a traditional on-campus course, and requires at least as much focus, commitment and dedication.
An online nursing program gives you greater flexibility to study when and where you want. It also means that if you have other commitments, such as a job or childcare, you can continue to meet those commitments while embarking on studies for your new qualification. However, if you are used to learning in person, the prospect of studying alone at home may seem overwhelming.
Remember that you will still have a structure to your learning, with deadlines to meet for assignments, and this will give you the motivation to keep up to date with your studies. Regular contact with your personal tutor will ensure that you stay on track, and if you do experience any difficulties in keeping up with the course, your tutor will be able to provide support to help you work through challenges and catch up.
Plan ahead for any in-person sessions
Although the majority of an online nursing program is delivered digitally, you can expect a requirement to attend a small number of in-person elements for clinical rotations experience and on-campus residencies. This may equate to just a few days per year, but they are an important part of the program, so it is best to plan ahead to make sure that you are able to attend. Some schools may expect you to arrange your own clinical rotations, but ideally you would find a school where you can get support with this, as arranging placements can be time consuming and take your focus away from your core studies.
Find out in advance when clinical experience and residencies are scheduled in your program, and arrange time off work or alternative care for children or older relatives if you are a caregiver. If the school is located a long distance from your home, plan your travel arrangements, and check whether on-campus accommodation will be provided during your stay.
Make sure that you have the resources you need for an online nursing qualification
First and foremost, you need to have a computer and access to a reliable internet connection. If you don’t already have your own computer, find out if a laptop loan program is offered at the school you are planning to study with. As a nursing student, you will also need some items of clinical equipment. Your school will give you a list of the specific items you will need for your program. Shop around to get these at the best price.
Find out how to access school resources before the start of your first semester so that you can hit the ground running. Online nursing students will have the same remote access to resources as on-campus students. For example, reference books and notes should be available in digital format for you to use.
If you prefer to use hard-copy versions of your course books, it’s a good idea to buy them well ahead of the start of your program. This will give you a chance to familiarize yourself with them so that you have a head start for your first semester. It also gives you time to shop around and find low-cost options. Although using library books may seem to be a simple way to save money, you may find yourself competing with other people for the books, and you may not be able to retain the books for the whole duration of the program. Rather than finding yourself without an essential textbook, you may prefer to find an inexpensive outlet for the books. Second-hand nursing reference books are available from specialist retailers.
If you are buying online from a second-hand or discount retailer, check reviews and make sure that the shipping date will get the books to you for when you need them. For courses where textbooks are re-released frequently, you may be able to buy the previous year’s edition of the same textbook for a lot less than the latest version, even though it will contain almost identical information.
If you haven’t already received a list of the textbooks for your nursing program, contact your tutor or the administrative support team to find out what books you will need. The list will probably consist of a mix of required and optional textbooks, so you can prioritize purchasing the essentials and if necessary make use of a local library for any of the other texts you choose to read.
You will find that many schools make pastoral support available remotely, such as general course advice and personal counseling. This can be helpful if you need support and advice on any challenges you are facing, from stress to finances.
Your study setting
Working remotely means that you can work around other commitments in your life. However, it is important to schedule times for your studies and stick to them unless there’s an emergency. If you are going to complete your program, you will sometimes need to demonstrate a ruthless determination to get through your work, even when there are other demands on your time.
Ideally, you should have a place where you can study that is free of distractions. If this is not possible at certain times when you are at home, you may want to consider making use of quiet space at your local library or café. If you have your own private study space at home, set it up so that it lends itself as much as possible to focused study time. Keep your space organized, with any paperwork filed in folders, and a supply of stationery to hand for making notes during your classes. Lighting is important for your workspace. Maximize the natural light available, and supplement with good desk lighting so that you can work efficiently and without eye strain.
Make use of resources available online
In addition to the resources available through your school, there are many other useful resources to tap into that may help your online nursing studies. The AACN has a wealth of information online for students, including webinars on a range of topics and general support information for students, such as getting help with finance and scholarships. You can also find many other sites with resources on healthcare and clinical subjects.
Online nursing qualifications are just as highly regarded by employers as their on-campus counterparts. Studying for a nursing degree remotely also shows employers that you have the high level of self-discipline needed to complete an online qualification. With over three million registered nurses practicing in the US, studying for further qualifications will give you the opportunity to progress your career and put yourself forward for more senior roles in a wide array of healthcare settings, from psychiatric mental health to family health, or in managerial, policy and research roles.