Nurses looking to take the next step in their professional development are increasingly turning to online programs to ensure their education is on par with expectations.

Lay of the land

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), nursing schools are moving to offer more programs via distance education in response to student demand. This growth has been most dramatic in the area of baccalaureate degree completion programs for registered nurses who wish to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Commonly known as RN to BSN programs, this educational pathway provides an efficient bridge for diploma and associate degree-prepared nurses who wish to expand their career horizons.

"Distance education, in fact, has been particularly useful in rural areas and in places where access to baccalaureate and graduate degree nursing programs is scarce."

Now offered at more than 600 nursing schools, RN to BSN programs build on initial nursing preparation with course work to enhance professional development, sharpen clinical reasoning skills, and provide a better understanding of the issues that affect patients and care delivery. Currently, almost half of all RN to BSN programs are offered completely online with most of the remaining programs offered in a hybrid format (a mix of online and in-person classes).

Higher learning

The surge in online nursing programs extends into the graduate arena given the increasing number of professional opportunities open to nurses prepared at the highest level. Nurses with master’s and doctoral degrees are in great demand given the robust need for nursing school faculty, researchers, specialists, hospital administrators and leaders.

According to AACN’s latest survey, the number of master’s programs and Ph.D. programs in nursing has increased four-fold within the past seven years. Given the strong interest in the practice doctorate in nursing, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), students may now choose from 78 DNP programs offered completely online.

Meeting the nation’s growing need for well-educated nurses is being facilitated by the influx of online nursing programs. Distance education, in fact, has been particularly useful in rural areas and in places where access to baccalaureate and graduate degree nursing programs is scarce. The time is right for you to consider advancing your nursing education online.