Online master's degree programs in nursing are common. These programs, which prepare registered nurses for advanced practice roles, are offered through a combination of online courses and extensive clinical practice.
A registered nursing license is required to enter the master's program. A bachelor's degree in nursing is usually a requirement, but some schools offer accelerated online master's programs that allow nurses with associate's degrees to earn both bachelor's and master's degrees.
Nurses who have master's degrees may qualify for certification as advanced practice nurses. States have their own rules for this, but most call for certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. In addition to completing an approved education program, requirements may include passing a certification exam.
Master of Science in Nursing
Distance learning master's degree programs in nursing combine advanced instruction in nursing theory and practice concepts to prepare students for leadership roles in professional nursing practice. Online graduate programs generally offer specialty tracks or concentrations, such as advanced education or administration, advanced nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist.
Typical admission requirements require applicants to hold a current registered nurse (R.N.) credential in their state of practice and a bachelor's degree from a school nationally accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) or American Association of Colleges of Nursing (CCNE).
Information and Requirements
Distance learning master's degree programs offer courses that can be completed entirely online. In addition to online coursework, students are required to complete a set number of clinical hours in their local communities under the supervision of a licensed individual approved by the college or university.
Additionally, some programs require students to attend several short residencies on campus to participate in hands-on clinical courses. This type of degree program can typically be completed in about two years.
In addition to advancing clinical nursing skills, online nursing coursework introduces students to current issues within the health care system, such as ethical decision making, multicultural education and organization of health care delivery systems. Specific course topics vary depending on a student's concentration or specialty track.
Advanced Clinical Pharmacology
In this course, students study the pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic principles of common drug categories, such as those used to restore and maintain health and treat illness. Topics of study include proper dosage, adverse effects, interactions and compatibilities.
Management of Health Care Systems
This online course discusses the theory and practice used in the organization and management of health systems and nursing services. Lessons focus on administrative theory, transition into leadership roles, case management, quality improvement and managed care.
Nursing Research Methods
Students in this class learn to identify researchable problems within the clinical setting, design research projects to generate new knowledge and critique research studies. Both qualitative and quantitative research designs are studied in this class.
Career and Licensure Information
Graduates from a graduate-level nursing programs are prepared to become advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists or nurse anesthetists. Advanced practice nurses often work independently and collaborate with licensed physicians to provide primary care services. Although requirements vary depending on the state, most states specifically define licensure requirements for nurses pursuing advanced practice roles.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for the group of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) including nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives were projected to grow by 31% between 2014 and 2024. Respectively, their BLS-reported median salaries in May 2015 were $98,190, $157,140 and $92,510. The BLS groups clinical nurse specialists with registered nurses, and projected 16% growth for the group from 2014-2024; as of May 2015, registered nurses in the United States earned a median annual income of $67,490.
Online master's degree programs in nursing are offered to RNs who are looking to specialize in a specific area of nursing, such as education, administration, nurse practitioner training and clinical nurse specialist training.