Although online nursing diplomas are rare, students can have much better success finding distance learning programs that lead to associate's and bachelor's degrees. Students who are looking for a short-term online program similar to a diploma might also consider a certificate program in medical assistance, which can be found with fully online coursework plus an in-person practicum.
In the field of nursing, the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is the shortest program that qualifies students to earn registered nurse (RN) credentials. These programs are offered online, but are not widely available. Distance learning RN-to-Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) bridge and degree completion programs are more common.
Students can find online nursing degrees offered at community colleges, four-year universities and private distance education institutions. Both associate's and RN-to-BSN programs can usually be completed in about two years. Prospective nursing students should keep in mind that many programs follow a blended format, requiring some on-site components. These typically involve clinical training within a hospital or health care facility as well as a practicum.
Associate's - Nursing
Online ADN programs can be completed in 5-6 semesters and prepare students to sit for the National Council of Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). These online nursing programs are offered by several colleges and universities, but generally require students to complete some clinical components on-site. Depending on the program, students may arrange to fulfill clinical requirements at a regional health care center or may be required to finish them on-campus.
Aside from clinical experience, many courses in an associate's-level nursing program can be taken online. The following courses are typically included and provide students with general education and technical nursing skills:
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Fundamentals of Patient Care
- Maternal and Pediatric Nursing
- Psychiatric Nursing
- Medical Surgical Nursing
Registered nurses can obtain a formal bachelor's degree through an online bridge or degree completion program, which is often shorter than the average undergraduate curriculum. RN-to-BSN programs typically require a minimum of 120 credit-hours to provide students with career advancement nursing skills. General education units are also completed. All online RN-to-BSN programs allow students to transfer credit from diploma and associate's degree programs.
While some programs can be completed entirely online, others require a clinical practicum, which must be satisfied either on-campus or at a site within the region of the school offering the nursing program. The curriculum includes advanced instruction in health sciences and nursing management. The following courses are generally included in an online RN-to-BSN program:
- Nursing Informatics
- Nursing Research
- Community Health Nursing
- Health Assessment
- Nursing Leadership and Management
Learning & Coursework
Excluding any clinical or hands-on requirements, students in an online nursing program typically access course materials through their school's virtual classroom environment. Assignments, learning aids and lectures are usually available for retrieval any time of day. Student interaction often takes place using discussion boards, chat rooms or even Web conferencing. Some programs present lectures through streaming video and audio.
Whether looking to complete an Associate Degree in Nursing or an RN-to-BSN bridge program, students can find options online; shorter-term options in related fields include online certificate programs in medical assistance. While not widely available, and often requiring in-person practicums in addition to the online coursework, the online ADN and RN-to-BSN programs provide students with the skills to become a nurse.