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Online Nursing Degrees

Nursing is a popular career choice for those who are passionate about helping people. Nurses, no matter what specialty they are in, help patients with their medical needs, educate them about their health, and comfort them and their family members. While the majority of nurses work in hospitals, opportunities are also available in doctors’ offices, emergency clinics, hospice facilities, and even patients' homes.

The field of nursing is growing at a rapid rate. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for Registered Nurses (RNs) is expected to increase by 22% through the year 2018, which is better than nearly all other occupations. If you're planning on entering this highly needed and ever-growing field, now is a good time to do it.

Every type of nurse must earn either a nursing certificate or a college degree in nursing. Nursing degrees are offered at every level, and there are numerous specialized nursing degrees that you can choose from. This article will discuss the different levels of online nursing degrees, some of the most popular specialized nursing degrees, and how to obtain the licensure required to practice nursing.

Certification and Degree Levels for Nursing


Nursing certificates can be earned by completing a nursing training program, many of which are offered online and generally take about one year to complete, depending on the requirements of the program and the student's ability to successfully complete each course. Some of the courses you can expect to take in a certification program include nursing concepts, fundamentals of nursing, human biology, medical-surgical nursing, and pharmaceuticals.

Completing one of these programs and becoming licensed will allow you to begin a career as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). LPNs care for patients under the supervision and direction of doctors and registered nurses.

Associate Degree

An associate degree in nursing usually takes around two years to complete, depending on the program and the student's success rate. Most of the courses you will take in an associate degree program are going to be at the introductory level, such as introduction to health, health and illness concepts, health system concepts, and family health concepts. Earning an associate degree in nursing and obtaining licensure will allow you to become a registered nurse (RN).

Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree in nursing program generally takes around four years to complete. The courses you will take in a bachelor's degree program will include the introductory courses used in associate degree programs, as well as more advanced courses that expand upon those concepts. The courses may include pathophysiology in nursing, foundations of nursing, health assessment, and nursing leadership and management. Most of the specialized nursing degrees are offered at the baccalaureate level. Successfully completing a bachelor's degree program in nursing and obtaining licensure will allow you to become an RN and enter your chosen specialty.

Master's Degree

A master's degree in nursing can take around six years to complete, depending on the program. A master's degree will require you to complete the same courses that you would through a bachelor's degree program, then supplement that with more advanced courses. Some of the courses include maintaining a continuum of care for positive patient outcomes, nursing policy and politics, and nursing theory and research. High-level, specialized nursing degree programs, such as nurse practitioner and nurse anesthetist programs, are offered at the master’s level. Earning a master's degree in nursing and obtaining licensure will allow you to become a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or whatever specialty you choose.

Doctoral Degree

A doctoral degree in nursing is the highest level of education you can receive in this field and can take from eight to 10 years to complete. The courses required for a doctoral program include qualitative methods in nursing, qualitative analysis, and advanced health measurement methods. Many people who obtain a doctoral degree in nursing, as well as licensure, go into careers such as nursing instruction at colleges and universities and nursing philosophy.

Popular Specialized Nursing Degrees

Every nursing specialty will require you to meet certain educational requirements and obtain an RN license. The following are some of the more popular specialized nursing degrees:

Neonatal Nursing

A neonatal nurse provides medical care for infants and newborns, often working with babies who are born prematurely, have birth defects, or who suffer from illness. Most neonatal nursing positions require an associate or bachelor's degree as well as RN licensure. However, neonatal nurse practitioner positions require a master's degree in addition to licensure. Because caring for infants, especially infants in critical condition, requires specific skills and knowledge, neonatal nursing programs include courses such as maternal, fetal, and newborn philosophy, high-risk antepartum and intrapartum, pathophysiology of high-risk neonates, and family theory.

Nurse Anesthetist

A nurse anesthetist focuses on pain relief and prevention through anesthesia. In most cases, a nurse anesthetist will work in operating rooms during surgical procedures. Their tasks are to administer anesthesia to the patient at the beginning of the procedure, monitor the vital signs of the patient during the procedure and increase or decrease anesthesia as needed, and then monitor the patient as they come out of anesthesia and recover from the operation. The life of the patient is as much in the hands of the nurse anesthetist as it is the surgeons’, so a nurse anesthetist must have RN licensure, specialized training, and a proper education — a graduate degree in most cases. Some of the courses you can expect to take while pursuing an online nurse anesthetist degree include principles and practice of nurse anesthesia, pharmacology for anesthesia and critical care, anesthesia and co-existing diseases, and health assessment for nurse anesthesia.

Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner provides health care to people of all ages. In many cases, a nurse practitioner degree can be specialized based on age group, such as adult, pediatric, or neonatal nurse practitioners. The duties of a nurse practitioner of any age group can include diagnosing and treating illnesses, performing lab work and tests, interpreting findings from tests and X-rays, prescribing medication as needed, and educating patients on health care, disease prevention, and more. Nurse practitioners must have a high level of skill and knowledge about a broad spectrum of medicine. Therefore, nurse practitioners are required to obtain RN licensure and earn graduate degrees. Some of the courses in an online nurse practitioner program can include advanced pharmacology, advanced clinical assessment across the lifespan, diagnosis and management of illnesses, and management and advanced practice nursing.

Medical-Surgical Nursing

Medical-surgical nurses make up the largest group of medical professionals and are considered to be the backbone of medical institutions. A medical-surgical nurse generally has an associate, bachelor's, or (occasionally) a master's degree, as well as an RN license. These nurses will usually work on a patient floor at a hospital and care for anywhere from three to eight patients at a time. The medical, physical, and mental conditions of the patients they care for vary greatly, so these nurses must be able to handle whatever is thrown at them, requiring them to be knowledgeable of all aspects of health care. The courses taken in an online medical-surgical nursing program will be more advanced for higher-level degrees, but some of the courses you can expect to take include physical assessment, pharmacology, essentials of medical-surgical nursing, psychiatric nursing, and medical laws and regulations.

Critical Care Nursing

The name pretty much sums up the role of critical care nurses. They provide medical care for patients in critical condition, which can include people in comas, recovering from severe injuries, or suffering from severe illnesses and diseases. In many cases, these patients are unconscious, and their nurses feed them, bathe them, attend to their wounds, administer medications, and more. Some of the courses in an online critical care nursing program may include multisystem failure and shock, cardiovascular health, gastrointestinal systems, and neurology.

Clinical Hours

Every nursing program requires you to complete a certain number of clinical hours to graduate. These are hours spent in a hospital, shadowing and learning from other nurses, and gaining experience in the field. Clinical hours not only allow you to put what you have learned into practice, they give you an understanding of what being a nurse is really like and let you see firsthand what you will be dealing with after you begin your career. Where you complete your clinical hours and the types of patients you work with will depend on your school and your specialty, if you choose one. For example, if you are in a neonatal nursing program, you may spend time with general patients, but the bulk of your time will be spent in nurseries, neonatal intensive care units, and maternity areas.


All nurses, regardless of specialty, are required to become licensed to practice nursing. You can obtain licensure by passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Those who complete a one-year nursing program and want to start a career as an LPN will have to successfully complete the NCLEX-PN. All other nurses, regardless of specialty, are required to successfully complete the NCLEX-RN, which will grant you a registered nursing license.