Online Masters in Nursing Programs

Online MSN Programs are designed for top working nurses who want to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and develop knowledge in a specialized area. Masters level nursing programs could best help students transition into advanced practice nursing roles such as Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Educator or Nurse Administrator. There are also MSN online programs that are designed for non-nurses who need to work towards initial registered nurse licensure. Whatever your goals, you could study to develop key skills for patient-centered care and evidence-based practice while you maintain other responsibilities.

written by Rana Waxman

Online Masters in Nursing; Online MSN Programs

Why Consider Online MSN Programs?

Online MSN Programs make it possible to complete most, if not all, the course requirements via web-based courses, bringing nursing school to you. While there is no uniform format, there are some common features to look for that could entice you to pursue your masters in nursing degree online.

Flexibility and Convenience

Where in-person requirements are not mandatory, students may have the option to complete the MSN program entirely online. This might provide the flexibility you need. You could complete your coursework when it’s convenient for you, whether that’s late at night, early in the morning, or in the middle of the day. While you still must meet the deadlines for assignments, you could have the freedom to set your own schedule.

Supervised Practice

Students who attend nursing school online and need clinical experience may be able to complete practicum hours in their own community by working with a faculty mentor and preceptor. This may minimize travel and make it easier to work any clinic time into your schedule.

Interactive and Independent

Interactive online masters in nursing programs could make use of video conferencing technology to deliver live, collaborative online classes. Students might join their fellow nurses in scheduled sessions hosted by faculty. In some universities, the student-to-faculty ratio is about 12:1, which could make it possible to develop relationships with peers, or find a mentor. Plus, since class sessions are often recorded, they might be viewed again any time, from anywhere.

Minimal Campus Visits

Some online MSN programs also entail academic visits to campus. While on-site, students could engage in faculty-led instruction and practice. This might be in the form of nursing workshops where students could take part in clinical practice training simulations with standardized patients and specific instruments. Aside from program events where peers and faculty might interact, students also usually complete any in-person clinical skill assessments during this time.


Jasmine Lafleur
Clinical Nurse Educator at Signature Healthcare

Expert Insight

How did enrolling in an MSN Degree help your career?

MSN degrees are so crucial for nurses as it sets the foundation for nurses to not only deliver care, but to truly impact and mold health policies and how care is delivered. Obtaining this degree has empowered me to positively influence patient outcomes. Furthermore, obtaining an MSN degree creates more career advancement opportunities and autonomy.


Online MSN Programs: Basics

Most online MSN programs build on the skills and knowledge developed in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, and on your experience as a Registered Nurse. A BSN to MSN online curriculum is often a mix of core courses, concentration-specific courses, electives, clinical practicum and a capstone project. While credit weights and program lengths vary, a Master of Science in Nursing program could entail about thirty-six credits. Full time masters programs often consist of 18-24 months of continued study. Part-time online MSN programs stretch the time to completion out but could make a graduate program easier to juggle with an active schedule.

MSN Online Curriculum

Core courses are usually taken by all students enrolled in an MSN online program. These courses typically interweave theory, research and practice to forma firm foundation of knowledge. Students could learn about recent trends in healthcare practices, delivery systems, regulations and procedures. At the same time, they might take courses that address human health and development through the lifespan. While they study nursing science, nurses could also acquire interpersonal skills and the ability to lead. Below are some examples of the type of required core courses an online nursing masters program might have.

  • Nurse Informatics
  • Health Care Policy and Ethics
  • Statistics for Health Care
  • Analysis and Use of Research
  • Health Economics

Contact individual online MSN programs for a full course list.

Concentration-Specific Courses vary by school. You might choose to pursue a focus in nurse education, nurse administration or a clincal nursing specialty such as Family Nurse Practitioner. Courses in any emphasis you choose could include related concepts and their practical uses in healthcare. For instance, a nurse who wants to focus on women’s health could study the female reproductive system.

Electives could help nurses refine their studies based on interests and background. Sometimes, a school will give options that help broaden your grasp of a selected emphasis. For instance, a nurse educator might take an elective in higher education administration.

Clinical Practicum: After the required courses are completed, students could need to complete supervised clinical hours. Those who work toward their MSN online may be able to do this is at a location nearby and around their current work schedule. That said, it makes a good question to ask prospective online nursing schools.

A Capstone Project is a final requirement of some online masters in nursing programs. It is a project used to show the skills and knowledge that were acquired throughout the program.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for online MSN programs and schools vary, as there are programs for all different levels of education and experience. Many programs are available for RNs with a valid state license and their BSN degree. Applicants are often required to have earned a bachelor's degree from a school accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. Some schools also want to see scores from the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT), college transcripts, letters of reference, and an essay.

Programs that are intended for non-nurses and nurses with non-nursing degrees have their own requirements. These might include an associates degree or bachelors degree, prerequisite coursework and test scores. Nursing specialty programs could also require some prerequisite coursework or clinical experience related to the area. As requirements vary widely, it's best to contact an admission advisor for details.

An Online MSN Program That’s Great for You

Just as there are many types of nurses, there are many different online nursing masters programs. You could look for a program based on your current education level, career goals, and licensure needs. Success in any program could help prepare you to sit for certification and licensure exams, an important concern for anyone hoping to practice. That said, you should take note that there are usually state requirements which must be met as well. A criminal background check is one example. Each state’s board of nursing can provide details.

Online RN to MSN Programs

There are two types of online RN to MSN programs: a traditional RN to MSN or a RN to MSN bridge program. The RN-MSN is typically planned-out for active RNs with an associates degree in nursing, who have not yet earned a bachelors degree in any subject. The MSN bridge program could be suitable for students who hold a bachelor’s degree in another discipline.

Traditional RN to MSN: An RN to MSN online program is usually composed of undergraduate general education, undergraduate nursing, and graduate nursing coursework. Students who successfully complete the first part of the program could be awarded a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. From here, students could move into the remainder of graduate-level coursework in their intended MSN emphasis (Diabetes Nursing, Clinical Nurse Leader etc).

RN to MSN Bridge: The bridge option is planned out for nurses who have earned a bachelors degree in a non-nursing subject and want to pursue a graduate degree in nursing. As a result, courses could ‘bridge’ professional nursing experience with key MSN courses. Students could start out in undergraduate nursing courses which are prerequisites for the Master of Science in Nursing degree. These bridge courses could cover themes such as population health and health promotion. Students who successfully complete the undergraduate-level courses and meet admissions requirements for the emphasis they choose may then continue into the online MSN program.

Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

Online Nurse Practitioner programs could help students acquire the knowledge and skills to provide primary and specialty care to individuals, families, and populations across their lifespan as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). APRNs may conduct physical examinations, diagnose illnesses, counsel patients on health topics, prescribe medication, assist in minor surgeries, and more.i

Online FNP: Online Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) MSN programs include coursework and practicum hours focused on caring for the entire family. Students could study topics such as health assessment, pathophysiology, clinical pharmacology, family theory, primary care and pediatrics.

Graduates of an online MSN-FNP program may be eligible to apply for certification as a Family Nurse Practitioner through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and/or the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Success on certification exams is required to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner.i

Online Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner: Most Online Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP) programs are planned-out to equip registered nurses with acute-care experience so they might pursue direct patient management in acute and complex care settings. Coursework often covers diagnostic reasoning and chronic health care problems of adult and geriatric patients.Students could learn how to integrate evidence-based practice, alleviate patient and family suffering, and make ethical decisions in geriatric care.

After successful completion of their program, graduates may be eligible to sit for the Adult Gerontology ACNP exam to earn board certification and credentials offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).i

Online Nurse-Midwifery/Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner: An online Nurse-Midwifery/Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (NM/WHNP) could cover the information and clinical skills necessary for the care of women in their reproductive years and for the normal newborn. Typically designed for registered nurses, courses could explore the normal obstetrical and gynecological health of women, as well as issues in ambulatory care, labor, birth and newborn care from birth to four weeks.

Graduates of a dual program could be prepared to take the midwifery exam offered by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) and the WHNP exam offered by National Certification Corporation (NCC) to become Board Certified (BC).i

Online MSN-Nurse Informatics

An online MSN program with a focus on Nurse Informatics could prepare students to work with point-of care technologies and data analytics. Informatics Nurse Specialists are versed in system design and project management. They apply knowledge of computer science, information science, nursing, and informatics theory to nursing practice, education, administration, and nursing research.ii

Nurse informatics courses could cover data security and workflow redesign. Students may also learn how to design, use and promote technologies for population health. Those who successfully complete this track may be eligible to apply for certification in Nursing Informatics (RN-BC) by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Online MSN-Nurse Administrator

online MSN programs with a focus on nurse leadership, nurse administration or nurse executive, is typically designed to prepare nurses to manage or direct others in a health care setting. An emphasis in leadership could teach nurses to set goals, think critically about policy, and communicate effectively with other professionals and at bedsides.iii

Coursework could cover human resources and organizational behavior to help students grasp issues such as contract labor laws, staff motivation and performance. Courses in strategy may allow nurses to forecast trends, and plan with an eye on human and financial resources. Topics in organizational finance are likely to highlight budgets and cost concepts.

Students who successfully complete this track may be eligible to apply for certification in Nurse Executive-Advanced (NEA-BC) by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Online MBA-MSN: Some schools might offer a dual degree program such as the Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Nursing (MBA-MSN) program. To enroll, applicants must be accepted into both degree programs. Students first complete one degree program and then begin courses for the second. Upon completion, they could earn two diplomas.

In their MSN courses, students could learn about health care policy, health promotion and informatics. Nurse leader courses might highlight financial management, communication and systems thinking. MBA courses further delve into business topics like managerial economics and accounting. They could also bring elements such as team building, marketing and strategy to the table.

Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)

An online MSN with a focus on Clinical Nurse Leadership might be another option for nurses drawn to management. Clinical Nurse Leaders are advanced generalist clinicians who have the skills and knowledge to provide a range of care in specialty areas. CNLs could focus their abilities in areas such as oncology, pediatrics, cardiac, neonatal, obstetric, gynecological, neurological and psychiatric nursing.iv

Clinical Nurses Leader courses may focus on a set of core topics such as health care policy and ethics where students discuss nursing theory, research and evidence-based practice. Other courses could touch on patient evaluation, risk assessment, and pharmacology. Students who successfully complete their program could be prepared to take the American Association of Colleges of Nursing CNL Certification Exam.

Online MSN-Nurse Educator

An online MSN with an emphasis in nurse education could prepare nurses of today to help nurses of tomorrow. Nurse educators demonstrate and teach patient care to student nurses, practicing nurses, healthcare providers and clients.

Coursework in a Nurse Educator online MSN program could cover teaching methods and educational theories as they apply to the nursing profession. Nurses could also learn how to plan and develop curricula, as well as assess student learning.

Students who successfully complete this track may be eligible to apply for certification as a Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) by the National League for Nursing (NLN) or Nursing Professional Development (RN-BC) by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

DID YOU KNOW? When surveyed about their education, 26% of Chief Nursing Officers reported they had a masters degree. iii

Accredited Online MSN Programs

Wonder whether online MSN programs are accredited? There are two levels of accreditation that could come into play. First, an institution could be regionally or nationally accredited. This peer review process speaks to fiscal stability and faculty. Second, individual nursing masters programs might be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). This level of approval could show that a curriculum follows industry standards for that profession and so, has integrity. Either way, accredited schools and programs are reviewed periodically to maintain status.

Take the Next Step: Online MSN Programs

As health care continues to transform, career prospects for advanced practice nurses are expected to be excellent.i Whether you want to jumpstart or refine your nursing career, or continue on to earn a PhD or Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, the next step is to find an online MSN program. We suggest you use the on-page menu. All you have to do is filter by subject to easily compare online MSN programs with the emphasis you seek. Then, contact schools directly! Take the next step now.

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