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Choosing the Best Online Master's in Nursing Program

The lists below are designed to help students find the schools that fit best for the master's in nursing concentration that interests them the most.

The 5 Best Online MSN Programs

The best online MSN (master of science in nursing) programs are designed for experienced professional nurses who have both a Bachelor of Science (BSN) degree and a current registered nurse license. The best online Master of Science in Nursing programs provide comprehensive training in advanced nursing practices and leadership and administrative skills, preparing students to take on advanced responsibilities in the workplace.

Most programs also offer students the chance to take concentrated courses in a professional skill area in order to prepare for a specialized nursing role. Common concentrations include healthcare administration, nursing education, and nursing informatics. Some online MSN programs offer students the chance to train as a nurse practitioner in areas such as adult-gerontology primary care or family care. These programs are designed to qualify students for state-level nurse practitioner certification exams.

The 4 Best Online Master's in Nursing Education Programs

The best online master's in nursing education programs prepare you to teach in nursing schools as well as clinical and work settings. Graduates of nursing education master's programs are qualified to teach students in licensed practical nurse (LPN) and registered nurse (RN) programs. Nurse educators can also teach in Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs, although many universities prefer to hire instructors who possess a doctoral degree.

Entry into a graduate nursing education program requires a registered nurse license and a BSN degree. You receive a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree at the conclusion of the program. Although there are some minor curricular differences among the best online master's in nursing education programs, they all place significant emphasis on educational theory and practical classroom teaching skills. As a nursing education student, you also take courses in advanced nursing practices and other standard MSN subjects.

It's important to understand that all the best online nursing education programs require students to complete a teacher training program or practicum. You can complete this training in your community if you are able to organize the opportunity and meet all program requirements. In most cases, teacher training requirements include teacher observation and supervised teaching practice that amounts to more than 100 total hours of training. Nurse training institutes, colleges, and large medical facilities with on-site nurse training programs are suitable places to carry out your training. Contact an admissions adviser at your chosen school to learn more about training requirements.

The 3 Best RN to MSN Online Programs

If you have a registered nurse license and an associate's degree in nursing, attending one of the three best online master of science in nursing programs can be a great way to upgrade your nursing skills and develop the leadership and administrative skills you need to advance your career. RN to MSN online programs combine the two years of undergraduate training that lead to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and the two years of graduate training that lead to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree into a single, continuous academic program. RN to MSN programs can be completed in four years or less. In most cases, you have the option to exit a program with a BSN after completing the first two years.

As an online RN to MSN student, you study health sciences courses like pharmacology and epidemiology, clinical nursing courses like health assessment and disease prevention, and technical courses like nursing informatics and nursing research methods. Most online RN to MSN programs also require courses in communication, leadership, and administrative skills, which are essential for registered nurses who want to take on more responsibility in the workplace. Some online RN to MSN programs require a limited number of campus visits to participate in training and skills-assessment sessions.

Note that many RN to MSN online programs offer the opportunity to specialize in a professional skill area such as nursing education or healthcare administration. Other programs enable you to train as a nurse practitioner (NP) focused on an area such as family care or adult-gerontology primary care. Nurse practitioner programs qualify you for an NP certification examination in your state. Although you can wait to decide on a nursing specialty until you've completed nearly two years of courses, it's best to decide on a specialty before committing to a program so you can select a school based on the specialty you want to pursue.

The 4 Best Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

A nurse practitioner, or NP, is a type of advanced practice registered nurse qualified to diagnose medical problems and devise and implement treatment plans. The best online nurse practitioner programs prepare students with the knowledge and skills to take and pass a state-level NP certification exam. In many states, certified nurse practitioners are qualified to act as primary health care providers within a particular area of expertise, although some states require nurse practitioners to work in collaboration with a physician.

Most online nurse practitioner programs culminate in a Master of Science in Nursing degree. In an online NP program, you take courses in leadership and administrative skills in addition to advanced nursing practice courses in a specialty area. Popular NP specialties include family health, adult-gerontology, pediatrics, neonatal care, and acute care, among other areas. Of the many recognized NP specialties, only a handful are commonly available in an online format. If you're looking to pursue an NP program online, you can find a full variety of quality options among the programs listed below. All four of the schools in this list rank among the top-10 online graduate nursing program providers in the country, according to a 2013 study by U.S. News & World Report

What Online Master's in Nursing Features Matter and Why?

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