5 Questions to Ask When Studying Online Nursing Programs

Training to become a nurse takes many years of education and experience, as well as personal skills and characteristics. There are numerous roles within the nursing profession, and also a lot of room for career advancement and development. If you are just starting out on your nursing journey, then it can be useful to consider your options, both in your education and in your future career plans. Understanding the qualifications you may need for different job roles prepares you to plan accordingly. Additionally, if you are already a practicing RN, then you may feel ready to take the next step and move your career forward. This is where online NP programs can give you the knowledge and skills required to work in more specific, advanced areas of nursing such as gerontology or mental health. NPs (nurse practitioners) are crucial healthcare professionals who provide medical and emotional care and support to many different people. Here are just five questions to ask when you are considering studying online NP programs.

  1. What are the courses?

The online NP programs are BSN to MSN/NP courses which will provide you with the skills and clinical expertise required to work in various advanced nursing roles. The course is aimed at practicing RNs, and can be completed in 24-30 months, depending on the track you choose. There are the four different tracks, and each will prepare you to work in a certain area of nursing:

  • Family nurse practitioner degree: 30 months to complete
  • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner degree: 28 months to complete
  • Pediatric nurse practitioner degree: 28 months to complete
  • Adult-gerontology, primary care, nurse practitioner degree: 24 months to complete

There are various entry requirements that you will need to meet in order to be eligible to apply for these courses, such as a BSN degree, an unencumbered license and a 3.0 GPA. Within each program, there are numerous courses including theoretical perspectives for advanced practice and moral and ethical decision-making, and these can be completed in the 7-1-7 model, allowing for optimum flexibility. This means that you complete one course at a time over 7 weeks, with a 1-week break before moving onto the next course.

  1. What is a nurse practitioner?

The online NP programs will prepare you to work as a nurse practitioner. This is an advanced practitioner role and therefore requires a higher level of qualifications and training than a BSN. NPs are nonphysician clinicians, which means that they perform many of the clinical and diagnostic functions of a physician, without being trained as one. In some states, NPs can also practice independently, without the supervision of a physician. In general, Nurse Practitioners specialize in chronic or acute illnesses, and have a large focus on patient education to promote health and wellbeing. They have a variety of responsibilities depending on their specialism, and these can include prescribing medications, performing assessments, and making diagnoses, performing examinations, and managing patient care.

What if you are not an RN yet?

Training to become a nurse takes many years of education and experience. If you are just at the beginning of your education journey to becoming a nurse, it can look a bit like this:

  • Studying a BSN at an accredited nursing school, which can take around 4 years.
  • Completing your licensing exams for the state you want to practice in.
  • Working in general nursing, gaining experience and opportunities to better understand the specific areas of nursing that you would like to work in.
  • From here, you can choose to study an MSN to become an NP in your chosen specialism.
  • There are also certification and licensing exams that need to be passed in order to practice as an NP.
  • You can then apply for the jobs that you have trained for, or continue to study and pursue a DNP qualification.

NPs are important members of healthcare teams, and even though they may be able to practice independently in some states, as an NP you will often be part of a multidisciplinary team, all working with the patients’ best interests at heart.

  1. What are the career outcomes?

When considering the kind of NP you would like to be, there are numerous points to consider. General nursing will give you a chance to experience different types of nursing, so that you can work out where your strengths and passions lie. The roles that each of the online NP programs can prepare you to work in are as follows:

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner

PMHNPs are trained to offer a wide range of mental health care services to individuals, groups, or communities, and can work as generalists or specialists. The specialist areas you could choose to work in include forensics, geriatrics, or psychotherapy. Your work locations or settings may include prisons, substance abuse programs, schools, or trauma centers, and the responsibilities of a PMHNP can include:

  • Educating families and staff
  • Consultancy
  • Assessing and diagnosing patients
  • Prescribing and managing medication
  • Managing patient care
  • Conducting therapy
  • Providing emergency psychiatric services

Family nurse practitioner

FNPs work with patients of all ages, genders, diseases, and body systems, with a focus on family-centered healthcare and the promotion of healthy life choices through patient education. As an FNP you could work in settings such as clinics, community centers, hospitals, and telemedicine, and your tasks can include:

  • Patient education
  • Prescribing medication
  • Assessing and diagnosing patients
  • Managing treatment plans

Pediatric nurse practitioner

PNPs treat children from birth to the young adult stage (around 21 years old), and they deal with both primary care and chronic and acute illnesses. As a PNP you could work alongside pediatricians or private practices, among other settings, and your responsibilities may include:

  • Prescribing medications
  • Interpreting lab and diagnostic results
  • Maintaining patient health
  • Performing developmental check-ups
  • Performing physical assessments
  • Treating various illness and injuries
  • Providing emotional advice and support to patients and their families

Adult-gerontology, primary care, nurse practitioner

Gerontology is the study of aging, and there are two types of AGNP. One focuses on primary care, and the other on acute care. The online NP programs train you to work in primary care, treating patients from the young adult stage and upwards, who are not usually ill. As a primary care AGNP, your tasks may include:

  • Promoting and encouraging healthy lifestyle choices in order to maintain patient health
  • Assessing caregiver competence
  • Educating patients, their families, and caregivers
  • Managing the transition between different care settings
  1. Who are the courses for?

The online NP programs are for practicing RNs who want a flexible study option to help them move their career to the next step. As well as the professional requirements, there are also many personal skills and traits that help make a great nurse. If you are already an RN, you will most likely already possess many of them. However, online NP programs can help you develop them, and learn how to apply them to the new situations you may find yourself in during your new role as an NP. Examples of these skills include:


Nursing is a very physical profession, and you will be on your feet for many hours. You will also be moving and lifting machinery, equipment, and patients, and physical stamina is vital to make sure you can properly complete your shifts. Furthermore, emotional stamina is also important, as you will need to keep yourself safe and healthy by maintaining proper working boundaries and helping to avoid issues like compassion fatigue.

Willingness to learn

The medical industry is always changing and evolving, and you need to be ready to adapt alongside it. No matter your role or the length of your career, you also need to be willing to learn, as this will help you provide the most up-to-date care and services to your patients.

Empathy and compassion

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of your patients in order to better understand their thoughts and feelings. It is unlikely that you will have first-hand experience of every situation that a patient presents to you, and therefore empathy helps you connect with them on a more personal level. Compassion is sympathy combined with the desire to rectify whatever is causing the patient pain or distress, and is one of the main drivers behind many individuals wanting to become nurses.

Critical thinking

Due to the fact that nursing is rarely black and white, critical-thinking skills can help you analyze and assess a situation objectively, before making a judgement and coming to the most suitable conclusion. Judgement, critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making are all very common parts of nursing, and these skills will be frequently used, often in high-pressure situations.


A large part of NP work is educating patients, families, and other individuals, and therefore good communication skills are vital. This does not just refer to speaking, but also listening and observing. You may have to explain complex medical information to those who don’t have the same level of knowledge as you, and therefore it is important to know how and when to adapt your communication techniques.


As NPs are often part of larger healthcare teams, it is important to be able to work alongside a range of people, from other medical professionals to individuals such as social workers. Teamwork and collaboration go hand in hand with communication, and you need to be able to work as a team in order to come to the best solution for your patients.

  1. Why should you study online?

The online NP programs offer a flexible learning option that can give you more control over your studies. There are plenty of benefits to online learning, and the online NP programs use blended learning to provide a high level of education in a way that works around your life. Blended learning is the combination of learning techniques, such as distance- and remote learning, and in-person teaching. This is important for nursing, as you will need to be able to put your new skills into practice in a workplace environment. Online learning may also help you save money, develop your career, and build important personal skills, as explained below:


Being a student can be incredibly expensive, with costs including tuition fees, commuting, accommodation, and living expenses. Online course can help reduce or remove some of these costs, and can also allow you to continue working and earn money while you study. For example, learning mostly remotely means that you won’t have to travel to classes every day, or worry as much about renting campus accommodation. Furthermore, education at master’s level can often open up more higher-level career opportunities for you, increase your earning potential, and give you access to people, experiences and resources that you may not be able to access outside of a course.


When you are learning in-person your location can be pretty important. If your local university does not offer the subjects, levels of qualification, or flexible study options that you need, then this can have an impact on your progress. Online courses allow you to learn mostly from home, which means your physical location is less of a barrier, and it also gives you more control over your learning environment.


Flexible learning is incredibly beneficial as it can provide more control over your learning environment and experience. Being able to learn from home means that you can create a space that works for you, and fits with your learning style and requirements. It can also help you become a more confident independent learner, and give you an insight into your learning style. Being able to fit your studies around your job also means that you don’t have to make huge sacrifices in order to work on boosting your career.

Online NP programs are a great way to develop—both personally and professionally. They provide a high level of education in a flexible way, giving you more control over many aspects of your education. If you are considering becoming an NP, then online NP programs can help you achieve this, and even prepare you to continue advancing and studying to even higher levels.

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