In today’s world of higher education, almost all nursing programs include some online courses. Traditional brick-and-mortar institutions include distance-learning components in the curriculum and the trend is growing. Many schools offer degrees completely online. There are very good reasons for this. From a lack of educators able to cope with the growing number of students, to an effort to embrace modern technology at the academic level and use it to advance healthcare outcomes. Prospective nurses from the most rural places have access to nursing programs and there is global collaboration that contributes to an incredible wealth of knowledge.

“Online programs draw students from across the nation and around the world,” Mary A. Bemker, an Academic Coordinator and Professor of Nursing at Sullivan University, said. “Nurses attending these classes benefit from insights presented by faculty and peers, who can expand discussions and understanding past what is found in a specific healthcare organization or geographic locale. Since the world is “shrinking” on many fronts, it is a definite advantage for nurses to exchange information and ideas with professionals from around the globe.”

The choice that nurses now face is whether to acquire their degree through an online program or to attend class on-site. The final decision is a strategic career choice and it is advisable to familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of an online nursing degree beforehand. There are solutions to all the disadvantages, but you must be ambitious enough to overcome them.

Dr. Susan Aldridge, the Senior Vice President of Drexel University Online, recently conducted research into how employers now view online degrees.

“Academic experts, employers and recruiting professionals agree that to maximize the value of one’s credentials through online learning, the chosen program must meet three criteria,” Aldridge said. “The learning institution must be reputably accredited, have a traditional campus and encompass a good academic brand.”

The Good

“I decided to pursue an online degree because it was the most logical and efficient manner in which I could achieve my goal of becoming a nurse,” Emily Walker, a registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree in nursing said. “I was looking for a program that would allow me flexibility and independence in my studies, so that I could continue to work.”

Flexibility

Online programs offer immense flexibility for nurses. They are able to log on anytime and from any location; enabling them to continue with family life, their professional career or other commitments. This is one of the main reasons why many people desiring nursing careers were unable to pursue the study in the past. After all, life must go on. The advent of technology has brought about an enormous array of opportunities for nurses to further their education.

“I could do the work at night, on my off days and even during my lunch hour if needed,” Anita Pool, who has a Master’s degree in Nursing, said. “I found the self-scheduling very compatible with my style of learning. The whole assignment could be done during the weekend and I would be finished for the rest of the week.”

Accessibility

Regardless of where you live, there are online nursing schools that cater to your area. Being able to study from a distance is an enormous advantage that makes obtaining nursing qualifications far more accessible for many people. With occasional campus visits sometimes required, nurses are able to study from home and serve their communities in the process.

Cost

Online nursing programs are much more cost-friendly. Curricular modules are sent to students online as opposed to a professor lecturing from a podium. The price is cut dramatically because classroom costs are not included in the fees. Students are not charged for electricity, library or other resource usage either; which means that semester credits are much cheaper and culminate in saving large sums of money.

Study Pace

One of the biggest advantages of studying online is the ability to set your own study pace. While some schools have fixed the curriculum that are delivered according to a certain schedule; the majority of them allow students to complete the degree requirements quickly if need be or slowly as the student deems manageable. There is no pressure to finish their degree in a certain time-frame and a student may earn their degree faster where necessary.

Technology

The use of modern technology is an integral part of online degree programs. It is impossible to study through the curriculum without at least a modicum of computer skills. Most students have a good understanding of computer technology by the time they graduate. This is looked upon favorably by prospective employers and gives you an advantage over many others in your professional environment.

Innovation

Distance-accessible learning programs do not offer clinical preceptors. This means that students must source their own clinical sites; which require skills in research, application, out-of-the-box thinking and persuasion. In order for students to gain the clinical experience required during online coursework, they must be motivated and adept at sourcing their own clinical preceptors. This reflects dedication, communication and friendly relations with other nursing staff; which are highly sought after attributes in the nursing industry.

“My online degree taught me to be very independent and provided me with excellent time management skills. I learnt to balance my studies with my life and this has translated over to my professional career,” Walker explained. “My transition from school to work was very smooth and I have learnt to apply myself in many productive ways.”

Bemker added that, “having been in a position to manage and hire nursing faculty, I have found that faculty who graduated from an online program demonstrated the same high standard of professionalism and academic preparation as those who graduated from an on-ground campus.”

The Bad

Accreditation

There are many online nursing programs that have not been accredited, and many of them are in the early stages of development and therefore not reputable. In addition to this, a number of these online degrees have only sought regional accreditation. Students need to be particularly careful about this and do their research beforehand. If your degree is going to benefit you in your career, it must come from a reputable institution that has been accredited by a national accrediting association. The accreditation procedure is just as rigorous for all programs and online nursing schools are no exception to the rule.

“National accrediting associations use the same rigorous standards to assess and evaluate the quality of nursing programs offered online as those that are campus based. Having been through multiple accreditation, I am well aware of the rigor and quality of those reviewing nursing programs on the ground and online,” Bemker said. “With so many nursing programs accredited with a hybrid or totally online format, the quality and credibility of the online degree is well evidenced.”

Help

One of the disadvantages of obtaining your degree online is the lack of help available when you need it. Faculty of these programs are always willing to assist students as much as possible, but it may take several days for you to get a reply to your question. The other members of these cohorts are usually strangers and many students do not reach out to them. Numerous schools are combating this by making it compulsory for students to meet on campus at the beginning of the program. It is advisable to find a mentor that will be able to help you during such times.

“If I wanted to ask a question I had to do it by either phone or email. An immediate response was seldom experienced. I found ways to supplement such as finding lectures through YouTube on a similar subject,” Anita Pool said. “I learned how to navigate our hospital online library and use their databases to search for information. I also searched University websites. This become a minor inconvenience as I adjusted.”

Travel

While students gain a massive advantage by not having to attend traditional classes, they do still need to travel in order to gain hands-on experience. Clinical hours must be accumulated at hospitals or other clinical sites. If you live in a rural environment, then you may need to travel a few hours to attend these preceptors. This is one of the main reasons why many rural students opt for brick-and-mortar programs that offer residency options.

“I had recently married and moved to a small town. The closest traditional university was over an hour away,” Pool said. “I was also employed full-time as a RN and attending scheduled classes at an inconvenient location was simply impossible.”

Experience

Interacting with patients is a critical component of nursing and should be nurtured from the baccalaureate level via face-to-face interaction with faculty, fellow students and patients. Online nursing programs lack the hands-on experience required for such interaction and often graduates of these programs are wholly unprepared for a hospital setting. This problem can be counteracted by supplementing your degree with a hospital internship. The nursing school must also possess proper assessment protocols that will test whether students are able to apply their knowledge in a professional environment.

Discrimination

Due to the high rate of failure among nursing students studying online, the lack of proper clinical experience and accreditation shortages of these programs; many question the integrity of online nursing degrees. The growth in reputability of the online curriculum has curbed some of this discrimination. So now if you successfully complete an online nursing degree with the required clinical hours, then there is no reason for you to become a victim of such discrimination.

Procrastination

One of the main reasons why so many nursing students fail online programs is their ability to get the work done. With so much flexibility available, many suffer procrastination. They are tired from working a full shift, feeding the family, cleaning the house and more; studying is left for tomorrow. Successful completion of an online nursing degree is phenomenally challenging and requires sheer dedication and motivation. There is simply no time for procrastination.

Time Alone

Studying involves concentration and ‘alone’ time. It is imperative that you are able to put aside time where you will be able to do this without continual distractions. This is a major problem for many nurses experiencing long work hours, family responsibilities or other commitments. Many students study when the kids have retired for the night, others send their families for fishing vacations every weekend. It is a necessary evil to exclude yourself when you need to study; but there are many innovative ways to create time for your studies that are fun for the whole family.

Workload

In some cases, the workload of core courses is almost double in nursing programs taught online. This is because written papers are more prevalent than in traditional programs and delivery is frequently required in shorter time-frames. This increases the workload in itself, but there is another aspect to consider. Students are not benefiting from auditory and visual lectures and they do not have immediate help available. They combat this through sourcing similar subjects from other online resources; such as YouTube, webinars, online libraries, hospital databases, university websites and more.

“The success or failure of nurses in faculty has more to do with their own professionalism, ability to interact with students and their dedication to the job requirements than it has to do with the venue at which they obtained their degree,” Bemker said. “I would not hesitate to hire a nurse professional that graduated from an accredited online program if they possessed the degree requirements and skill sets needed for the job.”

Online nursing degrees are the ideal answer for many nurses without the means to attend brick-and-mortar programs. However, the freedom associated with distance-learning is potentially dangerous and results in many failures. Nobody is going to force course materials on you and you should not expect courtesy phone reminders for assignment deadlines. Studying on your own relies on dedication, willpower, motivation and innovation; which are characteristics that are not negotiable if you wish to successfully complete your nursing degree online.