Day in the Life of Students in Online Nursing Programs

After you gather information about which online nursing program fits your career goals, it’s time to envision yourself in the program and consider the benefits of each program — as well as the dedication and focus it will take to get to the finish line.

A BSN degree can take nurses a long way in the nursing profession. Traditionally, BSN and ADN degrees are a starting point for entry-level jobs. An MSN degree can fast track career advancement and result in more attractive salaries and jobs.

RN to MSN programs

Whether you decide to go the RN to MSN route or the BSN to MSN route, just know that some programs advertise how they can save time and money with fewer classes. For example, some RN to MSN programs will not require a BSN.

Nurses in RN to MSN online nursing programs can focus their advanced practice in areas like gerontology, midwifery, neonatal nursing, anesthesia, informatics or administration.

The curriculum may incorporate these masters-level courses:

  • Evidence-based practice improvement: Learn how evidence-based practice works with patient outcomes.
  • Diagnosis in primary care: Lean about the methods used to make diagnosis based on patient assessment.
  • Advanced pharmacology: Acquire knowledge about prescribing medication in family practice.
  • Evidence-based practice: Gain knowledge about research findings as it applies to evidence-based practice.
  • Biostatistics: Delve into data analysis, probability theories and factors in confidence interval testing.

If your career plans include becoming a nurse practitioner (NP), clinical nurse specialist (CNS) or certified nurse-midwife (CNM), expect to put in clinical hours. To obtain state licensure in these advanced practice roles, clinical hours are usually mandatory. That’s because NPs, CNSs and CNMs provide direct patient care.

For those seeking jobs in education or administration after earning an MSN degree, clinical hours may not be required in some programs because these nurses do not provide direct patient care. Still, some type of “clinical experience” is mandatory.

Coursework within MSN programs

According to the American Association of College of Nursing, students can choose from about 219 RN to MSN programs, a number that has tripled since 1994.

The long list of online MSN degree programs suggests a high demand for nurses in a variety of roles.

After reviewing several programs, here’s a sample of coursework to expect when pursing an MSN with NP specialty. (Coursework varies based nursing specialty and whether it’s a clinical or non-clinical role.)

  • Advanced physiology and pathophysiology: Learn about body function and cause of disease.
  • Advanced pharmacology: Learn about drug administration and how medications affect the body, including therapeutic and adverse effects.
  • Advanced Practice Nursing Primary Care: Classes are segmented into pediatric, adolescent and adult primary care.

Clinical hours vary depending on the educational focus. Certified registered nurse anesthetists require a minimum of 2,000 hours and 600 cases, whereas other specialties require 500 hours.

In addition to clinical hours, some MSN programs require a final capstone project that may be published. A capstone project asks students to identify a problem in nursing and use clinical evidence learned in the program to solve the problem.

Online DNP and PhD programs

Making time to study is the key to your success as a DNP or PhD student, especially if you’re a practicing nurse with a day job.

Here’s a quick look that compares DNP and PhD practicums:

  • DNP degrees: Some DNP programs require a minimum of 1,000 post-BSN practicum hours. If you should fall short of the requirement, some schools equate a specific DNP-level field experience course to 72 practicum hours.Make sure to ask how many credit hours can be applied toward a practicum specific to your program; or if hours from your nursing job can be applied.
  • PhD degrees: In some online nursing programs, students must fulfill one semester in a teaching practicum and another semester in a research practicum. In comparison, some on-campus PhD programs require a research paper or dissertation.

Always check the accreditation for any school to which you want to apply. AACN’s Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education tracks this information.

Time management and sleep — necessary for all programs

Making time to study sets you up for success no matter what degree you’re pursuing, especially if you’re a practicing nurse with a day job.

To help prevent sleep deprivation, time management will become your biggest asset. Some students use to-do lists or calendar apps to stay on task. Block off times for studying, test prep and even scheduled bedtime hours. Many online nursing school blogs provide tips about how to boost memory and ace your courses. Adequate sleep tops the list for boosting memory.

Internships can open doors

Internships can offer hands-on experience and help you land a job.

The 2019 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey reported that internship completion improves the chances for multiple job offers, compared to graduates without internships.

Here are a few places to look to find internships

  • College career center at your school
  • Online job boards
  • Facebook career pages for local hospitals and nursing facilities
  • Hospital websites

Learn how to apply for internships with this helpful post published on

Setting up success online

Regardless of education level or desired nursing degree, program flexibility can make a big difference in the enjoyment of learning. Before perusing online nursing programs, consider which online nursing programs offer more flexibility. Asynchronous schedules allow students to log into class at any time. Also look for programs with self-paced classes to customize your schedule.

If you plan to juggle work with education, consider programs designed for working nurses who need the greatest flexibility.

As you begin the online nursing education journey, we hope this information helps you navigate the course. That way you can go grab that dream job.

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