Oklahoma City University Online Nursing Blog
Online MSN programs: Flexible options for advanced nursing education

Online MSN programs: Flexible and convenient options for advanced nursing education

Students learning online

Working nurses who want to advance their careers don’t have to put their lives on hold. With the emergence of online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs, there are flexible and convenient pathways available. Without reporting to campus, you can develop as a nursing leader, exploring topics ranging from disease prevention to social justice in health care. 

Advanced nursing education enabled Margaret Moss to distinguish herself as a leader.1,2 Moss, who authored the first-ever nursing textbook about Native Americans published in 2015, has championed culturally competent care that honors Indigenous beliefs and perspectives.1,2 Motivated by personal experiences—having lost family members to alcoholism, liver failure, and HIV/AIDS—Moss delved into health care systems affecting Native Americans.1,2 Through her work as an associate professor of nursing at Santa Fe Indian Hospital in New Mexico, and as a member of the Minnesota Board of Aging, she made impactful contributions.1,2

Moss’s journey reflects one of many ways to be a leader in the field of nursing and make a difference. With an MSN credential, you not only gain the expertise required to assume leadership roles, but you can also increase your earning potential. The median annual wage for nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and nurse practitioners—careers that require a master’s degree—was $123,780 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.3 

This post explores the world of online MSN programs, exploring their benefits, specializations, admission requirements, curriculum, and financial considerations.

The rise of online MSN programs

Online nursing programs have become more popular due to their flexibility, catering to the demanding schedules of working nurses. If you’re looking to advance into leadership roles, specialized nursing practice areas, or educational positions, these programs combine academic rigor with hands-on experience.

Additionally, as the nursing workforce ages, there's an urgent need for clinicians capable of providing comprehensive care to an increasingly diverse population in the coming years.4 Nurse practitioners play a vital role in this landscape, as they have the authority to prescribe treatments, order tests, and diagnose patients, filling crucial gaps in healthcare delivery.

Deborah Trautman, President of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, has advocated for increased federal and local funding to expand nursing programs and pathways.4 With adequate funding, online MSN degrees can address faculty shortages, accommodate more students, and deliver top-notch nursing education.4 These initiatives are pivotal in enhancing patient care outcomes and meeting the evolving healthcare needs of communities.

Meeting the needs of working nurses: The benefits of online MSN programs

One of the primary motivations behind the surge in online nursing master's programs is their ability to accommodate the demanding schedules of working nurses. When compared to traditional on-campus programs, online nursing degree programs provide more flexibility and accessibility, allowing students to pursue their education while balancing work and personal life commitments.

Accessibility from anywhere

With online learning, geographical barriers are no longer a hindrance. Nurses from diverse locations can access top-tier education without relocating, fostering a rich exchange of ideas and experiences. 

Flexibility for Busy Professionals

Online MSN programs allow nurses to study at their own pace, accessing course materials and lectures at convenient times. This flexibility empowers nurses to continue working while advancing their education.

Look for these program features:5

  • Recorded video lectures that can be watched multiple times
  • Online tests and quizzes, with immediate feedback or scores
  • Easier scheduling for virtual group work

Tailored to different learning styles

Virtual classrooms, interactive learning resources, and dedicated faculty support enhance the online learning experience for nursing students, fostering a collaborative and engaging educational environment.

Look for these program features:5

  • Diverse learning materials available, such as audio podcasts, to enhance learning opportunities
  • Use of digital tools that foster interaction between students and instructors via a social network
  • Student presentations using online video, slides, or lectures

MSN Specialized Roles

MSN degree programs are the key to excelling in the nursing profession and offers a wide array of options for nurses looking to specialize their careers. If you want to play a crucial role in addressing health disparities and promoting equity, consider becoming a public health nurse. For instance, Oregon's initiative to provide home health visits from registered nurses to new mothers can bridge gaps between health providers and communities.6 In addition, public health nurses are instrumental in designing programs for specific populations, such as TB testing for the homeless or reproductive health for teens.6 They also facilitate community health events like vaccinations and shape population health policies, advocating for culturally sensitive programs.6

Other roles include:

  • Nurse Educator: Shapes the future of nursing by imparting knowledge and skills to the next generation of nurses. Gain teaching strategies, curriculum development expertise, and leadership skills essential for educational roles
  • Nurse Leadership/Administration: Combines clinical expertise and managerial acumen. Prepare for executive roles such as health systems management or nursing informatics, focusing on strategic planning, financial management, policy development, and operational optimization within healthcare settings

By identifying the right specialization aligned with your expertise and interests, you can advance your career, find fulfillment, and make a meaningful impact on the profession. 

Accreditation and Quality Assurance

A college’s accreditation status should be one of your most important considerations in selecting a nursing program whether online or not. In the U.S., colleges and universities gain accreditation from agencies approved by the U.S. Department of Education.7 This accreditation involves a thorough evaluation of the school’s programs and services.7

Why does accreditation matter? It directly affects things like transferring course credits and qualifying for federal financial aid.7 So, before applying to any MSN program, verify that the school you’re considering has earned either national or regional accreditation.

Admission Requirements

To enroll in an online MSN program, candidates typically need a bachelor's degree, relevant clinical experience, and active nursing licensure. The application process may include submitting transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and meeting specific deadlines.

MSN Admission Requirements

MSN admission requirements vary based on the school, the applicant’s nursing qualifications and the applicant’s prior nursing education. Most require application fees, although income-based and service-based waivers may be available, according to NursingCAS, an application service for nursing schools.8

RNs with a Bachelor of Science (BSN) in Nursing

If you have a BSN, admission requirements may include:9

  • An accredited BSN degree
  • At least a 2.75 GPA (some require 3.0)
  • At least a C in introductory statistics
  • Valid RN license
  • Letters of recommendation

RNs with an Associate Degree (ADN) in Nursing

If you have an ADN, admission requirements include:9

  • An accredited associate degree in nursing
  • At least one year of full-time employment as an RN
  • Completed prerequisites with a minimum 3.0 GPA

Curriculum and Course Structure

Even when delivered online, master's level nursing degree programs provide a quality education and feature a well-rounded curriculum that includes core courses, nursing research opportunities, specialization-specific modules, and clinical practicum experiences.

Typically, courses are organized into these three categories:10

  • Fundamental: Includes subjects, such as pharmacology, physical assessment, anatomy, chemistry, and statistics, advanced nursing theory
  • Clinical: Caters to advanced practice nurses, covering topics such as advanced health assessment, patient communication, diagnosis of illnesses, care planning, and resource utilization for optimal patient outcomes 
  • Research: Focuses on developing skills in quality improvement proposals, critical analysis of medical literature, and research project design that requires approval from a review board

This comprehensive curriculum equips nurses with the knowledge and skills needed for advanced practice and leadership roles in health care. Some courses combine theoretical knowledge with practical skills, while others foster critical thinking, collaboration, advocacy, and ethical decision-making skills.

Financial Considerations

Since tuition costs vary widely between institutions, you should consider additional expenses such as textbooks, clinical fees, and living expenses. However, MSN online programs could result in money saved if you aren’t paying for meals, living on or close to campus, or transportation fees.5 Funds that would have been spent on these expenses can be allocated toward tuition and other costs.

Also, research available funding options, including scholarships, grants, and loans, to cover expenses.11 Some employers offer tuition reimbursement or assistance programs for employees pursuing advanced degrees. Once you have explored funding options, weigh the costs of an MSN degree against the long-term return on investment in terms of earning potential and career advancement.

Open doors with an online MSN degree

Looking for an online MSN degree program to take your career to the next level? Oklahoma City University (OCU) designed its online Master of Science in Nursing to fit the lives of busy nurses. With both a standard MSN degree option and an RN-MSN pathway, nurses of all levels can make major headway to success in their careers. OCU offers MSN specialties in nursing Leadership, Education, and Community-Based Public Health Nursing. If your career goal is to become a clinical nurse leader, nurse executive, nurse educator, or to provide direct, innovative health care support to your community, consider the accredited online MSN programs from OCU. Schedule a call with one of our admissions outreach advisors today to learn more.

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