Online Nursing Degree Programs

There's a vast array of different experts and specialists at work in providing health care services for patients. Out of all those many roles, nurses are often on the front lines of patient care.

Among their many potential duties, nursing professionals typically provide and coordinate patient care on a daily basis.

Overview of Nursing Careers

The nursing discipline is segmented into a variety of different specializations. Each specialization is built around a specific set of responsibilities in a health care environment. These specializations include:

  • Nursing assistants sometimes called orderlies or nursing aides, generally provide basic care and assist with tasks required of daily living, such as bathing or dressing
  • Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses (LPNs and LVNs) often take on more advanced tasks, like inserting catheters or taking vitals
  • Registered nurses (RNs) administer medicines or perform tests and analyze the results
  • Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), also referred to as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners, prescribe medications and diagnose health problems within their specialty.

Becoming a nursing assistant typically entails completion of a vocational program and passing a state competency exam. LPNs and LVNs may need to complete an approved one-year certificate program. RNs typically complete either a bachelor's of science degree in nursing or an associate's degree in nursing as well as become licensed in their state via passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses exam (NCLEX-RN). APRNs must fulfill all the standard RN requirements as well as earn a master's degree in their specialization.

Nursing Programs and Coursework

Individuals interested in entering a nursing program should consider how much time they want to devote to school, as well as how immersed they would like to be in patient care.

Those who enjoy developing close relationships with patients may prefer a hands-on role as a nursing assistant, LPN or LVN. Prospective students who would rather focus on the more technical aspects of medicine, such as performing tests or prescribing medication, might be interested in RN or APRN programs.

Course requirements vary by school and program, but most nursing programs typically offer coursework in:

  • Microbiology
  • Health and illness
  • Nutrition
  • Anatomy
  • Psychology
  • Patient care

Those who go on to graduate level nursing degree programs may take courses in physiology and pharmacology, in addition to coursework in their chosen specialty. As always, it's important to review the specific curriculum of a chosen program prior to enrolling.

Career Outlook for Nursing Professionals

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that, among all the nursing specializations, the largest rate of job growth will be for APRNs. Here's how BLS numbers break down job growth rates from 2012 to 2022 across the different specializations:

  • APRNs: 31 percent
  • Nursing assistants: 21 percent
  • LPNs and LVNs: 25 percent
  • Registered nurses: 19 percent

The BLS attributes this potential growth to an aging baby-boomer population, changes in federal law that have increased people's access to health insurance and the fact that APRNs can perform many of the same services as physicians.

"Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 23, 2014,
"Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 23, 2014,
"Nursing Assistants and Orderlies," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 23, 2014,
"Registered Nurses," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 23, 2014,

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