Can You Earn Your Nursing Degree Online? Yes and No.

Summary: Can you earn your nursing degree online? Not entirely. Nursing is a hands-on profession that requires close interaction with patients. So, while you can learn nursing fundamentals online, the only way to develop your applied skills is in person. The ABSN program at Northeastern University blends online coursework with experiential learning to graduate nurses who are leaders in the field.

Cropped view of laptop next to hands holding a liquid vial

While there are several things you can complete entirely online, earning a nursing degree isn’t one of them—which makes sense because nursing is a hands-on, up-close-and-personal profession. So, what’s the deal when universities talk about offering online nursing programs? We can explain as it relates to our 16-month Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program.

Our ABSN students complete a blend of fundamental coursework, nursing labs, and clinical rotations. While the coursework is 100% online, the in-person labs and clinicals provide the applied learning experiences required to become a registered nurse. Not to mention, Northeastern University prides itself on providing students of all majors with a world-class experiential education.

Northeastern ABSN student - Shaelyn

Meet Shaelyn

This ABSN graduate chose Northeastern to accelerate her nursing career because we’re a great school with a great program. “Employers are going to look at your application and know you have the right nursing education and that you’re prepared.”

Online Coursework: Develop Fundamental Knowledge

Our accelerated nursing coursework lays the groundwork for your education. Known as the didactic portion of the ABSN curriculum, these courses focus on the fundamentals and theories of professional practice, such as pathophysiology, nursing informatics, cultural diversity, and healthcare ethics. They also set the stage for the hands-on skills you’ll develop during your nursing labs and clinical rotations.

You complete these fundamental courses via an intuitive online learning management system. Each course consists of different learning modules that help reinforce and solidify your retention of core nursing concepts. Assignments within each module may include:

  • Textbook readings
  • Informational videos
  • Patient case studies
  • NCLEX-RN® prep work

While online courses are flexible in that you can complete them at any time of the day or night, you still need to complete your assignments by specified deadlines. And because so much of the ABSN curriculum comprises online coursework, you need to work independently and hold yourself accountable to stay on track. In other words, you must manage your time wisely and maintain a consistent routine to be successful.

Furthermore, our ABSN program isn’t a distance learning nursing program. There are in-person aspects of the curriculum that require students to live within driving distance of our ABSN program site and clinical placement locations.

Northeastern ABSN student Ellen

Meet Ellen
This ABSN graduate enjoyed completing her nursing coursework online. “I liked being able to listen to the lectures as many times as I wanted. Whenever I had a question, I would email my professor and get a response within 24 hours.”

Skills Lab in Nursing School: Develop Core Clinical Competencies

The nursing skills lab is where your applied learning begins. Our lab setting features hospital equipment, nursing supplies, clinical task trainers, and medical manikins to provide a safe, contextual environment for clinical skills development.

Throughout the program, you and your classmates will connect with your instructors at the lab to learn how to effectively apply core clinical skills, such as:

  • Hand-washing practices
  • Hospital bed changes
  • Catheterization
  • Intramuscular injections
  • Nasogastric tube insertions
  • Oxygenation therapy
  • Wound care

While in the lab, you’re bound to make a mistake—and that’s fine. Our instructors view errors as valuable learning opportunities. Just be sure to take advantage of our open lab hours to practice and hone your skills.

ABSN graduate student Erin using a stethoscope in sim lab

Meet Erin
This ABSN graduate found our skills lab amazing. “It’s impressive how everything looks and feels like a hospital setting.”

Simulation in Nursing Education: Develop Critical Thinking and Clinical Judgment

Nursing simulation is a key to our experiential education model. These realistic learning activities allow you and your classmates to intervene in clinical situations that become more complex over time. Through simulation, we’re able to bring a human-to-human interaction component to the learning process without putting patient safety at risk.

Either an actor or a high-fidelity manikin carries out the patient role during a simulation. The type of patient we use depends on the learning objective. We use manikins in high-risk clinical situations, such as cardiac arrest or severe hemorrhaging. If a simulation involves a lot of interpersonal communication, we’ll have an actor play the patient role.

We use some of the most sophisticated patient simulators to prepare students for the clinical setting. These simulators deliver vocal responses, reproduce bodily sounds, bleed, and respond to drug interactions. And through our simulation technology, we can take a patient care scenario in different directions based on your clinical actions and behavioral responses. How do we do it? Instructors control the patient simulators from a room that sits adjacent to the simulation lab.

absn students working with sim manikin

Following each simulation, you attend a debriefing session with your instructor to talk about the experience. The session encourages you to reflect on the simulation while allowing us to understand your actions and clinical approach. In other words, it’s an open-ended conversation about how you think you did and how we perceived your performance.

It’s also worth mentioning that we keep grades out of nursing simulations. Why? Because they would alter the dynamic of these learning activities. Instead of taking an honest look at the situation, students would otherwise focus on defending their actions. We use simulation as a teaching strategy that uses positive reinforcement to improve and expand your nursing skills and clinical judgment.

Overall, nursing simulations help boost your confidence in clinicals by removing the fear of the unknown. For example, imagine walking into a patient room for the first time and not knowing monitors would be beeping. The situation would catch you off guard and leave you feeling distracted—and that’s why we make our simulation experiences as close to real-life as possible.

Clinicals in Nursing School: Gain Practical Real-World Experience

Why is clinical experience important in nursing school? In short, it provides a roadmap for students to make patient care decisions and contributes to their professional development.

We partner with big-name hospitals and small suburban healthcare facilities to ensure our students receive clinical experiences that provide a broad perspective of the profession. As an ABSN student, your first clinical takes place in the first semester of our four-semester nursing program.

You’ll complete six rotations in total, with each one providing 72 or more hours of practical experience. During your rotations, you’ll perform health assessments, develop care plans, and take vitals under the guidance of an instructor. Overall, you’ll gain real-world clinical experience caring for the following patient populations:

  • Adults with common health problems
  • Adults in complex care situations
  • Childbearing women and their families
  • Children with acute and/or chronic illnesses
  • Individuals and groups with mental health issues
  • Public health and the community

A common misconception among nursing students is that the best clinical experiences only happen in big, well-known hospitals. But that’s not the case. You might see more diverse patients in a community hospital or gain more experience in a small healthcare facility.

Clinical experiences in nursing school

You could say that clinical experiences depend on the luck of the draw. Some of what you’ll see and do as a nursing student comes from being in the right place at the right time. Let’s imagine that your cohort is studying women and families. You go to one hospital and experience an emergency C-section, while another student at a different hospital may not.

Furthermore, we can’t guarantee placement in a specific hospital or healthcare facility. Several factors dictate how we schedule clinical placements for students. We must work around staff RN availability and patient acuity.

During your final weeks in the ABSN program, you’ll complete a role transition experience in a concentrated area of nursing practice. You’ll learn under the guidance of a clinical preceptor (a trained registered nurse), working the same shifts as this individual and helping them take care of patients. The overarching goal of the experience is to get you to where you provide primary care to a full patient load.

Northeastern ABSN student Megan

Meet Megan
This ABSN program graduate was impressed with the wide range of clinical rotations she was able to complete through our university. “I loved each of my clinicals for different reasons. I couldn’t have asked for better instructors or people to work with. I learned so much during my preceptorship. I got to work twelve, 12-hour shifts on the floor and took care of patients by myself.”

Clinical Tips for Nursing Students

As you head into the clinical setting as a nursing student, there are some steps you can take to maximize the experience. You’ll want to:

  • Ask your preceptor relevant questions that show you’re engaged in the learning process. For example, don’t be afraid to ask your preceptor why they chose a specific medicine or treatment for a patient—just not in front of the person.
  • Be useful during downtime. Ask where you can help and gladly accept any task regardless of how mundane it might seem. Doing so shows that you’re a reliable team player and could lead to more exciting opportunities in the future.
  • Solicit feedback from your preceptor when you’re halfway through a rotation, asking if there are any skills that you need to improve. In doing so, you can correct your course of action and improve your grades.

And finally, be sure to network with all the nurses, nurse managers, physicians, and health administrators you can during your clinical rotations. You never know who might be able to help you get a job in the future.

What Is Accelerated Nursing School Like?

Our accelerated nursing program makes it possible for you to earn a respected BSN degree in as few as 16 months. It does so by building on your non-nursing bachelor’s degree. In other words, it’s a second-degree nursing program for individuals who have no nursing experience.

While meeting the admission requirements is one thing, the requisites to succeed in accelerated nursing school are another. Our ABSN program is a rigorous education path that combines online study with experiential learning. It’s an intense course load that requires focus and commitment to succeed. You could say that nursing school is like holding down a full-time job. And should you get stuck on a concept, seek help from your instructor right away. You don’t want to risk falling behind and not being able to get back on track.

To graduate from our ABSN program, you’ll need to:

  • Spend at least 40 hours a week on your studies.
  • Put certain aspects of your life on hold.
  • Stay organized and manage your time wisely.
  • Connect with your professors regularly.
  • Lean on others in your cohort for support.
  • Maintain a self-care routine and get enough sleep.

After earning your Northeastern BSN, you’ll be ready to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN®) and enter the workforce as a practice-ready nurse who:

  • Provides competent, compassionate care to patients across the health care continuum.
  • Delivers care that meets the spiritual and cultural needs of diverse patient populations.
  • Collaborates with other healthcare professionals to improve patient outcomes.
  • Demonstrates clinical judgment within best evidence-based practice.
  • Applies leadership skills in the provision of patient-centered care.

In the end, nursing school is one of the most challenging education paths you can take. But know that we have a support system in place to help see you through. As an ABSN student, you’ll have access to faculty, licensure readiness coaches, and other support staff.

Furthermore, be sure to check in with your instructors regularly to make sure you understand what they expect from you in terms of the curriculum. As a result, you’ll feel more comfortable asking them for help when you need it. Not to mention, when instructors know you as an individual, they’re more apt to connect you to jobs and serve as a reference after you graduate.

Northeastern ABSN student rina

Meet Rina
This ABSN graduate felt supported by her professors throughout the program. “They were always helpful and wanted us to do well.”

You can also lean on others in your cohort for support. Forming friendships is a great way to stay engaged with the coursework. After all, everyone is in the same boat, making it easy to foster a team spirit within the group. For example, if you’re ever struggling with a nursing concept, your classmates can share their insights and help you with your study strategies.

If there ever comes a time when you start to feel deflated, it helps to practice positive self-talk and remind yourself why you applied to nursing school in the first place. Once you earn your BSN, you have the power to change lives in any number of practice settings. Plus, not everyone has the pleasure of leaving work knowing they saved someone’s life.

Ready to Accelerate Your Nursing Career?

If you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, you can begin our accelerated nursing school admissions process. But before we can admit you into the program, you must earn a grade of “C” or higher in each of the eight ABSN prerequisite courses. Why? Prerequisites prepare you to hit the ground running on your first day of nursing school, while also being essential to your preparation as a nurse.

Your previous field of study typically affects the number of prerequisites you need to complete. An English major, for example, will have to complete more prerequisites than someone with a biology degree. While our ABSN students come from diverse academic backgrounds, the three most common majors are biology, psychology, and exercise science.

Once you’ve met all the admissions requirements, you can submit your application online, targeting a program start date in January, May, or September. You can also enroll for our ABSN program site in Burlington, Massachusetts, or Charlotte, North Carolina.

ABSN Scholarship
To help curb the nursing shortage in North Carolina, Northeastern automatically awards a $20,000 scholarship to every student admitted into its Charlotte-based ABSN program. Students receive $5,000 per semester over four semesters.

As part of your application, you’ll need to provide a goal statement, video essay, resume, and three letters of recommendation. These documents provide us with insight into your personality and help us understand what drives you to help others.

While applying to nursing school may seem stressful, it doesn’t have to be. As a prospective ABSN student, we’ll assign you an admissions counselor who be there for you every step of the way and ensure you submit the most competitive application possible. Furthermore, we review applications on a rolling basis, so expect to receive an admissions decision from us within a few weeks of applying.

Northeastern ABSN student rachel

Meet Rachel
This ABSN graduate loved her admissions process. “My counselor was always there for me. She was like a guiding step stone who made the application process so smooth. I didn’t feel nervous about anything going through her. I really felt that Northeastern cared about me.”

Take the First Step Toward Nursing School

As you can see, online nursing programs are credible when experiential learning is involved. So, if you’re thinking about accelerating your nursing career via our 16-month ABSN program in Burlington, Massachusetts, or Charlotte, North Carolina, contact our admissions team today! We enroll ABSN students three times a year—January, May, and September.

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