If you already have a nursing diploma or degree that qualifies you to become a registered nurse, you may be considering options for your next career move. You could pursue a master’s degree in your field of interest, but earning a graduate certificate instead — or along with your master’s degree — offers another option for specialization that will give you a competitive edge in the job market. Online nursing certificates can expand both your employment prospects and your earning potential.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment among registered nurses is projected to grow 16% between 2014 and 2024, which is a much higher rate than the overall average for other professions. The BLS attributes this rapid growth to “an increased emphasis on preventive care; growing rates of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity; and demand for healthcare services from the baby-boom population, as they live longer and more active lives.”
Many people who already are working full-time can benefit from online nurse certification programs. Online nursing certifications are less expensive and time-consuming than those earned in a traditional classroom setting. Online programs are also more convenient because students can choose when to study and attend class.
Questions to Ask Before Applying to an Online Graduate Certificate Program
Before you apply to any nursing certification programs online, there are some important questions you must ask yourself. You should research carefully to decide whether online nursing certificates are the right choice for you or if an in-person format would be a better fit. Look at any prerequisites online nursing certificates may have and determine whether you meet their criteria. You also need to find out what you will learn in each of the online nursing certificate programs you consider.
Is an Online Graduate Certificate the Right Choice For Me?
Earning nursing certifications online can provide opportunities for career advancement and a higher salary. The time, effort, and financial cost you invest while earning an online nursing certification are well worth it; the skills and knowledge you gain will allow you to take on more specialized and advanced roles. These qualifications set you apart from others in the job market who do not have certification.
Taking nursing certification programs online makes higher education much more convenient and accessible for many people. Instead of holding classes in person at a set day and time, online programs allow students to complete coursework on their own schedule. A flexible program is great for people with existing responsibilities and time constraints, such as those who have full-time jobs, are caring for children, or have other obligations that make attending classes in person difficult or impossible.
While online nursing programs are helpful to many people, these programs are not for everyone. To succeed in an online program, you must have the self-discipline to make sure you complete the coursework on time. You must also be capable of independent learning, since you will not have as much interaction with professors and other students that you would in a traditional classroom environment. If you suspect that this would make it more difficult for you to absorb the curriculum, or that you would have trouble completing your work at home, an in-person on campus course might be a better option for you.
Are There Prerequisites for Online Graduate Certificate Programs?
Prerequisites for admission to online nurse certification programs vary depending on the school and certificate in question. Any program will specify the minimum level of education the applicant must have completed already. Some programs only accept people who have completed nursing degrees at the master’s or doctoral level. Other online nursing certificates are aimed at nurses who hold bachelor’s degrees. A few programs are open to nurses with associate degrees or other non-degree diplomas, although these are not as common.
Most online nurse certification programs require the applicant to hold a current, unrestricted registered nurse license. Applicants will be required to provide transcripts from the school where they completed their existing degree, including their GPA. Depending on the program, applicants may also be required to pass a background check and drug screening. Check with the school you are considering to find out the exact requirements for the programs they offer.
What Will I Learn in an Online Graduate Certificate Program?
The classes included in graduate certificate programs for nursing vary somewhat depending on the school offering the program. The type of graduate certificate you choose to pursue has a significant impact on the classes you will take, as the programs for various specialties cover very different subject matter.
Graduate certificates focus on a specific area of learning, so each course in the program contributes to the student’s understanding of that subject. For instance, a nurse educator certificate program trains the nurse to teach other nursing students, a nursing administration program covers management topics such as leadership skills and human resources training, and a nurse practitioner program provides additional medical training. Below is a list of sample courses students can expect in different online certificate programs.
Class: Curriculum Development
Students learn the theory and strategies behind effective educational programs, as well as the assessment and evaluation of students and how to develop curricula for nurses.
Skills Gained: Creation of educational programs; how to teach nursing students in an academic setting.
Class: Nursing Leadership
The course covers concepts of leadership as applied to managing other nurses and staff in a healthcare setting. This includes operations management, organizational leadership, and professional and medical ethics.
Skills Gained: Leadership skills; staff management.
Class: Informatics in Nursing and Healthcare
The course explores how computers are used for documentation and recordkeeping in a healthcare setting. This includes discussion of electronic medical record management and how data must be handled to comply with patient privacy and confidentiality laws.
Skills Gained: Database management; compliance with legal requirements for medical information.
How Do I Choose an Online Graduate Certificate Program?
Choosing between nursing certifications online can be a challenge. Before you make your choice, there are several important factors you must consider.
One of the most basic questions involves cost. Pursuing nursing certificate programs online can improve your future earning potential, so you may view it as an investment to get a higher salary later. However, the cost of the program in the present still needs to be affordable. Online nursing certificate programs are shorter than degree programs, so they cost significantly less and are the cheaper option.
Time is another factor in your decision. Online nursing certification programs are shorter and easier to complete than degree programs. Most online nursing certifications can be completed in a year or less, while degree programs may take two years or more. Some programs are synchronous, which means that everyone taking the class starts the term at one time. Other programs are asynchronous, which means they start at any of several regular intervals throughout the year. This option may be more convenient because you can start sooner once you decide to enroll instead of waiting for the beginning of the semester, and a quicker start means a quicker graduation.
Location also may affect your choice of program. Online courses generally can be taken from anywhere, but your location will affect your access to support resources and placement for clinicals.
Concentrations Available for Online Graduate Certificate Programs
A variety of concentrations are available for online nursing certifications. Each can help you specialize in a specific area and advance your career path in a particular direction. One of the most common certificates prepares nurses to enter the academic world and teach nursing students. Other concentrations offer opportunities to increase technical or administrative skills to prepare a nurse for advancement to management. Below are examples of some of the concentrations available.
A nurse educator graduate certificate prepares a nurse for teaching nursing students in an academic setting. It focuses more on curriculum development and pedagogical theory than medical information. This certification is intended for nurses who are experienced but may not have prior training to be a teacher.
While its exact title varies from school to school, this graduate certificate trains nurses for advancement into leadership roles in a hospital or other professional setting. The coursework will cover material such as leadership strategies, operations management, safety and ethics, human resources, and other administration-related topics.
This graduate certificate prepares a nurse to use computerized information in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals or doctors’ offices. The coursework covers the use of computer databases for managing patient medical records and other documentation.
Family Nurse Practitioner
A registered nurse will be prepared to take the national family nurse practitioner exam upon completing this certificate program. This graduate certificate takes longer to complete than others, and requires supervised clinical hours in addition to online courses. The coursework includes advanced study of health assessments, pharmacology, and care for patients of various ages who will be seen in a family practice setting.
How Do I Enroll in an Online Graduate Certificate Program?
Once you have decided which of the online nursing certificate programs will best meet your needs, you need to look at what is required for you to enroll. Most online nursing certificates require the applicant to have a current nursing license, and many require a bachelor’s or master’s degree. You may be required to take a placement exam, as well as provide other documentation of your relevant experience and academic or professional achievements. Most programs require official transcripts from the school where you earned your degree.
In addition to prerequisites, you must consider what resources you will need during the course of the program. Earning graduate certificates online is convenient because you do not have to travel to a classroom regularly, but some programs do require hands-on work. Before you enroll, be absolutely sure that you have resources nearby that will allow you to perform any clinical hours that are required to complete the course.
What Can I Do With an Online Graduate Certificate?
If you are still unsure whether online nurse certification programs are the right choice for you, consider that receiving additional training can open the door to a broader range of career opportunities that otherwise would remain inaccessible. Certain careers in nursing require a graduate certificate before an applicant can even be considered for the position. In most cases, these jobs have a higher earning potential than other jobs which do not require certification. The table below shows potential careers for those who complete their nursing certification programs online.
A school nurse works in an elementary, middle, or high school, treating students who are ill or require first aid. These nurses may also perform certain routine health screenings. School nurses are registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree and a school nurse certification.
Average Salary: $60,934
Family nurse practitioner
Family nurse practitioners perform many of the same functions as doctors do, such as examining patients, diagnosing conditions, and prescribing treatments and medication. A family practice sees patients of all ages for general health and wellness visits, and may refer patients to specialists for treatment of more specific conditions.
Average Salary: $89,043
A nurse educator teaches nursing students in an academic setting. Nurse educators have experience working as a nurse in medical settings; they are able to use this background to inform their lessons and pass on what they have learned to their students. A master’s degree and a nursing education certification is required.
Average Salary: $72,020
Nursing managers oversee staff in a medical setting such as a hospital. They oversee patient care and ensure that safety and other regulatory standards are followed. Nursing managers help improve staff performance and develop patient care systems. This position often requires candidates to be experienced registered nurses and have certification in management or administration.
Average Salary: $84,000
An informatics nurse is an experienced registered nurse who oversees the use of computers in a medical setting and acts as the liaison between the information technology department and the medical staff. Informatics nurses work with electronic medical records and other digital information, training staff on the proper use of computer systems and software. Candidates with bachelor’s or master’s degrees and certification are preferred for these positions.
Average Salary: $75,518
Database of Online Nursing Certificate Programs