Journal of Nursing

What Employers Think About Your Online Nursing Degree


By Jordan Friedman

For James Gregory, a graduate of​ the University of South Carolina's adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner​ master's degree program, online education seemed like a natural choice, as he was able to attend class on a more flexible schedule, he says. Then, when he was applying for jobs, some employers asked him during interviews whether the quality of his online degree was equivalent to what he would have received in person. He says it was.

The online degree program was "very challenging and far different, of course for me, than the days of going and having to be at class at 8, 10:15, or whatever, but the expectation was the same," says the 54-year old, who now​ works as an acute care nurse practitioner ​in South Carolina.

Like Gregory, nurses today, who often work on erratic schedules, turn to online learning to boost their careers and attain greater authority over patient care, experts say. One 2015 survey identified nursing as the second most popular major among both undergraduate and graduate online learners, following business administration at both levels.

As with any application process, employers evaluate nursing job candidates based on more than just where – and in what format – they earned their degree. But an applicant's education still plays a large role in the process, and most employers have favorable views of degrees earned online.

However, online nursing degrees are generally geared toward those who already have their licenses, as the initial training needed to become a registered nurse should be completed in person in order to build a foundation of clinical experience, experts say.

However, employers who don't know as much about online degrees may ask an applicant for information to verify a degree's legitimacy, says James Kinneer, vice president of people and organizational development at the Indiana Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania.

"I think most employers are accepting of them," he says. "I think most employers are looking at the candidate as a total package. And really, they're less concerned with where did the degree come from than just what are their overall skills and their ability to perform."

Still, employers who are aware that a degree was earned online may have some additional questions.

For instance, they will likely want to verify an online program's accreditation, especially for institutions that don't have a physical campus or aren't well known. Programs should be accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

"Accreditation is essential because a third-party agency assures the quality and integrity of a program," says Ruth Tarantine, dean of nursing at Colorado Technical University, which offers online nursing degree programs.​

An employer may also ask job candidates with online degrees about their in-person clinical experience – an essential component in a field that requires a lot of hands-on work. ​Online programs may allow students to complete the clinical requirement on the school's physical campus or in a location of their choosing.

"When you look at what people's concerns are with online degrees for nursing, it's really about what kinds of hands-on clinical experience was part of the program," Kinneer says. "It's an area where awareness can help acceptance of those programs."​​​​​

From a human resources standpoint, Kinneer says, an employer may also wish to determine whether a student gained skills such as human interaction, teamwork and problem solving.

"I think often they're just trying to understand exactly what was this process and how did it work," he says, "and how did you obtain an experience that is equivalent to that face-to-face experience."

Nurses have historically worked shifts at hours around the clock, so many employers understand that an online program may be the only possibility for them to advance their career, experts say.

But there are very few institutions that offer what they consider an online prelicensure program. In prelicensure programs, nurses are essentially learning "how to take care of other people" through clinical experience, Tarantine says​.

Sharon Roth Maguire, chief clinical quality officer at the health services staffing agency BrightStar Care, says that it's a very different scenario when nurses pursue online education to further their career when they already have their license, compared with​if they have no experience at all and still need to build that foundation.

"They would want to know, where are you getting this practical hands-on experience which is so important in nursing?" she says, of employers.

When it comes to employers' views of online nursing degrees for candidates who already have their licenses, institutions generally hope that employers view these programs no differently from on-campus education, which is typically the case.

In fact, many faculty and career advisers in online programs encourage students to simply put the name of the institution on their resume without necessarily emphasizing the "online" aspect, though it likely wouldn't be an issue either way, especially in the digital age, Roth Maguire says.


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Editor-in Chief:
Kirsten Nicole

Editorial Staff:
Kirsten Nicole
Stan Kenyon
Robyn Bowman
Kimberly McNabb
Lisa Gordon
Stephanie Robinson

Kirsten Nicole
Stan Kenyon
Liz Di Bernardo
Cris Lobato
Elisa Howard
Susan Cramer