NPs Sound Off on What to Expect in Online Programs

I’ve talked with more than one hundred nurse practitioners who’ve attended online NP programs. Hearing about these student's experiences in school has been quite interesting. Overwhelmingly, most online nurse practitioner grads say the experience wasn’t ideal. Missing out on the camaraderie of the classroom and in-person interaction with professors is difficult to replicate in the virtual environment. So, NPs attending online schools often tell me they feel disconnected. 

Despite the challenges of attending an online nurse practitioner program, education at a distance is the most practical option for many aspiring NPs. A flexible schedule allows students to maintain employment to help finance their education. The ability to complete work at your own pace lends itself to a better work-life-school balance. If you’re thinking about getting your NP degree, entering an online nurse practitioner program with realistic expectations will help you make the most of the experience. Here’s what nurse practitioners across the country say to expect when it comes to online education: 

1. Expect to find your own clinical sites

Nearly all online NP programs require that students secure their own clinical preceptorships. This will probably be harder than you think. Before you enroll, decide if you’ll be able to land clinical sites for your training. If you live in an area with few healthcare resources, or one with a number of local NP programs, identifying clinical sites could be a challenge. Anticipate this stress in advance and start working on finding your own preceptorships as soon as possible. 

2. Expect variable quality within programs

Given that hands on clinical experience is the most valuable part of your nurse practitioner program, the quality of your education will depend on the quality of your preceptorships. Many students lament that their clinical sites lacked diversity in the types of patients they treated, or that their sites serviced primarily low acuity patients leaving nurse practitioner grads feeling lost. 

3. Expect to be responsible for your own experience

As in life, you get out of your online NP program what you put into it. As a virtual student, you’ll need to be self motivated. Without face-to-face check in, it’s tempting to let work slide or to slack off. Attend online lectures just as you would those in person, with a notepad and pen in hand. Take notes. Read supplemental materials. The added effort will benefit you immensely as you begin your career. 

4. Expect to participate

Sure, your professors can’t see you during online lectures. But, they can tell when you’re disengaged. Ask questions and participate whenever possible in the online setting. This way, you stand out as a high achiever. You never know when you’ll need a recommendation from a prof in the future. Not to mention, this makes you more connected to your learning experience. Students who struggle with participation remotely may want to select an online program that requires occasional on-campus attendance for a more robust experience. 

5. Expect to pull your own weight

Mistakenly, some students assume that online programs are easier than those on campus. Wrong. As a nurse practitioner student in an online school, you'll still have tests to take and papers to write, not to mention hundreds of clinical hours to complete. Add to this taking on part of the responsibility for coordinating your education path and preceptorships. Getting your nurse practitioner degree online won’t be a cake walk. 

 

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