Question: Are online nurse practitioner programs a good option for military spouses (MSN / DNP programs)?

Answer: Military spouses interested in pursuing a graduate nursing degree may find several advantages in doing so through an online program. One of the biggest benefits is the flexibility to do coursework from anywhere, which is ideal for military spouses who might need to relocate one or more times while completing their degree. Being able to schedule coursework around one’s busy schedule also allows students to continue working or raising a family as they further their education. Finally, online programs give those stationed in remote locations access to a wide range of degree options and specialty tracks from well-known universities across the country.

While online nurse practitioner (NP) programs offer all of the benefits mentioned above, military spouses should be mindful of several things before applying to one. The first is state authorizations. Online programs must seek approval to accept students who do not live in the state where their campus is located. For graduate nursing programs, this may include getting approval from both a state’s board of education and its board of nursing. This is especially important for military spouses, as not all programs accept students from all states. If a student has to relocate to a state which their program is not authorized to accept students from, they could have to transfer to a different program entirely. Therefore, military spouses should try to find a program that accepts students from any and all states they may need to move to.

Other factors that are important to consider before enrolling in an online NP program are campus visit requirements and clinical practicum hours. Many online MSN, Post-Master’s Certificate, and DNP programs require students to travel to campus one or more times throughout their studies for orientations or clinical training sessions. Typically, the costs for these campus visits are not included in program tuition or fees. While some online nursing students seek out programs that include these campus-based sessions for the live instruction and clinical experience, others prefer programs that do not require campus visits due to personal or financial restrictions.

Similarly, all nurse practitioner programs, whether they are campus-based or online, require students to complete clinical practice hours at a local health care facility. While some programs match online students to sites and preceptors in their area, others require them to find their own placements. This means military spouses who are forced to relocate during their program may need to find new clinical sites and preceptors to complete their clinical hour requirements wherever they move.

To learn more about the advantages online nursing programs offer military spouses, as well as the challenges students in this particular situation might face, read through the sections below.

Advantages of an Online Program for Military Spouses

Perhaps the biggest advantage to pursuing an online degree program is the flexibility to access lectures and course materials from anywhere with an internet connection. This means military spouses who are forced to relocate midway through the curriculum can continue with the same program no matter where they move, as long as the school is authorized to offer online instruction to students in that state. For Kathy Newell, MSN, NP-C, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s online Master of Science in Nursing program, this was the primary motivation in choosing to pursue her degree online. “I chose University of Cincinnati’s online MSN/ANP program because my husband was in the military and we could get orders at any time to move,” says Ms. Newell. “I was concerned that if I was enrolled at a local college, the difficulty of relocating during such a program would make it very difficult for me to complete.”

Ashlee Quick, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, who graduated from UC’s MSN program in 2013, had similar concerns when finding a graduate degree program. “As a military spouse, you are often required to relocate on short notice,” she says. “If I was going to further my education I needed a program that would allow me to be mobile.” Ms. Quick ended up moving multiple times throughout her program, and still managed to graduate on time. She notes, “In the two years it took to complete my master’s degree, I held residence in three separate states.”

Another major benefit to online nursing programs is the convenience of completing schoolwork on one’s own schedule. Both Ms. Quick and Ms. Newell found this beneficial while maintaining their careers and duties as a military spouse. In addition to the freedom to relocate if necessary, Ms. Quick adds, “I also wanted the ability to attend school while maintaining my home and career obligations. This was my motivation for pursuing my degree online.” Ms. Newell echoes this notion, stating, “With UC’s program, I was still able to work full time and complete my courses on my own time. This program was the only way that I could further my education under my circumstances and I was grateful that I was accepted!”

Any student may have difficulty finding a local school that offers the specific degree or nursing specialty they are looking to pursue. Thanks to online learning, students can choose from a variety of degree paths and specialization options no matter where they live, giving those in even the remotest locations the chance to enroll in a program that fits their specific academic needs. Online graduate nursing programs are available in almost every NP specialty, including family nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, and women’s health nurse practitioner. They are also offered at the MSN level (RN to MSN, BSN to MSN, Post-MSN certificate) and the DNP Level (BSN to DNP, MSN to DNP).

Monika Duitch, DNP, APRN, AGNP-C earned both her MSN and DNP through the online nursing program at Duke University while living and working far from the school’s main campus. “My husband was active duty military at the time, and for me a hybrid distance option made perfect sense to pursue due to convenience,” Ms. Duitch says. “Duke’s online program not only met my expectations, but exceeded them in such a way as to attract me for completion of my DNP.”

Challenges of an Online Program for Military Spouses

There are several reasons why online nursing programs are a good fit for military spouses; however, prospective online students, particularly those who may need to relocate during their studies, should consider several factors before enrolling in a distance learning program. For one, many schools require online graduate nursing students to visit campus at various points throughout their program. These on-campus sessions may include orientation events, clinical training intensives, in-person lectures, or other face-to-face learning opportunities, and can span several days each. The exact number and length of these campus visits will vary by program, so students should make sure to understand all on-campus requirements before enrolling. This is especially true for military spouses, who may find it difficult to travel to campus if they end up relocating far away. On OnlineFNPPrograms.com, we only classify a program as online if it requires three or fewer campus visits per year.

The second thing military spouses should keep in mind when considering an online program is clinical placements. Along with their online coursework, advanced nursing students will need to complete a set number of supervised clinical hours at a local hospital or health care clinic in order to graduate. While some schools help match online students with clinical sites and preceptors in their area, others require students to find their own clinical placements. This may be difficult for military spouses, who might need to complete their clinical hours in multiple cities or states, especially if they do not know anyone in their new city to help with networking. Ms. Newell, who had just recently relocated before beginning her online MSN program, initially had difficulty securing her placements. On the topic of securing clinical sites and preceptors, Ms. Newell says, “This was stressful for me just because we were new to the area and I had just begun working after our relocation.” However, she adds, “I was able to find practicum locations and preceptors by calling around and asking my colleagues if they knew any MDs or NPs that would take on students.” For more information about clinical placements, see our Graduate Nursing Student’s Guide to Clinical Placements.

State Authorizations for Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

The most important consideration for military spouses when choosing an online degree program is if that program is authorized to enroll students from their current state of residence or any state they may end up relocating to. In order to accept out-of-state students into an online or distance education program, a school must have permission to do so by the state in which that student resides. Due to this, some institutions may not be allowed to offer online programs to students in certain states. This is of particular note for military spouses, who might reside in several states over the course of their studies. As such, it is important to check a program’s website and speak with an admissions advisor for the most up-to-date information regarding which states the program is authorized to accept students from. Prospective online students should also make sure to contact admissions staff if there is a chance they may be relocated out of the country during their studies.

In order to simplify the authorization process, and make online education more accessible to students nationwide, the majority of states in the U.S. have joined the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). This voluntary agreement was established to create both national standards for online degree programs, and a method of oversight for the delivery of distance education across state borders. Additionally, one of the goals of SARA is to expedite the steps schools must go through in order to obtain state authorizations. However, as of today, any academic institution that wishes to offer online programs to out-of-state students must be authorized to do so by that state, whether they are both SARA members or not. It is possible for a school to be a member of SARA and still not accept students from every SARA state. Online nursing programs may also have to seek additional authorizations from state boards of nursing, which are independent from SARA. To see an up-to-date list of SARA states and institutions, visit http://nc-sara.org/sara-states-institutions. We also recommend that all prospective students speak with an admissions advisor about state restrictions before applying to an online program, as these restrictions can change over time.