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How Online Education Is Helping Improve Healthcare in the U.S.

Online master’s in nursing programs help RNs meet the critical demand for advanced registered nurse practitioners.

The U.S. healthcare system is struggling to provide better patient care amidst complex challenges that can undermine healthcare delivery, including:

  • A growing shortage of registered nurses, advanced registered nurse practitioners , and primary care physicians.

    How Online Education Is Helping Improve Healthcare in the U.S.

  • Healthcare reforms that are bringing millions more insured patients into the healthcare system.

  • A new emphasis on preventative care.

  • 75 million baby boomers requiring more medical attention as they age.

  • A complex healthcare environment that demands nurses develop high-level medical technology skills.

How Online Nurse Practitioner Programs Lead to Better Patient Care

It’s impossible for most working professionals to attend regular on-campus classes to acquire an advanced degree. Nurses, in particular, often have 12-hour shifts in addition to working overtime. Online nurse practitioner programs provide a convenient, flexible way to advance their education and improve their ability to provide care, while continuing to work full time.

Some online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs allow you to attend virtual classes, lectures, and group discussions at times that are convenient for you, instead of having to sign in at a specific time. In such programs, online learners can do the majority of their coursework at a time and in a place that works best for them.

Equipped with master’s degrees in nursing, nurse practitioners are welcome team members in primary care practices, alleviating heavy patient loads and helping to fill the gaps in healthcare delivery caused by the shortage of primary care physicians.

Salary and Job Market for Nurse Practitioners*

The median annual wage for nurse practitioners was $89,960 in May 2012. Due to the increasing demand for nurse practitioners, the job market is expected to grow by 34% from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average rate for all other professions. It is also faster than the expected growth for other advanced registered nurse practitioners like nurse anesthetists (25%) and midwives (29%).

Handling Patients’ Complex Problems

Dr. Linda Steele, PhD in Nursing Practice, ARNP, ANP-BC, is a program director for three of the six specializations offered in the online Master of Science in Nursing program at Walden University:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) specialization†
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP) specialization†
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP) specialization†

Dr. Steele’s experience spanning 40 years as a nurse practitioner highlights how nursing has changed over recent decades. When she became an advanced registered nurse practitioner in 1975, her professional life was much simpler. Collaborating with physicians in clinical practice, she treated patients with common, recurring illnesses like colds, sore throats, and ear infections, and stable chronic diseases like diabetes.

Today Dr. Steele’s patients are far more complex. “I routinely see patients with an average of five chronic comorbidities (simultaneous diseases) such as hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and gastrointestinal diseases like GERD, obesity, and diabetes,” she said. “These chronic diseases are in addition to multiple psychiatric issues like stress and anxiety.”

Consequently, Dr. Steele’s average patient takes 20 medications, including as many as four psychiatric therapies. Since every drug can have side effects and problematic interactions with other drugs, one of Dr. Steele’s main patient-care objectives is to assess the need for each medication, eliminate redundant drugs, replace ineffective drugs, and streamline patients’ medications to produce better outcomes with fewer adverse effects.

Features of Effective Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

As a program director of three nurse practitioner specializations in Walden’s online MSN program, Dr. Steele is proud of the programs’ strengths:

  • 100% doctoral-trained faculty—Students benefit from a faculty of scholar-practitioners who have distinguished themselves in research, academics, and as nursing professionals with firsthand experience.

  • Quarter-based schedule—Instead of 2 semesters, a 4-quarter schedule allows for faster completion of the degree.

  • All courses offered every quarter—Students don’t have to wait months for a specific program to be offered again. They know that they can take any course during any quarter. Degree completion can range from 18 months to 3 years, depending on the number of courses taken.

  • New interactive training platform—Nurse practitioner students sharpen their critical thinking and diagnostic skills on i-Human, a cloud-based training platform featuring virtual active-learning exercises that provide continuous feedback from both the program and faculty.

  • 600 clinical hours in addition to coursework—This feature makes an MSN degree more demanding than many other types of master’s programs.

“Every student accepted into the master’s program is qualified to successfully complete the program,” Dr. Steele emphasized. “Earning an MSN degree is a matter of perseverance, and the rewards are priceless.”

Explore Walden University's online nursing programs for graduates and undergraduates. Get the help you need to continue your education and advance your career goals. Earn your nursing degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.


*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012 Edition, Nurse Anesthetists, Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, on the Internet at

†Note on Certification and Licensure, Authorization, Endorsement, or Other State Credential Necessary to Practice as a Nurse Practitioner

The MSN nurse practitioner specializations are designed to prepare graduates to qualify to sit for national nurse practitioner certification exams and to prepare graduates who possess an active registered nurse (RN) license to practice as nurse practitioners. However, each state Board of Nursing has its own academic and certification requirements and issues its own credential for an RN to be permitted to practice as a nurse practitioner in that state. Walden Enrollment Specialists can provide information relating to national certification exams and guidance relating to the state-by-state requirements for practice as a nurse practitioner; however, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand, evaluate, and comply with all requirements relating to national certification exams for the state in which he or she intends to practice as requirements vary widely. Walden makes no representations or guarantee that completion of Walden coursework or programs will permit an individual to obtain national certification or to obtain state licensure, authorization, endorsement, or other state credential.