How Do Employers View Online Nurse Practitioner Education?

I attended a traditional bricks and mortar university for my nurse practitioner program. Although my degree was not technically an online product, a few of my courses were offered virtually. To avoid traffic, feeding the parking meter, and the time associated with my morning commute to campus, I took full advantage of such classes. I watched pharmacology lectures online, taking notes between bites of breakfast cereal. The convenience of online education was not lost on me.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with a group of employers about their nurse practitioner staffing philosophies. A few employers expressed dissatisfaction with NP hires who were graduates of online degree programs. The main drawback from employers’ perspectives? Insufficient hands-on clinical experience.

These employers noted that, while online nurse practitioner programs require clinical preceptorships for NP students, the quality of these preceptorships seems to be lower than that of nurse practitioner grads from more traditional schools. Distance learning programs typically require NPs to identify their own clinical preceptors, not an easy task. A lack of available preceptors, guidance, and vetting of sites, leaves online degree NPs more likely to have sub-par clinical experience.

To nurse practitioners, it’s obvious that this employer perspective is somewhat flawed. Many bricks and mortar programs require NP students to identify their own clinical preceptors, a practice no different than most online programs. Lack of preceptors places limitations on not only online students, but traditional students as well. 

Employer’s view of online degree programs has become increasingly more favorable as these programs increase in popularity. Still, in considering your nurse practitioner education path, the stigma some companies place on online grads is worth noting. If you are considering an online nurse practitioner degree, the following criteria will help you select a school whose reputation keeps you from being grouped into the ‘online degree’ job applicant pool:

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  •  Choose a school with both traditional and online students. Selecting a school whose reputation isn’t affiliated with exclusively online education increases credibility of the institution in the eyes of employers. 
  • Check your school’s accreditation status. Attending an unaccredited nurse practitioner program can cause major problems for your future career (check out this accreditation nightmare). You may be ineligible for certification and/or employment by graduating from an unaccredited institution.
  • Identify clinical sites in advance. It’s never too early to start lining up preceptors. The more time and energy you put into your clinical experience, the more likely you are to have the well-rounded, hands-on clinical experience necessary for workplace success.
  • Do background research. Some companies are more traditional, while others have more innovative, modern attitudes. Companies known for being younger and/or more progressive are more likely to embrace online nurse practitioner grads.

Attending an online nurse practitioner program is the only way to go for many students. The flexibility a virtual education allows future NPs to maintain employment and balance other responsibilities throughout their education. If you are considering an online NP degree, plan your approach carefully to maximize your options for post-graduation employment.

Does your employer look down on online nurse practitioner education?


5 thoughts on “How Do Employers View Online Nurse Practitioner Education?”

  1. I have 2 Masters. The first Masters was at a traditional program, MPH. It was a great education (New York Medical School). MY second Masters, MSN/FNP was different but great also. But I must say that I had to do more papers and research with my second online Master. Felician College had a good learning program. Online courses allows mothers and others to advance there education. We need more educated nurses.

  2. While it is true that many brick and mortar institution students may have to find their own preceptors, one of the huge differences is that the online students do not get clinic visits from their instructors. The evaluation of a student is dependent entirely upon the preceptor. What preceptor wants to say the student is not getting it? Preceptors are easy on their students; instructors are not. There are many preceptors who will not take online students; they prefer taking students from local colleges first.

    We also had 4 live model simulations throughout our program. Live models came in to our college and each student (individually) had to assess, diagnose, and treat while our professors sat behind a darkened window, watching us on camera and listening. We were graded on those exercises. Talk about something nerve-wracking. My college has an excellent reputation with new grads passing boards on first try and getting jobs.

    I believe online schools for nurse practitioners should be nonexistent. How many physician assistant programs and medical school programs are online? That’s right: none. Why do nurses think they do not have to make any sacrifices? I think the fluff courses are fine to take online but the core courses should be in a classroom setting. Sharing with fellow classmates is an invaluable experience and much can be gained from that alone.

  3. Miriam makes real and valid points. We have already moved so far away from the original plan, an highly experienced nurse who obtains more education to enhance her wide clinical and educational knowledge. Now we even have University programs that either shepherd brand new BSN grads into NP programs immediately after graduation, fearful I guess of losing the dollars, or the student who has a Baccalaureate degree in an unrelated subject who takes three years in a bricks and mortar school, and emerges with a BSN-RN and miraculously is now a Nurse Practitioner. The online schools are like sausage factories, pay the money and you will emerge with what ever degree you want. It may be possible that someone fails a course but I have never met anyone who has, I haven’t met many who received a B in a class either. So what is really happening here? The finest scholars in America now go to school online? I am dubious that this is the case, it’s the sausage factory situation, odds and ends get thrown in and emerge homogenized into sausages. And I agree, why should nursing which wants so much to enhance it’s reputation as a profession appear to be so soft on education. Is this the way we want to go to increase our validity?

  4. Miriam and Anne, while your comments may be true for some nurses, it is definitely not valid for all. “Why do nurses think they don’t have to make sacrifices?” As a nurse who has sacrificed much in the way of serving my country in the Navy while being a wife and mother of 2 babies, and participating in church services on the weekend I can attest to the fact that sometimes, it is impossible to attend a brick and mortar school. So are you saying for those who might have a little extra going on in their lives we don’t deserve to have the chance to attain a higher degree? Clinical experiences are what you make of them. Point blank. If you’re going to work hard, you will do so without having to have anyone look over your shoulder.

  5. My employer did not make mention of my NP program during the hiring process. I am one of those online school grads. BUT…I did my research first. I graduated from an online program that has done distance learning for a very long time and is a highly rated school. My undergrad degrees were from traditional brick and mortar state schools. There was nothing fluffy or easy about my graduate program. It was my second full time job. There was no slacking allowed. Exams were EXAMS and papers had better be APA perfect. Yes, some of my classmates failed out of the program. I had to go to the school campus to pass a comprehensive physical assessment to be allowed to proceed to complete clinical hours. I did not have many site visits during my clinical rotations, but I don’t think that made my experience any less valid. That being said, I have now precepted several students from brick and mortar schools. I ask them about their programs and have quizzed them on certain topics and they are definitely lacking in their education. It seems that many of their classes are “self-taught”. Clinic visits by instructors have been few and far between. I believe that online education is becoming more the norm than the exception. This is the world we live and work in now. Technology has allowed us bring the classroom to our homes so we can fit higher education into our lives. Traditional or online really doesn’t matter. What matters is the effort a student puts into their learning. If one just skims through their program just to get the degree, it will show up eventually in their work performance.

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