How Do You Complete the Clinical Course in an Online RN to BSN Program?

March 23, 2021

An RN to BSN student leads a vaccination project as part of her community health clinical requirements.

Earning a BSN opens new opportunities for working registered nurses that include management and population health nursing jobs. With the emergence of quality online nursing programs, nurses can earn a bachelor’s degree while maintaining their current job.

Even though nurses complete coursework remotely in these programs, CCNE accreditation required clinical experiences remain a central part of earning a BSN. Marian University’s online RN to BSN program includes vital courses in population health with the flexibility working nurses need.  As students in Marian’s program are already licensed professionals, one can think of these courses as a “practicum” requirement versus one where nurses would be providing bedside care.

“At Marian, we always encourage our prospective online students by letting them know that the clinical requirements are achievable,” said Katie Hughes, DNP, RN, CNE, the Undergraduate Nursing Program Director in Marian University’s Department of Nursing. “We’ve designed our program with working nurses in mind, and that includes how we deliver clinical requirements with faculty who understand the needs of busy online students.”

Completing Clinical Requirements in an Online Nursing Program

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) establishes quality standards for nursing education. Courses focusing on clinical prevention and population health are part of its Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice.

Population health which has been instrumental in the fight against COVID-19 over the last year, promotes practices for maintaining good health as well as disease and injury prevention. It includes helping individuals, families, and communities prepare for and minimize the health consequences of emergencies. It also helps individuals avoid the escalation of diseases through immunizations, screenings, and counseling, according to the AACN.

At Marian, the nursing requirements to earn a BSN include two 15-week population health courses, which are taken at the same time. The first course, Population Health, is 100% online. The second course, Population Health Clinical, requires 50 hours of direct community contact that is completed close to home plus 40 hours of indirect population health activities.

Some students meet clinical requirements within the agency where they currently work. Clinical settings may include county health departments, school health departments, community-based management, and occupational health nursing.

Hughes said some students also meet clinical requirements working in infection prevention, jails, free clinics, and homeless shelters. “We have a dedicated Clinical Placement Coordinator on staff who is happy to assist students in locating an appropriate placement,” she said.

Because students complete clinicals over a 15-week period, they only require about three to six hours of direct care experiences per week.

Why Nursing Clinicals Are So Important

Clinicals give nursing students hands-on opportunities to apply the knowledge and skills learned in their BSN degree program courses. Hughes said that Marian’s clinical courses also give nurses new experiences because an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program does not have a community health requirement.

“ADN nurses are prepared to deliver safe and quality care to clients in the in-patient setting. At the BSN level, nurses expand their scope to provide care to populations and communities,” Hughes said. “Less emphasis is placed on technical skills and more focus is placed on project management, health promotion, community education, and disease prevention.” This past year, public health nurses were called on to play and especially important role as communities battled COVID-19.

She said students also “get to apply the advanced skills they have learned in the RN to BSN curriculum in leadership, management, economics, evidence-based nursing, and population health to situations they will encounter in the clinical setting.”

Earning a BSN also boosts the potential for promotion and a higher salary. A university study reports that those with a BSN make $73,000 a year on average, while those with an ADN make $65,000. A BSN degree also helps people prepare to work in any facility, including hospitals, government agencies and clinics, long-term care, schools, and ambulatory care.

Earning a BSN enhances nursing career opportunities. It also provides nurses with a higher level of skills and knowledge. The expertise acquired allows nurses to provide better patient care, including in the important area of population health. And by offering working nurses the support and options they need, online nursing programs give nurses the chance to achieve clinical requirements without going through a traditional, on-campus program.