Patrick Robinson, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of Capella University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences, is an advocate for nurses pursuing advanced degrees.

He obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Indiana University and holds a PhD in Nursing Science from Loyola University, Chicago.

In addition to his academic career, Robinson has a distinguished record of service to the HIV/AIDS care community, having served as president of the National Association of Nurses in AIDS Care and as an officer of the HIV/AIDS Nursing Certification Board.

In this interview, Robinson discusses five questions nurses should ask when selecting an online nursing master’s or doctoral program.


1. What type of degree is best for your career?

“The answer to this question will help determine which path to take,” says Robinson. “Do you want to go into advanced practice and become a nurse practitioner, certified nurse midwife, certified registered nurse anesthetist, or clinical nurse specialist? Or are you interested in areas like care coordination or informatics? Or if you’re interested in leadership and administration—that’s a different specialty, too.

“When considering a graduate program, you’ve got to cast as far into the future as possible so you ensure the best use of your time and money.”


2. How much time and money will a degree cost?

Graduate degrees are demanding, both of time and finances. “You have to think about where you want to go to school, how that program fits into your life in terms of cost, time, and flexibility,” says Robinson. “Nurses aren’t as likely to seek out campus-based nursing programs when they’re looking at graduate degrees, because of their demanding and unpredictable work responsibilities.”

He recommends gathering information on minimum, maximum, and average amounts of time and money needed for the sought after degree.


3. Is the program accredited?

“This is extremely important,” Robinson explains. “It’s the school’s public sign of quality.” Be aware that there are different types of accreditation. Institutions are regionally accredited, which, among other things, allows for the use of federal financial aid.  There are six regional accreditors that are approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Capella is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Program-specific accreditations, such as The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), demonstrate that the program meets a set of standards that are deemed by the profession to signify quality.


4. Is there an on-campus component?

Whether or not your program has an on-campus component can determine some of the cost and time commitments you would need to make. It’s also important to consider other kinds of “on-site” requirements.

Capella does not have an on-campus component for its nursing degrees, but many of our nursing degrees require clinical practicums that can vary from 100 to 1,000 hours, depending on the program. Knowing the requirements will allow you to plan accordingly.


5. Who are the faculty, and what kind of support should students expect?

“You want your faculty to be experienced academics with doctorates as well as expert practitioners in your specialization,” says Robinson. “If you’re going to study nursing informatics, you want actual nurse informaticists teaching that at the graduate level.”

Support is also critical. “These programs are rigorous,” says Robinson. “They’re not supposed to be easy. Find out who will function as your guide, coach, and advocate. It might be faculty, an academic advisor, or a student service professional. You should easily be able to learn who to call for help when you need it. For example, what if you need help with statistics? Or research? Or writing? Or technology? Does the school provide help for those services?”


If you’re a nurse interested in an advanced nursing degree, targeted questions can help you find a program that’s right for you.

Learn more about Capella’s online nursing degrees.


Important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended these programs.