Deciding to pursue a career in nursing is a big step that requires careful consideration and preparation.
With the growing demand for nurses, nursing schools across the country have seen an influx of aspiring students hoping to gain the skills and knowledge to begin their careers.
Did you know there are around 5.2 million registered nurses in the United States, with over 200,000 new nursing graduates entering the workforce each year (1)?
However, getting into nursing school and completing the rigorous training requires focus and dedication.
Also, understanding what lies ahead will help you come prepared and can significantly increase your chances of success in nursing school and beyond.
Choosing the Right Nursing Program
1. Understand the different paths to becoming a Registered Nurse
Becoming a registered nurse has three educational pathways:
I. An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
An ADN is earned at a community college or junior college and takes 2-3 years to complete.
The focus is preparing for direct patient care roles. ADN programs require nursing-specific prerequisites and provide around 600-700 hours of clinical practice.
After graduation, ADN nurses can take the NCLEX-RN exam and begin working as an RN.
II. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree
The BSN program is a 4-year degree that provides the most comprehensive foundation in nursing theory, science, leadership, and clinical practice.
Accelerated BSN programs might be a suitable option for those who want a quicker entry into the field and already have a bachelor’s in another domain.
BSN programs include general education courses, a core nursing curriculum, and hands-on clinical experience.
A BSN’s extensive academics and training allow graduates to provide a higher level of care and qualify them for more advanced nursing roles.
III. A diploma from an accredited nursing program
Diploma programs are typically 1-2 year programs that are centered around hands-on clinical training in hospitals.
Students take some general education courses but focus mainly on skill-based learning.
With less emphasis on nursing theory, these programs prepare graduates for entry-level nursing positions but limit opportunities for advancement.
While all three paths involve different degrees of education, they all qualify graduates to become licensed RNs through passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
However, a BSN degree offers more comprehensive preparation and greater career flexibility.
2. Consider an accelerated program
Accelerated BSN (ABSN) programs provide the fastest route to becoming an RN for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field.
These intensive programs are designed for students with no prior nursing experience and last 12-18 months.
ABSN curriculums squeeze a traditional multi-year BSN program into a condensed timeline by focusing solely on nursing-related coursework.
Program admission is competitive, as strong academic performance in one’s first bachelor’s degree is required. Applicants may also need to complete the necessary prerequisites.
Once enrolled, students can expect rigorous course loads and full-time clinical rotations to gain the same knowledge and proficiency as a traditional BSN graduate.
This accelerated pace allows people changing careers to transition into nursing without repeating unnecessary general education.
ABSN programs enable students to bypass 2-4 years of schooling.
They are ideal for motivated students looking to switch to a nursing career efficiently.
3. Look for strong academic resources
When researching nursing schools, look for programs that provide the academic resources to prepare students for real-world nursing practice.
Ideal nursing programs have manageable class sizes.
A low student-to-faculty ratio allows for more individualized instruction and mentorship. Nursing faculty with professional experience can provide invaluable perspectives and expertise.
Strong nursing curriculums should also offer diverse clinical rotation opportunities at highly-regarded hospitals and medical facilities.
These supervised clinical placements enable invaluable on-the-job training under seasoned nursing professionals in settings you may work in someday.
Thorough academic coursework paired with quality clinical rotations gives nursing graduates the knowledge base, critical thinking abilities, and practical skills to provide excellent patient care.
Preparing for Nursing School Academics
4. Get ready for a heavy science load
Nursing programs require a strong foundation in natural and social sciences.
Expect to take anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, psychology, and sociology courses.
These challenging courses prepare you to analyze health problems, implement interventions, and educate patients.
Brushing up on science subjects before starting nursing classes will help you hit the ground running.
Review textbooks or online material to become reacquainted with key concepts.
5. Develop study and test-taking strategies
Nursing school requires continually understanding, analyzing, and applying vast amounts of complex information related to patient care.
Thorough studying is essential to master the material and pass exams. Expect to spend multiple dedicated hours each week reviewing class notes, studying textbooks, and completing practice questions.
Use techniques like flashcards to memorize key facts, mnemonic devices to remember lists, and study groups to test each other to maximize study time.
Approach studying in manageable blocks of time focused on a single topic. As nursing programs rely heavily on high-stakes exams, practice test-taking skills like pacing yourself and reading questions thoroughly.
Finding effective study methods and getting comfortable with exams will help you excel.
6. Improve math skills
Math proficiency is a must-have nursing skill, as nurses calculate medication dosages daily. Start reviewing the basics and work up to more complex equations.
Specifically, practice medical dosage calculations by dimensional analysis.
This involves converting the given units to the required units by multiplying by a conversion factor. Consistently practicing sample problems is key to developing fluency.
There are many online quizzes and tutoring resources available as well.
Sharpening math abilities removes a major hurdle nurses face.
Entering nursing school with confidence in your math skills will put you ahead of the curve in medication administration.
Starting your nursing school journey requires dedication, organization, academic prowess, and a passion for helping others.
While the road is challenging, coming prepared by choosing the right nursing program, developing academic skills, and gaining hands-on experience can set you up for success.
With the right amount of commitment, perseverance, and support, you will be on your way to an exciting and rewarding career in nursing.
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