How do I select a nursing school?Nursing programs can be found in many different types of institutions, from junior colleges or four-year universities, to private colleges, to hospital-based training centers. It is important to make sure that the state's board of nursing approves any nursing school that a student may be considering; all fifty states have this requirement. Because nursing is a licensed profession, states must approve a nursing program in order for candidates to be eligible for the national exam (the National Clinical License Examination, or NCLEX), and to ultimately be eligible for state licensure. Always check your State Board of Nursing's list of approved learning institutions before enrolling.
In addition, there are two national organizations that accredit nursing schools: The National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) and the Commission for Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Being accredited by one of these organizations and being approved by a state's nursing board are not the same thing, and a program may be approved by the state without being accredited.
How long will nursing school take to complete?The curriculums offered in nursing programs are structured around the target degree: LPN/LVN curriculum is the briefest, and advanced degrees such as master's degrees in nursing for nurse practitioners and advanced practice nurses will be much longer. In cases where a previous degree in nursing exists (an LPN, for example) and the nurse is working to advance his or her education to become an RN, accelerated coursework builds on previous education and is not repeated.
Average lengths of programs are:LPN/LVN: 1-2 years
RN (associate's degree): 2 years
RN/BSN (registered nurse with a bachelor's degree): 4 years
MSN (master of science, nursing): 5-6 years
NP (nurse practitioner): 7-8 years
What specific courses can I expect from nursing school?All nursing colleges require a high-school diploma or equivalency. College-level general education in English, math, and some liberal arts studies are also part of the graduation requirement.
Coursework includes foundation courses in anatomy, physiology, introduction to pharmacology, nutrition, developmental and general psychology and microbiology. These provide the basic structure in understanding how the body and mind work, and are then built upon by more specific nursing courses.
Nursing courses often have broad titles like "Nursing Care Management" or "Foundations in Nursing Practice." These are the courses that teach the specifics of assessing health, analyzing vital signs, delivering medications, administering treatments, reporting findings, differentiating normal from abnormal, and making quality assessments.
Finally, some programs may include additional courses in computers, health information handling, or communication skills. Quality programs seek to turn out qualified, well-rounded health professionals, and supplemental courses that teach students new technologies or exceptional listening and teaching skills create more capable health care providers.
What are some additional courses included in advanced nursing degree programs?In advanced nursing degree programs, courses build on the basic curriculum. More advanced anatomy and physiology may be studied for certain systems, deeper understandings of pharmacology may be necessary, and advanced nursing courses teach the essentials of more complex and more specialized treatments and procedures. Sitting an IV is not a procedure that an LPN or LVN is allowed to perform in some states; however, an RN is, so that procedure is an example of something that will be learned exclusively in the more advanced nurse training programs.
Courses in the more advanced curriculum will often include instruction in nursing management and leadership, research methods, health policy, community nursing and public health. These courses are designed to create a more independent practitioner and allow a nurse to understand the broadest implications of disease process and health management.
What can I expect from the lab and clinical components of nursing school?Labs and clinical experience are part of all nursing programs. Labs are hands-on, group courses that typically accompany a lecture class. For example, human biology may have a lab associated with it. The class is the lecture, where a textbook is used and a teacher gives instruction. The lab is an environment where microscope work and dissection is done. Many nursing education programs have lab components.
Clinical rotations, practical experiences, or "practicums," are also part of all nursing curriculums. A practicum is a hands-on, real-world training experience where a nursing student is paired with a licensed nurse to learn the dynamics and treatment demands of various work environments. This is where nursing students are tasked with putting their own hands and brains to work with the information they've been learning from their classes and labs. The practical experiences are typically broken into several classes worth of activity and take place in multiple clinical settings.