Becoming a nurse is an important and often very personal decision.
Maybe a family member is a nurse, or perhaps you had a meaningful interaction with a nurse in the hospital waiting for news about a friend. Maybe you are excited about a career that allows you to help others. Maybe you’re just intrigued by job that’s known for its stability, personal fulfillment, and reputation as the most trusted in the country.
No matter what your reason for wanting to be a nurse, you have probably done tons of research into the topic, found out more about the types of degrees that are available, and discovered all that you might expect while in nursing school… What’s that? You haven’t done all that research?! That’s okay. You can start right now!
When you apply to college, you’ll notice there are different types of nursing degree programs in which you can enroll. Here are just a few examples:
- Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN): This program typically lasts two years. In many cases, students who pursue this degree may be doing so in order to enter the workforce as soon as possible. However, many hospitals today desire nurses with a BSN (see below), so anyone choosing this degree should understand they may need to consider working in non-hospital settings, such as nursing homes.
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): If you look through nursing job listings, you may see a BSN is required for most of the positions listed. This degree requires greater commitment from students but often leads to better job opportunities following graduation. Usually completed in four years, the BSN prepares graduates to participate in a broad range of nursing roles, functions, and environments. BSN graduates are highly sought after by hospitals, especially hospitals with Magnet® recognition granted by the American Nurses’ Credentialing Center.
- RN-to-BSN: This type of program is designed for registered nurse graduates of associate degree or diploma programs who want to complete their BSN. It takes about two years to complete and can be more cost effective, since you can earn credit for nursing skills already learned through school or work experience. These nursing programs usually have flexible schedules designed to meet the needs of working nurses. Many schools have multiple start dates, and online RN-to-BSN programs are available as well.
Aside from knowing what you want to do with your nursing degree, one of the most important qualities to look for in a nursing program is accreditation. Accreditation is a mark of quality of the nursing program. Students who attend programs that are not accredited usually cannot find good jobs or extend their education, and they spend a lot of money for a degree that will probably not land them the job or career they wish to attain. So before you get too excited about a nursing program, make sure it is accredited by a reputable organization (namely, the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education).
Types of nurses
While you’re working through your course work as a college student, you should have many opportunities to explore the types of nursing specialties, work with a variety of nurses in those specialties, and take part in internships where you’ll get a better idea of what goes on day to day in different nursing environments.
A few examples of the different types of nurses include:
- Ambulatory care nurse: These nurses work with patients who are in hospitals for less than 24 hours. An ambulatory nurse will have experience with a wide variety of injuries and illnesses rather than a specialized focus.
- Emergency nurse: These nurses work with patients who arrive at the hospital through the emergency room. A person in this position will be able to handle a hectic atmosphere and deliver the best care possible in some of the most trying times imaginable.
- Research nurse: These nurses work in laboratories to develop treatments and drugs to cure certain illnesses or improve overall quality of life. They often work in a specific area, researching and developing new treatment methods for patients in their field of interest.
Practice makes perfect
From classroom lectures and late-night study sessions to working in simulation laboratories, college life as a nursing student is definitely a lot of work. But the hard work and late nights lead to one of the most rewarding careers you can imagine.
Here are just some of the ways you’ll gain real-world experience as a nursing student.
- Simulation laboratories: Practice makes perfect, and in order to learn how to be the best nurse, you’ll need to practice quite a bit. Don’t worry, though; you won’t be practicing on real people—at least not at first! You’ll begin by learning the ropes in a simulation laboratory. These might differ between nursing schools, but the University of Evansville’s Dunigan Nursing Simulation Laboratory is a good example of what you can expect; these laboratories enable students to practice and perform basic nursing skills in a real-life environment, using state-of-the-art manikins as patients. Using technology and guidance by experienced faculty, students are able to learn and improve their skills in a safe educational environment.
- Clinicals: This is another way you’ll learn on-the-job nursing skills in a sheltered environment. Students work closely with nursing and inter-professional personnel and faculty at nearby locations. The University of Evansville’s curriculum is another good example of how this works: UE nursing students get six semesters of a clinical practice, beginning fall semester of their sophomore year. Students can work their clinicals in area hospitals, community agencies, and other community health locations.
- Hospitals: Nursing students can work in both inpatient and outpatient settings at area hospitals where students care for patients with complex illnesses. These experiences are vital to enhance development as a future nurse.
- Community agencies: These locations allow students to practice at same-day surgery units, oncology centers, day care centers, home health agencies, and rehabilitation centers, where they witness the continuing changes being made in health care delivery. Students gain firsthand experience in caring for patients in their homes and caring for patients who will go home the same day of surgery.
As you can see, you’ll have a lot to do as a nursing student—and that is a good thing. Nurses are some of the most valuable employees in their fields. The right nursing school will prepare you to be a great nurse.