All over the US, there is a growing need for nurses. Hospitals and clinics across the nation are experiencing unprecedented staff shortages. According to figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this demand will continue for many years to come, with over 200,000 new openings predicted for registered nurses each year until 2031. If you are ready to help and can commit to a course of study, nursing has plenty to offer.
- 1 Becoming a nurse
- 2 Finding the right course
- 3 Flexible nursing programs
- 4 Which educational setting is best for you?
- 5 What are the admission requirements for nursing programs?
- 6 How will you pay for your studies?
- 7 Where will you live?
- 8 Purchase the essentials before you begin
- 9 Subscribe to a few quality nursing publications
- 10 Make the most of social media
- 11 Spend time studying human physiology and anatomy
- 12 Revisit your math skills
- 13 Do some work experience in a healthcare environment
- 14 Start building a network
- 15 Be excited about your future!
Becoming a nurse
Nurses meet and assist new people each day. They support patients in their recovery, make them comfortable during treatment, and sometimes help welcome new lives into the world. As well as being incredibly rewarding, nursing offers excellent prospects. Registered nurses (RNs) are in high demand and you should therefore find it relatively easy to find a post once you’ve graduated. Moreover, once you’ve settled in, you can progress through the ranks or select a specialism, so you’ll never become stuck in a role you don’t enjoy. Wherever you work, the team around you will be made up of supportive, passionate professionals and many of them will quickly become great colleagues and friends.
Nursing is a job like no other, in which you become an asset to the nation and a savior to your patients. However, learning to save lives and remain calm whilst doing so involves detailed training. If you like the thought of nursing as a career, here are a few things to consider, and some tips to help you, before you enroll in a course.
Finding the right course
There are many types of nursing courses to choose from. The two most traditional options are the two-year associate’s degree and the four-year bachelor’s degree. For either course, you will not need previous experience in nursing. Everything you need to know is taught either in the classroom or in a clinical environment. Whichever route you take, you will need to complete an NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) to finish your training. This is a national test that is required to license any nurse. However, if you already have a degree and want a swifter route into the profession, you could begin with an accelerated course of study.
Flexible nursing programs
Known as hybrid or blended programs, these courses offer real-world placements alongside digital learning. At Elmhurst University, the hybrid nursing programs are open to people with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. Through their online Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) you can graduate within just 16 months. After two residencies on campus and over 600 hours in the field, you will be prepared to pass the NCLEX and become a working nurse.
Which educational setting is best for you?
When you are comparing institutions, there are many questions to bear in mind. Some universities are in large cities with great social benefits, but where the cost of living can be high. Smaller colleges, on the other hand, tend to be in rural locations, where the lifestyle is laid back but you can live comfortably for less.
In order to accommodate the needs of mature students, who might have to work whilst they study, many universities offer online nursing courses on which the content is delivered remotely. These courses also offer the opportunity to get hands-on experience working in a medical setting, alongside other health professionals, as well as patients.
If flexibility is not an issue for you or you hope to move to another state, a traditional brick-and-mortar university could be a good option. You will still spend time in a healthcare setting, but you’ll also be taught in a classroom alongside your cohort group.
Finally, you can also enroll in a vocational nursing program, at your technical school or community college. People choose this route when they plan to stay close to home but prefer to study in a classroom environment. On these courses, there is limited access to the more advanced areas of medical care, so you may not experience a critical care ward, for example. However, you can move on to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree afterward to complete your training.
Whether you are planning to learn at a university, college, or online setting, you should expect an excellent level of education and support from the teaching staff.
What are the admission requirements for nursing programs?
Nursing degree programs may have different requirements depending on the method of study and the course. However, in general, if you are looking for an entry-level program you will need to have earned your GED and graduated successfully from high school. Many institutions expect you to have studied biology and chemistry for at least a year at school and gained a C grade or above. Two years of math at a college-preparatory standard is also the norm, with a C grade or above. You should also have a SAT or a TEA certificate, to prove your academic skills are of a good general standard.
Finally, your Grade Point Average (GPA) will generally need to be 3.0 or more for you to enroll in most BSN programs. If you have concerns about these prerequisites, remember that nursing schools often have individual requirements based on their specific program. Therefore, it is always worth getting in touch with an admissions officer before applying.
How will you pay for your studies?
Applying and being offered a place can feel like a dream come true, but once the initial excitement has passed, you’ll need to make some practical financial decisions. You should prepare for a course of study in advance by saving as much as you can, because surviving financially as a student can be tough. Even if you plan to study online or part-time, and work on the side, you should start applying for additional help in advance. Bursaries or grants are available to help with your tuition, equipment, and living costs.
Scholarships that cover part or all of your fees are a popular option. These vary greatly in terms of who is eligible, so you should search widely to see what’s on offer. Check for local scholarships with community foundations, non-profits, and government offices, or go online to see if any national help is available. Failing this, a federal student loan will help to pay your fees, just check the terms so you understand what you’ll be paying back and when.
As there is a serious shortage of nurses and health professionals in general, if you are currently employed in a hospital, but not yet a qualified RN, your employer might fund your tuition. That means you can earn the degree whilst working, then return full-time when you have the additional training and skills. This can be a win-win for you and your employer.
Finally, if you already have a degree but it’s in a field unrelated to nursing, an accelerated program can be an excellent option. As previously discussed, these courses dramatically reduce the time you spend studying and can therefore bring down your costs significantly.
Where will you live?
If you have decided to attend a physical university or college, you will need to think about where you will be living whilst you study. There could be a chance for you to move into a dorm or another form of accommodation that is managed by the university. Contact the student support team of your chosen institution to see if they can offer this service. If not, you could consider living with family or friends, or choose to rent a place of your own. Living with your parents, or in your own home if you already have one, is a good choice in terms of saving money, and makes sense when you are studying remotely. Even if you are attending a college to study, commuting from home is often cheaper than moving out altogether.
Purchase the essentials before you begin
Although saving money is always a good idea, you should be aware that some items will prove to be worthwhile investments. Top of the list for student nurses is comfortable shoes, as like qualified nurses, you will be spending lots of time on the move. There is no single style, design, or brand that’s best, so be sure to try a few pairs on before making your decision. Also check the dress code and footwear requirements for where you’ll be studying and training, to remain compliant.
Textbooks are another useful buy, as although you can borrow some titles from libraries, many are highly specialized, so it’s easier to just get your own. Read through reviews on nursing forums or ask your college for a reading list and start studying in advance. eBay and other online retailers sell second-hand textbooks that are cheaper than brand-new copies, however, you should always check that the edition is right before placing an order.
Subscribe to a few quality nursing publications
While you are preparing to study, learning more about the profession from people who are already on the frontline can give you a distinct advantage. There are numerous nursing journals and magazines to choose from, most of which are available online, and some of which have a subscription fee. By checking in regularly with a few of these, you can gain access to blogs that have been written by working nurses, articles about new technology, and tips for dealing with common problems. Scrubs is a popular choice that enjoys a big social media presence. It covers a whole host of personal and professional issues that impact nurses. As well as career advice, you can also look for real-life nursing stories and ideas to prepare for your future role.
Minority Nurse is dedicated to supporting diversity in the profession. It is another valuable resource for students and working nurses, with a huge job board and plenty of general guidance for career success. American Nurse is another classic that has plenty of useful resources for nurses in all specialties, as well as news on changes in the profession and opportunities for continued education. Reading about the highs and lows of nursing is a great way to prepare yourself for what’s to come during your training and when you eventually move into a professional role.
Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram may not be the first places that come to mind when you are preparing for a nursing program, but they do have their uses. On each of these platforms, you can connect with thousands of other medical professionals, from student nurses to consultants and leaders. Social media is a great place to share blog posts, talk about healthcare items in the news and offer support to your colleagues. As someone about to start training, it can give you a taste of what to expect as a student and eventually as a nurse. Furthermore, it’s a great place to turn to when you’re feeling alone or in need of advice. In decades gone past, students had to wait for their next lesson if they were struggling with a study topic. Now you can simply post a question online and get responses from numerous healthcare professionals.
Spend time studying human physiology and anatomy
There are many anatomy and physiology books that can help you to gradually prepare for your course. These cover the structure and workings of the human body. Whether simply reading the books, or studying them in-depth, they can be an invaluable resource.
Revisit your math skills
Nurses use math for a range of tasks, such as to set IVs to provide nutrients based on a patient’s weight and to read equipment, so brushing up on your math skills before you enroll can be beneficial. Moreover, numeracy tests are a common part of nurse training and a good working knowledge of math means you will avoid having to retake these exams. Math competency is also helpful once you start training, as drug calculations are part of most programs. On the ward, a small slip or miscalculation can have a significant effect on patient outcomes, so look at fractions, percentages, volume, and basic arithmetic, to get a head start.
Do some work experience in a healthcare environment
Many people who hope to enroll in a nursing course already have experience in healthcare. Before you start training, it’s worth expanding your knowledge by working in a range of departments and alongside RNs who can give you a better idea of what to expect. From acting professionally to managing patients who are distressed and conducting yourself in an appropriate way, work experience is a great way to prepare yourself for a full-time nursing career.
If you are not currently working in a healthcare setting, it could be worth changing jobs – if that is possible – especially if you have a few months or more until your course begins. Alternatively, you might want to volunteer at your local hospital or clinic.
Start building a network
As a nurse, contacts are essential for your career progress, but also to provide support. You can establish a professional network at the earliest stage, by staying in touch with the people you meet at the interview or those you connect with on your university’s forum. Even if you begin with just a handful of contacts, the experience of learning and planning a placement will be more manageable with a supportive network in place. When you do get your first taste of clinical work experience, introduce yourself to people as often as you can. The course should be supportive, rather than competitive, so be ready to help others or accept help, and you’ll have a much better experience.
Additionally, the people you connect with now will become the professionals you rely on in the future. From supporting each other with finding new positions in other facilities, to sharing insights and ideas for career development, your network is a valuable resource.
Be excited about your future!
Being aware of the practical side of nursing and nurse training is just half of the story. When your course begins, you are opening the door to a long and successful career. From then on, you’ll be part of a team of students and professionals who are dedicated to making a positive change. You’re in a privileged position, one that offers opportunities in endless specialisms, as well as the chance to travel, expand your qualifications, and progress to one of many senior roles. You’ll experience incredible highs and challenging lows, but it will be a career that many people can only dream of.