Wondering how you’ll decide which Nursing program to attend? Hint: Don’t call “Ask-A-Nurse.” The hotline has more pressing matters to tend to, but you could ask a nurse. Who better to give you the up, downs and in-betweens on what you should be considering before making what could be one of the biggest commitments of your life?
As the largest healthcare occupation with one of the fastest growing job rates (19% from 2012-2022 according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics), the nursing profession is a no-brainer when it comes to job security and warm, fuzzy feelings. But choosing the college that will get you there requires a lot more digging.
Here are seven points to ponder before purchasing your penlights and putting on those stylish scrubs:
1. Find a school that accommodates your career goals.
Registered nurses (“RNs”) typically take one of three educational paths starting out: 1. An associate’s degree in nursing (“ADN”) in two to three years 2. A bachelor’s of science degree in nursing (“BSN”) in four years, or 3. A diploma from an approved nursing program. It seems like common sense, but with a field as varied as nursing, narrowing your options can be monumental. Do you see yourself working on the administrative side of things, researching or perhaps teaching? Maybe you’d like to become a pediatric or geriatric nurse? Pinning down the ‘what’ will help you decide ‘where’ since different career paths require different degrees.
2. Location, Location, Location.
Be realistic when choosing the college or university you want to attend. Is it plausible to move out of state or travel to a neighboring city? If not, does the school offer online, evening or weekend classes? Your personal circumstances will determine the level of accessibility that’s right for you. Brenda Sarti Squires, RN, BSN, was working as a surgery tech when she decided to attend Penn State Behrend’s nursing program. “I was married with two children so my decision on where and how was important…Time in the car driving between work, school and home can be big when you’re counting every minute.” Sarti Squires now works at St.Vincent Health Center in Erie, Pa, where she is certified as a CNOR professional, a nurse who cares for patients before, after and during surgery.
Let’s be real. Most of us were not born with a golden stethoscope around our necks. School costs money. Before making the costly commitment of furthering your education, consider how you will pay for it. Does the school of your dreams offer scholarships and/or financial aid? There is no sense in going into debt for a program that you won’t be able to afford to finish. If an associate’s degree in nursing is all your budget can handle, go for it. Think of it as only the beginning. Employers often offer tuition reimbursement to further your education which is a sweet incentive not everyone can claim.
4. Accreditation or nah?
Choose a school that is accredited by the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing and Education (CCNE); both is even better. If your school is accredited, you have no worries. No worries about whether or not the curriculum is up to national standards; no worries about side-eyes from administrators at the next school or potential employers, questioning the quality of your education. Attending an accredited school also qualifies you for federal financial aid which can help out on the road to that golden stethoscope (see above).
5. SHOW ME THE PASS RATES!
Imagine that in Cuba Gooding’s or Tom Cruise’s voice and then pay attention to this: pass rates are a direct indication of how well a program prepares its students for the state boards. If the scores for the school are low percentage-wise, it’s for a reason. A school with a 97% pass rate is probably preparing its students a little better than one coming in at 75%. Each state’s government makes this information readily available online in a comparative schedule or you can contact your potential school directly.
6. Are your teachers just teachers?
Not that there is anything wrong with teachers. They are amazing, superheroes even, and they have the best break schedules ever. But when you’re in your clinical rotations, you want to learn from soldiers working in the field, not in the library (unless you’re into that sort of thing). “Make sure… the clinical instructors are currently working as nurses and not just teaching. It helps students stay up to date since medicine changes every day,” said Miranda Moore, RN, BSN, a graduate of Penn State, who specializes in the cardiac care unit at St.Vincent Health Center
7. Clinical Rotations.
Your clinical rotations could arguably be the most important aspect of your education. It’s your chance to go into the field and interact with professionals and patients alike. You’ll shadow your clinical instructor and soon take on responsibilities of your own, like taking vitals or writing up care plans. In a nut shell, it’s where you get your hands-on, live and in living color experience. So when choosing your program don’t hesitate to ask questions. What’s the faculty-to-student ratio? When can you expect to start them? Where will they take place? Your best bet is to talk to students in their rotations to get the juice.