If you are preparing for a career in nursing, you are taking a very sensible path. Not only is this vocation extremely rewarding, but opportunities abound at every stage, so you should have no trouble finding employment once you have all of the relevant qualifications.
How can you become suitably qualified and set yourself up for nursing success? Here is a look at the approaches you should take toward studying and schooling to get started with your dream nursing career.
What type of nursing interests you?
Exactly what type of nurse would you like to be? There are a significant number of career paths available in the field, with endless options for specialization.
One of the most common approaches to breaking into nursing is becoming a Registered Nurse, or RN. An RN is a nurse who holds an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. This represents the starting point for a broad range of nursing careers.
What does it mean to be a Registered Nurse (RN)?
As an RN, you will be fully qualified to administer medications, set up care plans, provide educational information to patients and the general public, and give emotional support to patients and their families.
Depending on your field of specialty, there are many other duties that a Registered Nurse may undertake.
When you qualify as an RN, you may decide to enter one of a wide range of specialist disciplines, including:
- Mental health
- Cardiac care
- Obstetrics and gynecology
- Critical care
In fact, you can choose to specialize in almost any area of healthcare.
Your high school and college grades
Earning excellent grades in high school can give you an edge as entry into nursing school can be competitive.
You should be particularly proficient in:
- Basic and advanced math, including geometry and algebra
- Anatomy and physiology
- A foreign language, such as Spanish or French
Nurses should be highly computer literate, and good grades in psychology or sociology are also likely to help them develop good interpersonal skills.
To ensure that you are accepted into the nursing school or program of your choice, you may decide to revisit certain qualifications at a night school or community college if you feel your current grades are not sufficient.
Entry into nursing option 1: Become a CNA
Whether you’d like to fast-track your education to become an RN or an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) more quickly or you simply love the idea of caring for people in your community, getting qualified as a CNA is a great step.
A CNA is a Certified Nursing Assistant, and the role may also be referred to as a patient care assistant or nurse’s aide.
To obtain this type of role, you’ll need to attend a CNA training program. Your local high school or community college may offer these courses, and they are also available at many hospitals and technical or vocational schools.
Once you have qualified as a CNA, you can begin to look for work. Your job will likely involve some or all of the following duties:
- Documenting medical information
- Cleaning and preparing medical rooms
- Taking vital signs
- Responding to patient calls and requests
- Daily care of patients, such as changing dressings, bathing, and feeding (including measuring their intake of food and liquids)
- Administering medication (after appropriate training)
- Brushing patients’ hair, clipping nails, and brushing teeth
- Turning immobile patients
- Assisting patients with restroom use
- Ordering and stocking medical supplies
After becoming a CNA, should you wish to move on to become an RN or LPN, you may be able to attend a CNA-to-RN or LPN bridge program at a community college. This may make things a little quicker as the course will take your previous experience and studies into account.
Alternatively, you could get an accredited associate’s degree in nursing, which typically takes two years, or a three-year RN diploma from a teaching hospital. It is also possible to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree at a university or college.
Entry into nursing option 2: Become an LPN or LVN
An LPN is a Licensed Practical Nurse, while an LVN is a Licensed Vocational Nurse. The two names actually refer to the same role, although LPN is more commonly used across the U.S. LVN is a title native to California and Texas, but the role remains very much the same.
To qualify as an LPN/LVN and start working, you should seek out an LPN/LVN diploma or certification course at your local community college or vocational school. After this, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-PN, also known as the National Council Licensure Examination, in order to get your license.
Along with the duties that may be performed by a CNA, an LPN/LVN may be trained to insert catheters and IVs as well as collect samples for testing.
Once you have become an LPN/LVN, you’ll need to find a Registered Nurse qualification program to study for the NCLEX-RN, or the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.
Depending on the course, your studies may be somewhat expedited due to your previous experience as an LPN, although this is not always the case.
Entry into nursing option 3: Study for a BSN
A BSN is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and it usually takes four years to complete.
Some nursing schools will accept applicants directly from high school as long as they have earned the grades specified in their particular entrance prerequisites.
Most courses demand that candidates submit SAT or TEAS scores. You’ll usually also need to have completed at least a year of biology and one year of chemistry in high school and achieved a C or above in each, along with at least two years of college-preparatory math, again with a C or above.
While Associate Degrees in Nursing (ADNs) require applicants to have achieved a GPA of 2.75 or above, Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing programs typically ask that candidates have a GPA of at least 3.0.
Most programs will require candidates to take an entrance exam in addition to meeting the above prerequisites.
As you study for your BSN, in addition to receiving training related to the application of medical and surgical care, you will also take on subject matters such as ethics, statistics, leadership, public health, and psychological nursing.
Many courses will also allow you to begin exploring your potential specialist area of medicine.
Entry into nursing option 4: Take an online nursing program
It is possible to become qualified as a nurse via online study.
Many people are simply too busy to study in person on a full-time basis, and some are not able to access the campus of a college or university that provides a suitable course, but this does not mean that they should give up on their dream career.
Online education providers such as Rockhurst University Online offer a huge range of nursing courses to help you get qualified for the role you want in your desired field of specialty.
You must have an existing bachelor’s degree to be accepted into this type of program, but this will enable you to accelerate your BSN to just 16 months.
In addition to your ABSN, you can also pursue higher qualifications such as a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN), although an active RN license and a range of other prerequisites are needed for courses of this type.
The curriculum includes sections such as “Foundations of Professional Nursing”, “Adult Health Nursing”, “Complex Care of Adults” and “Maternal Child Health Nursing”.
Despite providing online courses, many educational bodies of this kind also offer clinical placements, which are vital to students’ thorough understanding of the practical aspects of their learning. Placements will be arranged within a reasonable driving distance of your home. Some online schools also offer an optional short residency program.
Once I’ve become an RN, what happens next?
After graduating as an RN, your first step should be to seek relevant jobs in local hospitals and other healthcare environments.
Nurses are in extremely high demand, so you are likely to find a well-paid position with relative ease. Once you have worked in your new position for some time, opportunities may arise to move into other fields of nursing.
These opportunities will often come with a pay raise and additional responsibilities.
More advanced nursing positions that may be accessible to RNs or others with Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degrees in Nursing may include:
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
- Nurse Practitioner
- Nurse Educator
- Surgical Assistant Registered Nurse
- Health Informatics Nurse Specialist
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
How to study to achieve your goals
You should expect to study hard to achieve the qualifications you need to become a nurse. This can seem extremely challenging, particularly if you have other pressures in your life, such as work or childcare.
However, even if you did not achieve the high school grades required to become a Certified Nursing Assistant or to be accepted into a BSN or ADN program, there’s no need to worry. There are plenty of other options you can take to get yourself on track.
If you have responsibilities during the day, you may still be able to enroll in evening courses that will help you study so you can retake certain exams or achieve your GED.
Some community colleges offer free tuition to students who match certain criteria, so this may be the route for you if you are seeking a more affordable option.
In a community college, you can select the classes that will help you achieve the qualifications you need to enroll in a Bachelor’s or Associate’s Degree in Nursing program.
If you are only missing a couple of grades to meet the prerequisites for a BSN or ADN, you might be able to arrange to see a private tutor who specializes in those particular areas. They will help you to prepare for all the relevant examinations to become suitably qualified for nursing school.
There are even online courses that help you study for certain high school or college-level qualifications in a manner that is far more flexible and accessible than in-person training.
All you need to do is to check the prerequisites of a certain CNA, LPN/LVN, or BSN course – depending on which you are aiming for – and then search online to find remote college courses that will help you get the grades you need in the correct subjects.
Techniques and approaches to studying effectively
Here are some tips and tricks on making the most of your opportunities to study.
Schedule set times
Naturally, in-person courses require their students to be in attendance on certain days and at certain times.
Many online courses also have “live” segments where you’ll need to be present as and when stipulated, although there may also be recorded lectures or papers that can be completed in your own time within certain parameters.
However, it is vital that you study and review regularly to make sure you truly absorb everything that is being taught so that when the time comes to take your exams, you will be fully prepared.
The best approach is to use your calendar or diary to arrange fixed times for home study throughout the week. Try to choose times that are unlikely to be disrupted by your other tasks or responsibilities, and stick to them as if they were part of your job.
If you cut yourself too much slack, it can become easier to ignore your studies and find yourself very pressed for time as your exams approach.
Studying in fairly short bursts is often more effective than doing so over long stretches, as it can be easy to exhaust yourself. Moreover, it can be tough to fully take in large amounts of information in one sitting; smaller chunks are easier to process in the breaks between your periods of study.
This may be easier said than done – depending on your current living situation or responsibilities – but studying is invariably easier when there are no other demands on your attention.
Try to find yourself a quiet, private, clutter-free space, and make sure you have everything you need on hand. If you are a parent, see if you can arrange childcare for a few hours per week, then use that time to study as effectively as possible.
If you cannot find a quiet place to study, try listening to music through headphones. Relaxing tracks without lyrics are best to aid your concentration.
If you’re reading through a textbook and your teacher has not already assigned you a certain number of pages to read between classes, why not do this yourself?
If you set achievable targets, such as “read at least five pages of this book on Tuesday, and another five on Thursday, studying can feel a little more easily quantifiable and therefore manageable.
It may also offer you a sense of accomplishment, as the act of checking something off your to-do list always feels positive and productive and encourages you to continue along the same track.
Find a study buddy to hold you accountable
Are any of your friends studying for a qualification or an entrance exam, even if it’s not in nursing? If so, consider arranging study sessions with people you know, where you all meet up at a certain location and get to work. You may even decide to ask your friends to test you on a certain subject matter, and you can do the same for them.
Once others are involved and conscious of your efforts, it’s harder to make excuses or give yourself permission to slack off.
Be kind to yourself
Try to decide which types of study work best for you. Do you work best with flashcards, memory games, or visual cues? Do you prefer studying early in the morning or late at night? Do you find it hard to concentrate when you are hungry?
Be sure to take all of the above points into account and create a personalized plan for yourself before you launch into your work.
You should also consider rewarding yourself once you reach certain milestones. However, try to make these targets suitably ambitious. It can be easy to fall into the trap of rewarding yourself for reading a single page of a textbook with a solid hour of TV time.
Studying to become a nurse can be a considerable challenge as it is vital that all medical professionals across the country are highly knowledgeable and well-qualified.
However, once you have passed that first hurdle of graduating as an RN, hundreds of doors will be open to you. You’ll be able to pursue a range of specialties, find excellent opportunities for promotion and achieve a hugely rewarding career.
It all starts with your studies, so don’t hesitate to begin preparing for your dream job today.