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How to Choose A Nursing School

Nursing can be a rewarding career choice. There are a variety of ways to get the education needed in order to practice nursing. Getting a quality nursing education is important so look for a school that is nationally accredited. Two well known accrediting bodies, National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) and Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) ensure that their schools maintain quality and integrity in education. NLNAC accredited and CCNE accredited schools are found throughout the country, making sure quality nursing education is widely available.

In addition to looking for an accredited nursing program, prospective students may also want to look at a school's rate of graduation, rate of graduates who pass the NCLEX exam, and rate of graduates who find employment within one year of graduation. Reputation of the nursing program may also be a deciding factor. Having faculty that are at a minimum Master's-prepared, but ideally Doctoral-prepared speaks to the quality of the nursing program. Nationally recognized faculty who are leaders in nursing research can provide excellent education to nursing students. The availability of quality internships will also impact choice of a nursing program. Often, the top teaching hospitals in the country are also home to excellent nursing schools such as Johns Hopkins Hospital, University of Washington Medical Center or University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Types of Nursing Schools

Entry level nursing education starts at the community college level. The most basic nursing license issued is a licensed practical nurse (LPN) license. LPN programs range in length from six to 18 months. These are typically certificate programs where no degree is issued. LPNs can perform basic nursing functions, but are limited in more advanced nursing functions such as medication administration. Exact scope of practice for LPNs can be found in each state's individual Nurse Practice Act. The oldest form of education to become a Registered Nurse is the Diploma program. These programs are often two to three years in length and are primarily hospital-based. No degree is earned from a Diploma program, but credits may be awarded which could then be applied towards a degree. Graduates of a Diploma program take the same licensing test as graduates of a degree program to become a Registered Nurse. While Diploma programs were the main form of nursing education at the turn of the twentieth century, they are now rare.

The most common form of nursing education today is through earning a degree in nursing. A degree can be obtained at both the Associate and Bachelor degree levels. Associate degree programs are generally two years long versus Bachelor degree programs which require four years of study. A four year nursing program has a stronger focus on nursing theory and research and allows for greater depth of study. Graduates of a four year nursing program are also able to pursue graduate degrees to become Advanced Practice Nurses or nursing educators. State licensing requirements vary, but generally, graduates of both programs are eligible for licensure as a Registered Nurse. Typically, in order to earn a Registered Nurse license, a candidate must have graduated from an accredited nursing program, have completed the required amount of clinical hours, passed a background check and have passed the National Council of State Boards of Nursing exam, the NCLEX.

Traditional nursing schools are classroom based with a hands-on clinical component that takes place at a hospital or community nursing center. Often schools also have a virtual skills lab in which procedures and assessments are practiced on mannequins or other students, before working with real patients. With the continued integration of technology into education, more nursing programs are offering hybrid classes, where some or all of class instruction is done online. Clinical experiences are often varied to ensure students are well-rounded.

Nursing distance learning is becoming a more widely available option for students. While coursework can be completed via a virtual classroom, there is still a hands-on clinical component to nursing education that must be done in-person. For a nursing student completing a distance education program, clinical experiences are arranged at a local hospital or clinic with a local preceptor. Local preceptors are usually experienced registered nurses in the community who have a background in education and enjoy teaching nursing.

Types of nursing schools can further be divided into profit, non-profit, public, or private categories. In general, for-profit schools will have higher tuition costs than non-profit schools, however, for-profit schools may be more likely to take advantage of new technologies in the classroom and have new facilities. Private colleges or universities, which may be for-profit or non-profit, often have higher tuition than the public schools such as a local community college, state college or university. Public schools can, however, be just as expensive as private schools if paying out-of-state tuition. Private schools tend to be smaller than public schools which may mean better student-teacher ratios and more personalized attention. Both private and public schools often offer tuition assistance and scholarships to help with tuition, book, and living costs. When choosing the right school, it is important to consider overall cost of tuition, what types of financial aid are available and housing availability and cost. Reputation may also be a factor in school choice. US News ranks schools annually and also can provide guidance on where to find the best nursing programs. Rankings may vary year to year so it is important to get the most recent data available.

How to Get Into Nursing School

Nursing school admissions are very competitive. Entrance into a nursing program generally requires that certain prerequisites for nursing have been met. While specific requirements to get into nursing school vary, generally, coursework in Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Psychology and Mathematics are required. These fundamental classes, in addition to others, will provide the foundation needed for a strong nursing education. Nursing school requirements may also include working or volunteering time in the health care field, completing a nursing school essay, and holding a current cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. It is important to study and stay focused on the coursework as many nursing programs have grade point average requirements, ensuring that students accepted to the program are top notch. Background checks are also completed prior to admission to a nursing program.

An education in nursing can lead to an exciting and stimulating career. Choosing the right school and meeting the admission requirements are important first steps on the path to becoming nurse.

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