Buckle in, folks. This post gets into the nursing nitty gritty. If you’re considering the field as a career option or just curious to learn more about nursing, read on.
If I were to sit down with my 16-year old self and debrief over my educational and vocational path up to this point, I would have very few regrets. This is an incredible blessing that I do not take lightly. I know that career choice can be a confusing path for many. By God’s grace and the many doors He opened, in addition to the loving support of family and friends, I completed my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing last December and have also worked as a nurse (LPN and RN experience combined) for 3 years. In this post I address stuff important to know before starting my nursing journey. People will ask me from time to time about what I did and how I became a nurse at a young age. Whether you are still in your teenage years or thinking about getting your degree later in life, or somewhere in between, I hope the things I share with you today are valuable.
First off, I’ll start by saying that there are many ways to get your nursing degree. What I’m going to share is not the only right way to go or even the best route to take, but it’s what worked well for me, allowing me to finish my degree with zero debt and get through school as quickly as possible. So without further ado, here are my top 5 pre-nursing school hacks.
(1) Know Your Why
Let’s start with answering a simple question: why nursing? It’s important before taking the deep plunge into nursing school that you have a strong WHY. And yes, while the pay is great and there will always be a demand for nurses, there are plenty of other jobs with those perks, too. Here are the reasons why I think nursing is an awesome career:
- It’s a tool. A nursing license can be compared to a “tool in your toolbox,” meaning it’s something you’ll always have (unless you allow your license to expire) with skills that will last you a lifetime. This tool is unbelievably diverse and can be used in a number of capacities. Just because you don’t fancy the high-stress environment of the Emergency Department doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t become a nurse. You can work in clinics, camps, offices, or strike out on your own as a nurse entrepreneur. Perhaps you won’t always work as a nurse, but can use those skills to care for an ailing family member or to be able to effectively advocate for yourself and others. You will become a go-to resource and help your friends and family navigate the confusion of Dr. Google.
- It’s a privilege. When I went in for my LPN interview, I braced myself for the question, “why do you want to become a nurse?” My reply was and still is: because I wanted to have the privilege of making a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis. Nursing allows you to do just that. Nursing at its core will never got old or boring because you get to work with people. And people are AMAZING! I am truly blown away by the folks I’ve gotten to meet and take care of. As a nurse, you are are invited, without question, into vulnerable and sacred spaces that no others are allowed into. You get to play an integral role in someone’s life during their best and worst moments. That’s pretty special.
- Nursing school changes you. If you allow yourself to be pushed and challenged beyond what you think you’re capable of, leaving all of your preconceptions at the doorstep, it will be an incredible ride. Nursing school pushes you to think quickly, problem-solve, and communicate on the spot. If you have any friends who are nurses or currently in nursing school, you’ve probably heard that getting your nursing degree is no easy feat. They’re right. Nursing school required 110% of my effort and there were other things I had to put on the back burner while completing my degree. But knowing it was only for a short season allowed me to have the focus I needed to finish.
(2) Get Acquainted with the Medical Field
Okay, so you’re still in the decision-making process and want some more information on what nursing is actually like. If you’re able, I would strongly suggest that you take the opportunity to shadow some nurses or other healthcare workers. There are a variety of hospitals that offer Medical Explorers programs that allow students (usually around ages 12-20) to shadow healthcare professionals. I did a medical explorers program the summer I was 17. It was through that program that I saw my first birth, which was beautiful and made me cry. After that day, I didn’t have a single doubt that I wanted to be a nurse. You can find some examples of shadowing programs here and here.
I found this pic a while back – my first time wearing scrubs for the medical explorers
program. And no, I don’t pair fancy necklaces with my scrubs anymore. 😉
If a medical shadowing program is not a ready option for you, another awesome way to find out about nursing is to interview some nurses. Remember those nursing friends I mentioned earlier? Ask them to get coffee and tell you about their job! Ask them what they like and don’t like about their current positions, what their educational experience was, and how they prepared for school. I’ve done this with multiple nurse practitioners and let me tell ya: they’ll give you the real, raw, unfiltered truth and all the nitty gritty details you don’t hear on college applications or program websites. Here’s a list of sample questions you could use:
Why did you want to become a nurse?
What was your nursing school experience like?
What do you like about the area you currently work in?
What do you not like about working there?
Would you do anything different in your nursing journey and why?
While this is not something I did, it’s always an option to get your Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification. This is a low-cost way to get some experience in the medical field before committing to more education. As a CNA, you can work closely with nurses and get insight into what they do.
(3) Know the Differences in Nursing Degrees
This is where we need to discuss technicalities. I remember being SO CONFUSED about all the terminology surrounding different types of nursing degrees! I’m going to give you a brief flyover of common titles you’ll see.
CNA stands for Certified Nursing Assistant. As a CNA, you do not have a license. However, you are certified to complete different tasks under the direction of nurses like taking vital signs, documenting patient activities, and transporting patients. As a CNA, you can work in a variety of healthcare settings.
LPN stands for Licensed Practical Nurse. Getting your LPN generally takes a year after your pre-requisites are completed. LPNs can perform many nursing functions. However, their scope of practice and areas of work are limited. LPNs generally work in clinics or other outpatient settings like home care. They don’t often work in hospitals and are not allowed to do certain tasks like IV push medications. The pay difference between LPNs and RNs is fairly substantial, which is why I would not recommend stopping your education at your LPN. There are plenty of LPN-RN bridge programs, which is what I did.
RN stands for Registered Nurse. Now here’s the confusing part: it is possible to be an RN and not have your Bachelor’s degree. If you go to a technical school with a nursing program, you can graduate with you ASN degree, which stands for Associate of Science in Nursing. As an RN, you can choose to go on and complete your 4-year degree in an RN-BSN bridge program or just work as an RN. ASN-RNs have a variety of job options available to them, but we are seeing a shift in healthcare as many larger hospitals are only hiring BSN-RNs and encouraging their existing nurses to get their BSNs.
BSN stands for Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. It is the full 4-year degree, so if you go to a 4-year college, you’ll finish with your BSN. If you have your ASN-RN degree and want to go back for your Bachelor’s in Nursing, there are plenty of RN-BSN programs available now that are entirely online. The BSN classes are mainly focused on research, management, and healthcare policy. You will complete a variety of assignments and writes lots of papers. In my experience, it was not as rigorous as my LPN or RN training because I already had clinical skills and the education was directed toward adding to my knowledge base. BSN-RNs have more job opportunities as I mentioned earlier and also get the highest pay of the positions I’ve covered so far. If you currently work as an ASN-RN, often your employer will reimburse you a certain amount to get your BSN. Here are a few online programs I think are worth looking into:
- Western Governors University This is where I got my RN-BSN degree. I would do it again in a heartbeat. This program is entirely online, self-paced, and very inexpensive compared to other programs. I got the support I needed and worked at my own pace, doing more school when I had the time and taking chunks of time off for travel. There are no clinical hours except for community health. The only requirement is that you work as an RN a certain number of hours each week to ensure that you’re getting clinical experience.
- Purdue school I have no personal experience with this school, but have heard that it’s also a great option and fairly inexpensive.
RN-BSN online programs are becoming increasingly popular. Check out this list for more programs. After getting your BSN, there are multiple opportunities to go on for your Nurse Practitioner License (NP), Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), and more, but I’m not going to get into all of that now. Let’s just say that there are A LOT of opportunities beyond your BSN degree.
(4) Consider Getting Your Degree from a Technical/Community College.
These types of schools offer 2-year associate degrees that tend to focus on more “hands on” practical subjects. Many of these schools offer nursing programs and can be far more affordable than 4-year or private schools. Some technical schools offer separate LPN and RN programs, like the one I went to. In these cases, you first must become an LPN in order to apply for the RN program, which builds off your previous education and knowledge base. Some schools offer programs to graduate directly with your ASN-RN degree.
In either case, I am glad I chose to go to a tech school for my degree. I may not have had the traditional college experience that a 4-year school might have lent me, but I was able to live at home, work part-time, pay my tuition as I went, and enjoy camaraderie with a very diverse group of classmates. I went to school with moms whose kids were grown, adults on their second or third career, and a few other fresh high school graduates like myself. I learned so much from my classmates and couldn’t have asked for a better group of focused individuals to grow with through the semesters.
(5) Get some RN Experience before going back for your BSN
Not gonna lie: when I graduated as an RN, I was completely. Burnt. Out. Burnt to a crisp! My brain was tired, my body was tired – everything was tired – and I needed a break. I needed to find out more of who I was apart from textbooks, test scores, and clinical scrubs. I was ready to put that season behind me and boy did it feel good when that day finally came!
The decision to just work as an ASN-RN and wait a short time to get my BSN was one of the best choices I made. I was also going through a significant life transition as I moved to a new state and started to build community, pursue new hobbies, and adjust to my new environment. But most importantly, I was a brand new RN on the hospital floor and I needed time to adjust to my job. For a long time, every shift felt like a nursing school clinical as I pestered my poor coworkers with a million questions and carefully drew up medications, looked up dosages, educated myself so that I could educate my patients, and learned the documentation system. Hear me out here: at the bedside is where learning happens! Don’t underestimate the importance of actual work experience. You may learn all the theory in school, but on the job is where stuff clicks, light bulbs turn on, and everything begins to make a little more sense. It’s where you develop your own unique nursing practice and establish yourself as a nurse. In my opinion, your first nursing job is worth focusing on without rushing right into the next educational endeavor. The experience you glean as a nurse on the floor will give you a better understanding of healthcare that you can take with you into your RN-BSN program and beyond.
A small part of me felt guilty for not jumping right into my BSN program. I knew I’d have to finish it eventually and it loomed ahead as something I was rather dreading. But that all changed one morning when I was talking at the water fountain with an older coworker who had been a nurse longer than I’d been alive. I was telling her how school had rendered me utterly useless with books. I had no drive to open a book of any kind, much less look into furthering my education. With a knowing smile, she assured me that someday, I would wake up one morning and things would be different. I would feel ready for the next thing and my brain would be ready to tackle my BSN. And by golly, you know what!? She was absolutely right! Eight months later, I woke up one day with a renewed determination to start and an appetite for soaking in new knowledge. While getting my BSN certainly wasn’t a cakewalk, it wasn’t nearly the monster that I was dreading because I’d first given myself time to rest.
So there, my friends, are 5 tips to consider before you take the wild leap into nursing school! If you have any questions or anything to add, free free to jump in by commenting below.
Until next time, friends!