In nursing, math isn’t just a prerequisite for admission to a college-level program or something you pass on a test for a license. It’s a core component of a nursing education and a skill set you’ll use every day throughout your career.
The safety of patients is the top priority in nursing—and math is an essential tool in accomplishing that at all levels of practice, says Donna R. Swope, an adjunct professor of nursing at Stevenson University.
Math skills are critical for nurses when they perform the basic yet important task of administering medication.
“Adopt the mindset that nurses and math are forever intertwined in the protection of the patient,” Swope says. “Don’t think of it as cramming for a test and then allowing the content to slip away.”
Math skills are critical for nurses when they perform the basic yet important task of administering medication. “In the process of testing, manufacturing, distribution, and prescription of medications, nurses stand as the last level of protection as they are the ones who actually administer the drug to the patient,” explains Swope.
Math calculations, measurement conversions, and data interpretation occur throughout the process, which includes:
Adhering to the “rights” of administering medication: the right patient, right medication, right dose, and right time.
Preparing a dose with a number of variables in mind, including the patient’s weight and the recommended dose per pound.
Preparing a dose according to patient ability; for example, considering whether a patient is only able to swallow the medication if it is crushed or in liquid form.
Adjusting dosage according to a patient’s response; for example, the flow rate of an intravenous drug is increased or decreased according to a patient’s blood pressure.
Nurses also use math in the creation and interpretation of research related to healthcare and nursing practice. That’s why undergraduate and graduate nursing programs require coursework in research and statistics.
“Nurses must be able read, analyze, and interpret research studies and make changes in procedures, protocols, and policies so that the standards of care that inform their practice are always up to date,” Swope says.
There are many practice guides and tests available. Community colleges also offer precollege-level math courses, should you need them.
Dosage Exams and Clinical Nursing Courses
In most programs, students generally take an introductory clinical class that includes a review of dosage and the math involved in handling medications. “Basics such as ratio/proportion, algebraic formulas, conversions, and apothecary measurements are reviewed and students are tested on their knowledge,” Swope says.
At the university where Swope teaches, “students have three tries to get 100% on the dosage exam at the completion of this review. They must withdraw from the clinical course if this score is not reached,” she says. “Every clinical course that follows includes a dosage exam on the first day of the course with the same standards: three tries to pass the exam.”
Students will find similar testing practices and policies at most nursing schools.
Nursing Program Math Requirements
Completion of two to three years of high school math is the prerequisite for admission to a nursing program at most colleges. However, some of the most competitive nursing programs prefer four years of high school math for Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs.
Here’s a rundown of the typical math prerequisites and courses required for graduation from nursing programs. These courses are in addition to the math tests that students take at the beginning of clinical courses.
Note: “One college-level math class” as cited below generally refers to undergraduate math classes such as an algebra, pre-calculus, or calculus class taken in the first two years of college.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
Prerequisites: Solid knowledge of basic math
Requirements for graduation: No additional math required
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Prerequisites: Two to three years of high school math, including intermediate algebra
Requirements for graduation: Varies from none to one year of college-level math
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
Prerequisites: Two to three years of high school math, including intermediate algebra
Requirements for graduation: One college-level math class
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
Prerequisites: Three to four years of high school math, including intermediate algebra
Requirements for graduation: One college-level math class and one introductory statistics course
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
Prerequisites: One college-level math class and one introductory statistics course
Requirements for graduation: Descriptive and inferential statistics or biostatistics courses
Doctor of Science in Nursing (DNP)
Prerequisites: Descriptive and inferential statistics or biostatistics courses
Requirements for graduation: Graduate-level courses in statistics and research design, evaluation, and outcomes
Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD)
Prerequisites: One college-level math class and descriptive and inferential statistics or biostatistics
Requirements for graduation: Varies greatly but usually includes several graduate-level statistics and research methodology courses
If Math Isn’t Your Strength, You Can Still Succeed
If you have math anxiety, you aren’t alone. Swope suggests students and experienced nurses take advantage of online practice programs, practice workbooks, and tutoring to hone their math skills.
“Nurses also have many resources in the clinical area that will be of help, like calculators on their phones, drug information websites, and built-in safety devices within computerized medication storage (such as allergy alerts),” she says. “And consulting with an experienced colleague is never a bad idea.”
Let’s face it: Math gives us a lot of feelings … and most of them are not the warm and fuzzy kind.
Most estimates put the number of people who suffer from math anxiety at about one out of every five adults. But we’re here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. Dr. Nicola Petty runs a New Zealand-based company called Creative Maths that focuses on helping students learn to love math—yes, even you.
“There’s been this culture in our countries that made disliking math, particularly for girls, seen as socially OK,” she says. “We tend to have a fixed mindset regarding math: We either have a math brain or we haven’t a math brain. And it’s just not true. There’s no science to support it.”
Since math—particularly conversions—is an integral part of nursing school, we talked to Petty and asked students on social media about real-life tips and tricks to overcoming math anxiety. Here are eight ways to counter your fears.
1. Tell Your Math Story
This may sound a little woo-woo, but Petty believes this first step is perhaps the most important in getting over the trauma of our mathematical journeys.
Were you publicly humiliated when you got the wrong answer on that word problem? Did your parents drill you with flashcards and a kitchen timer? It’s important to know where this anxiety came from. Petty says she’s cried through many of these stories from students.
But identifying why you think you’re not a math person is the first step to becoming one. “It’s not your fault,” Petty says. “I like to say, ‘You were probably taught in a way that didn’t suit you,’ which takes the pressure off the teachers and takes the pressure off the student. The biggest message is: It’s not your fault.”
2. Find the Right Study Resources
Nursing students have shared that they’re particularly fearful of dosage calculations—after all, a lot is riding on a nurse’s ability to accurately administer medications to patients. But Julie Festa, a 30-year-old nursing student at St. Vincent’s College in Fairfield, Connecticut, who has suffered from lifelong math anxiety, says these calculations don’t have to be scary, as long as you find the right study materials.
“I learned to cope with anxiety by being really proactive about it,” she says. “I swear by this calculation dosage book. It gets me 90+ on all my math exams! I recommend going through the entire book’s practice questions during breaks between semesters, if possible.”
But Don’t Overdo It
Fellow nursing student Justine Gonz-Alar, who’s pursuing a BSN degree at Chamberlain University, agrees that study resources are essential, but warns that too many just end up working against you.
“Look for resources that help you understand topics better or break down the topic enough for you to understand,” she says, adding that there are many free resources available online. “It can do more harm than good, though, if you have too many in front of you, because you can and will become overwhelmed!”
Petty says that to really know your math, practice is necessary, though you should focus on a variety of problems rather than speed.
Petty, who has worked extensively with older students, and nursing students in particular, says it’s important to know that while schools ask you to learn these calculations, there are checks and balances in place—plus, computers!—when you’re actually on the job.
“Don’t feel fearful that you’re going to kill somebody because you don’t have good math skills,” she says. “What you do need to make sure is that you have a good idea of magnitude in terms of dosage,” as in readily knowing the difference between a microgram and a milligram.
3. Keep Practicing (and Practicing and Practicing)
Petty says that to really know your stuff, practice is necessary, though you should focus on variety rather than speed. Choose different kinds of problems to work through, and don’t just read through your notes from class, which she says can give you the illusion of competence without actually knowing the material.
Nursing student Marisa Hetland lives by this model to overcome her math anxiety. “Practice, practice, practice!” she says. “There is no way to overcome that fear without doing a ton of practice problems to boost your confidence.”
4. Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late
Unlike other subjects, such as biology or history, math is cumulative, which means you build knowledge like you would building a brick house, from the foundation up. If insecurity keeps you from speaking up when you don’t understand those foundational lessons, you’re not going to be able to move on to more advanced concepts.
“Don’t wait until you’re so far behind that you’re freaking out,” Petty says. “If you feel like you’re losing your place in class, get help right away. It’s probably indicative of some underlying gaps that will need filling up.” Petty also makes this point: If something—a family tragedy or health issue, for example—caused you to miss a lot of school at some point in the past, you can’t beat yourself up for not understanding what may have been covered in those lost days/weeks/months.
Just take the time to fill in those gaps and remember that it’s not your fault.
5. Have a Relaxation Strategy
Are you a talented baker? A chess wiz? Petty says identifying something that you’re consistently successful at can help you overcome the feelings of inadequacy that some students experience while learning (or re-learning) math.
“When you start to feel threatened, it helps to have a happy place to go back to, to put yourself back in a place of success,” she says.
6. Don’t Be Afraid of Your Mistakes
“The difference between the people who can do math and the people who can’t is what they do when they make a mistake,” says Petty. More often than not, she sees students throw up their hands—after all, “someone who doesn’t feel confident feels like they have to give up. But that won’t teach you anything.”
Petty’s approach is to analyze her own mistakes with curiosity, asking “Where’d I go wrong?” Once you understand what led to the mistake, you’re unlikely to make it again.
7. Ask for Help When You Need It
Gonz-Alar recognizes that it can be awkward reaching out to classmates for help, particularly in online courses, but your cohort can be one of the best resources when it comes to school success—and not just in mathematics.
“Think about it this way: You can help support each other by asking questions, sharing what and how you all are doing, she says. “You can remind each other when homework is due and share resources. Plus, you never know … you might even find a lifelong friend!”
Tutors also can be an excellent option for help. In elementary through high school, Festa says, tutors helped her get past her math anxiety.
Don’t feel like you must learn everything the first time around. There’s data to support that having heard something before makes it easier when you sit down to revisit it and learn later, Petty says.
Though she’s found a system that works for her in the nursing program, Festa points out that her school—like most—has many resources for students who need a little extra help, from peer tutors and a tutoring center to instructors who encourage students to swing by during open office hours.
Professors Are There to Help
And that previous point is one not to be taken lightly: If you are having a hard time with the course material, or need longer to work on an assignment, talk to your professor.
“Asking for help is not a weakness!” says Gonz-Alar. “I know it’s hard to swallow your pride sometimes, but it’s never wrong to seek help. This doesn’t mean asking the professor for the answer but asking him/her if they have recommended resources that they know might help, or maybe even if they can show you how to do something. They’re there to support you in your success.”
8. Know When to Take a Break
Sometimes the key to successful studying is knowing when to walk away—at least momentarily.
“When you start feeling upset, take a break, go for a walk,” Petty says. “When you start that spiral of ‘I can’t do this,’ it fills your brain up with bad stuff and you get frozen. The very part of the brain we need to process the mathematics is the part that gets frozen by our feelings.” If a professor is teaching material that feels over your head, Petty recommends letting it sail right past—exposing your mind to it now, without worrying about grasping the details and falling into the fear-of-failure trap.
Adult Students Can Have an Edge
Don’t feel like you must learn everything the first time around. There’s data to support that having heard something before makes it easier when you sit down to revisit it and learn later, Petty says. In fact, she believes adults make the best students—despite that old adage about old dogs and new tricks—because they’re intentional about their learning.
Ultimately, try to remember how many others feel just as you do about math. As Gonz-Alar says, “Remember, it’s normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed at first, especially if it is a class that you’ve never had before. Take a breath!”
“The greatest challenge for students taking online courses is self-regulation,” says Chris Drew, who is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and teaches remotely at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia. “[Students] need to remember to put in the same time, dedication, and effort as if you were studying on campus.”
This sounds like obvious college 101 advice, but for remote students, study groups can not only help you learn course material but also build community with peers who could be mere miles away, or in another state.
Sherryl Perez (pictured), who’s pursuing a master’s entry-level nursing program at the University of California, San Francisco, says the ideal study group is composed of students who have “similar learning habits and include some people who can challenge you to think about the material at a higher level of thinking.”
She recommends finding an online platform that works for your cohort to post days and times for study sessions and ask questions about assignments. Slack, a Facebook group, and WhatsApp are just some examples of your options.
You’ll also need to choose an online platform to meet. Zoom and Microsoft Teams are two of the most popular, but there are many to choose from.
Study groups for remote classes can help you build community with peers who could be mere miles away, or in another state.
Julissa Haya credits study groups for her survival in the pediatric nurse practitioner program at UCSF. “Study groups are a great way to learn from each other, especially if you are an auditory learner,” she says. “It’s also a great way to divide those long study guides, come together, and go over them as a group.”
Drew, author of the Helpful Professor blog, adds that there’s also a social component to these small groups. “A study group is not only about studying,” he says. “It’s also about feeling less isolated. It’s about getting that sense of community that so many online students sorely miss.”
Tip No. 2: Leverage Those Lectures
If your memories of in-person learning are punctuated by missed alarms and midclass daydreams, you’re not alone. Online students can face the same pitfalls, but recorded lectures can fill in the blanks.
Ferlyn Mabanglo, who is pursuing an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) at Cypress College in California, says planning which days she’ll review lectures is crucial to staying organized.
“Depending on your school, online lectures may be prerecorded and you can review them on your own time (asynchronous), or lectures are recorded in live time while students watch (synchronous),” she says. “Reviewing asynchronous material on [specific days] will help divide your attention effectively rather than reviewing asynchronous lectures every day.
“For synchronous lectures, these are discussed in the beginning of the term where you know which set days you need to be online for a live recording.”
Tip No. 3: Organize Your School Space
Getting a good night’s sleep may be critical to learning, but that doesn’t mean you should be studying in bed. In fact, you’ll learn best if you have a clean, organized study space that’s not where you like to nap.
Estela Guevara (pictured), who is pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at UCSF, says she’s learned to organize her workspace at night. She sets out her planner, pens, notebooks, glasses, and a cup of water, so when her alarm goes off for those 8 a.m. classes, she’s ready to go.
“I’m a Type A personality,” Guevara says, “and it definitely relieves a lot of anxiety.”
You’ll learn best if you create a designated study space—and, no, your bed doesn’t qualify.
Tip No. 4: Embrace Apps
Sure, technology can be a distraction while you’re trying to study. But it can also be a key to success if you take advantage of apps and programs designed specifically to help you learn and stay organized.
Here are some favorites of our online student experts:
Study apps: Stephania Ulett, a nursing student at Chamberlain University in Florida, says YouTube, and the apps Simple Nursing, Level Up RN, and Picmonic, provide lectures, learning tools, study guides, and test prep to help you master material. Apps like these “will be your best friends while in nursing school,” Ulett says.
Transcription apps: Perez recommends transcription apps such as Otter if you want to transcribe live lectures into text. She says apps like these can be a great learning tool if it’s more effective for you to read notes than to listen to a lecture the second time around.
Time management apps: Guevara relies on Flora, a gamified productivity app that challenges you and your friends to grow trees—virtually and in real life—based on how productive you are. This app can help you get through to-do lists and stay off your phone and away from the rabbit hole of endless social media scrolling.
Tip No. 5: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
As a teacher, Drew says he’s surprised by how few online students reach out for help or clarification regarding assignments, but sometimes it’s the best thing you can do.
“Anxiety and stress levels peak when you’re unsure of what to do,” Drew says. “We’re here to help you—so make use of that! Asking for clarification can help you feel like you’re on steady footing and proceed in your work with confidence.”
Mabanglo recommends asking for an extension on deadlines “when life happens” to help balance your workload.
“Professors will sometimes remind students of this option,” she says. “However, even if they don’t, it doesn’t mean you can’t ask. Professors want you to succeed, and my advice is to always ask and explain your situation.”
Tap Your Family for Help
Drew offers this advice for students with children: “Ask your partner or family to look after the kids for a dedicated few hours per week so you can study without distractions.”
Tip No. 6: Create a Schedule and Stick to It
Good study habits are the key to success, says Drew, and when you’re learning from home, that means creating a schedule. Think of it “like having shift hours at work,” he says, and stick to it.
“Online students often work full-time jobs and squeeze school into the evening hours,” Drew says. “While this is a big benefit of online studies, also remember to give your studies the time and dedication they deserve.”
No Coasting Allowed
Remote learning can put more responsibility on students to stay on top of classes, Drew says, so you need to pay special attention to following through on your work.
“It can be very easy for an online student to delay a task until the end of the week or ignore an email,” Drew says. “This seems to be a much bigger problem for online classes because you can coast under the radar more easily. No one’s going to be leaning over your shoulder each week in class checking up on you.”
If you have a hard time focusing for long chunks of time, Mabanglo and Guevara recommend the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management method that uses a timer to break work into 25-minute blocks followed by a five-minute break. There are several time-management apps based on this technique.
Good study habits are the key to success, says Drew, and when you’re learning from home, that means creating a schedule and sticking to it.
In terms of completing assignments, Drew advises getting into the habit of writing papers early so you have breathing room in case something unexpected pops up in your work or home life.
Finish them early, but don’t necessarily turn them in early: Drew says you’ll want to revisit those drafts and edit them with fresh eyes a few days before you submit them.
Tip No. 7: Don’t Forget Self-Care
When you’re juggling work, school, and family obligations—any of which can be a full-time job on its own—putting yourself first at times can feel selfish. But taking care of your mental and physical health can help you be prepared for class and whatever else life may throw at you.
Guevara says her self-care is feeding her body well. “I love to cook, so I just make sure that I’m cooking more than I’m eating out,” she says. “I believe nutritious eating is going to benefit me.”
Sometimes, the first thing that goes when we stress is self-care, but Guevara says to fight this counterproductive urge.
“I’ve heard from students that maybe they were so stressed they stopped running,” she says. “And making time to run on their lunch breaks gives them the energy they need to get homework done later.”
Sleeping well, practicing mindfulness, and checking in with friends can all help you succeed.
Joseph Mingo III, who is pursuing a BSN at Galen College of Nursing, says it so simply: “Reward yourself!”
Now, who wants a cookie?
Think we missed a crucial tip? Send yours to our Facebook or Instagram account!
Getting credit for prior learning can help you save time and money when you advance your nursing education. Whether you’re a certified nursing assistant (CNA), licensed nurse practitioner (LPN), or registered nurse (RN), you may be able to apply your knowledge and experience toward credits that can help you complete a nursing program without taking coursework on content you already know.
Credit for prior learning takes into account knowledge and experience gained outside a classroom.
Nursing programs that offer this option recognize that students can gain knowledge from both formal and informal, or experiential, learning.
The Role of Prior Learning Assessments
Programs award credit for prior learning in several ways, including using evaluations called prior learning assessments (PLAs). PLAs measure your knowledge against college-level content.
In a recent study, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) reported that students who received PLA credit saved nine to 14 months of study time by earning credits for about a semester of full-time study. For these students, the PLA credits translated into savings of between $1,500 and $10,200 in education costs.
While there’s a practical advantage to reducing the time it takes to complete a program, this benefit may also support academic success. In the same study, 49% of adult students who received PLA credit completed their postsecondary degree or certificate, while only 27% of students who didn’t receive credit achieved that goal.
“When you’re applying for a program and you have a lot of experience that you think is relevant, it’s always worth asking to see if there are ways to get credit or advanced standing based on what you already know and can do,” says Becky Klein-Collins, CAEL’s associate vice president, Advancement and Impact.
How Credit for Prior Learning Works
Credit you receive for prior learning will depend on a program’s guidelines and your ability to demonstrate your knowledge. You’ll find that programs differ on:
The number of prior learning credits they award
The types of courses you can skip
The total number of prior learning credits you can apply toward a specific program
Some programs may only allow you to apply general education courses or electives to prior learning credits. Other programs may have fewer restrictions and give you credits toward core nursing courses.
Another consideration: Nursing programs typically align with criteria set by state nursing boards, so your options may vary by state.
Pro Tip Make sure to verify that any prior learning credit meets the requirements of the state in which you will take your licensure exam. Otherwise, you’ll risk having an education that doesn’t qualify you for licensure.
With so much to consider, make sure to meet with an admissions counselor to figure out your eligibility for prior learning credits and the nursing program’s policies.
“Meeting with an advisor is an absolute must before you enroll or pay one penny of tuition or fees,” Klein-Collins says. “Typically, for adult students who are juggling a lot in terms of a current job, family responsibilities, and other responsibilities that you may have, you’re going to be prioritizing programs that are going make it easy to fit into your life and get you to where you want to go.”
Make sure to meet with an admissions counselor to figure out your eligibility for prior learning credits.
Many nursing programs are designed for students who want to progress from one level of nursing to the next. These programs award credit for formal learning and professional experience by designing curriculum that avoids duplication of coursework.
Here’s a look at some options.
If your school offers programs for more than one level of nursing, find out whether it offers stackable credentials. In this scenario, students who have earned a certificate, such as a CNA, may be able to progress to a licensed practical nurse diploma or Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) at the same school because the programs build on one another.
Bridge programs give consideration to the education, license, and professional credentials you’ve already earned. Some may also allow you to apply your professional experience toward program credits. Popular bridge programs include LPN to RN, and RN to BSN.
Accelerated nursing programs are geared toward students who have a bachelor’s or graduate degree in a non-nursing major. These programs allow students to concentrate on core nursing content and clinical skills without repeating the general education courses they took for their previous degree.
Transfer College Credits
If you have credits from an accredited school, you may be able to transfer them to satisfy some of the requirements in another program. Many schools have online calculators to determine if a course you’ve taken would count toward a course in a program you’re considering.
Find out if your previous school has agreements with other institutions that accept credits toward nursing programs. This is common among community colleges and four-year schools.
If you know most of the material presented in a class, you may be able to leverage your knowledge in a nursing program that offers competency-based education.
These programs allow you to skip semester- or quarter-long courses and test out of sections or units when you’ve learned the coursework, speeding your progress.
Pro Tip Even if you have transferable coursework, you’ll need to make sure it hasn’t expired. Many STEM courses expire after 10 years due to advances in science and technology.
“Particularly for occupational programs, where the programs are overseen by state licensing boards, there are likely stipulations about how long your credits are good,” Klein-Collins says.
Credit by Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)
If you have relevant knowledge or experience gained outside the classroom, you may be able to earn college credit from a PLA.
“When those opportunities are available, there would have to be some sort of formal evaluation or assessment of the learning that the student acquired from previous work experience, not simply an award of credit or advanced standing because a person held a specific position for a certain number of years,” Klein-Collins says.
This could be a good route if you’re a CNA or LPN without formal college credits but with relevant knowledge that you can demonstrate.
There are several assessments, so check with your nursing program to determine which ones they accept.
The most common assessments include:
CLEP and DSST
CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) and DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests) are approved by the American Council on Education (ACE) to award college credit:
DSST offers 37 exams accepted at more than 1,900 colleges and universities.
Passing a test by either group can entitle you to three or more college credits, depending on your school’s criteria.
Nursing Challenge Exams
Nursing challenge exams are tests created by nursing programs that allow students to demonstrate their knowledge of specific subjects.
The National League for Nursing (NLN) offers five Nursing Acceleration Challenge Examinations (NACE) for standardized evaluation of nursing knowledge. The exams are primarily for LPN students seeking advanced placement in RN or BSN programs and align with courses found in many nursing schools:
Nursing Care of the Child
Nursing Care of the Childbearing Family
Foundations of Nursing
Nursing Care of the Adult Client
Nursing Care of the Client with Mental Disorder
Nursing Portfolio Assessment
Some nursing programs accept a portfolio to determine whether you qualify for credit or advanced standing in a nursing program. A nursing portfolio typically includes:
Letters of recommendation
Continuing education certificates
It can also include awards, specialty certifications, and other documentation that proves your range of experience.
Nursing faculty review portfolios to determine if a person’s experience fits the program and the amount of credit or advanced placement they receive.
Credit for Training
You may be able to earn credits or advanced placement for employment, volunteering, or military training.
The American Council on Education (ACE) assesses non-college-based courses, exams, and professional licenses and credentials. You can search the ACE National Guide to find out if you’ve completed a program that may qualify for credit toward your nursing program.
The National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS) assesses training and educational programs offered outside the traditional college classroom. Search the NCCRS online directory to determine whether you’ve completed a course that may be eligible for credit.
Finding the Right Program
If you qualify for credit for prior learning, you’ll want to choose a program that offers the best reward for your knowledge.
“It’s important to ask really good questions about how well the program is connected to local employers where you are, so that they can help you find a job at the other end of it,” Klein-Collins says. “None of it is worth anything if you can’t get a job when you’re done.”
Five Questions to Ask About Credit for Prior Learning
When evaluating a nursing program, ask these questions to find out what you need to know about credit for prior learning:
How does the school award credit for prior learning or prior learning assessments?
What is the maximum number of transfer or PLA credits that I can apply toward the program?
How long will it take to complete the program with any transferred credits or credit for prior learning?
Does the school have a pathway for stackable certificates or degrees that I can apply toward this program?
Do local employers have a strong track record of hiring program graduates?
The demand for diversity, equity, and inclusion at colleges and universities has intensified amid the Black Lives Matter movement, prompting many schools to promise to address these issues. But if you’re looking at nursing schools, whether on-campus or online programs, and issues of diversity are a top priority for you, how do you determine if a school is truly invested in tackling these concerns?
“If you find a school that only utters the phrase ‘diversity’ when it’s only coming from its diversity office, then that school has a problem,” says Shielda G. Rodgers, PhD, RN, associate professor and assistant dean for Inclusive Excellence at the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Everyone on campus needs to buy into it.”
Considering diversity and inclusion issues will help nurses better understand the needs of different segments of the patient population and deliver better care to these groups.
To understand why diversity, equity, and inclusion can be crucial to a student’s academic experience and success, it’s first important to understand the terms.
Diversity encompasses the potential differences within a population. These differences include ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, race, gender, economic class, abilities, and life experiences.
Inclusion is the intentional and coordinated effort to help everyone, especially those in the minority, feel valued, supported, included, and encouraged to participate.
Equity recognizes that not everyone arrives from the same place with the same advantages and works to allocate college resources to students in greater need.
Diversity in educational settings benefits underrepresented students, whether they’re gender nonconforming, have a disability, or are in a racial minority. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Education, diversity actually benefits students of all backgrounds.
That’s because exposure to different cultures, perspectives, and experiences can improve critical thinking and analytical skills, and help students compete professionally in the growing global marketplace.
As a result, the nursing industry is working to keep pace with the changing population and expectations. The 2017 National Nursing Workforce Survey found that 19.2% of registered nurses (RNs) in the U.S. identified as racial minorities. However, the U.S. Census projects that by 2045, the majority population will be made up of non-white racial and ethnic groups. This will require a more diverse nursing workforce that provides quality care and is culturally sensitive.
In 2018-2019, a report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) found that from entry-level to doctoral nursing programs, around 34% of students were from minority populations. The association’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Group (DEIG) is working to improve engagement of underrepresented groups in schools and the workforce.
“If students find a fit where they feel like they belong both academically and non-academically, then they’re more likely to get their degree,” Rodgers says. “Otherwise, they could leave in one year.”
If you’re a student of color and you’re looking at nursing schools—or any schools for that matter—ask these nine questions to determine if a school is effectively executing a diversity, inclusion, and equity plan.
Does the school have a diversity and inclusion plan with measurable goals?
“Fundamentally, the diversity plan should be a major component of the school’s strategic plan whereby the primary mission should be to promote inclusive excellence—the integration of a standard of excellence not only in the academic realm but in all facets of inclusion and diversity,” says Rolanda Johnson, PhD, MSN, RN, and assistant dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Vanderbilt University’s School of Nursing.
Additionally, the school should use metrics, such as recruitment and graduation rates, to routinely track and report its progress and hold itself accountable for reaching its goals for diversity and inclusion.
Does the school have a detailed plan to not only achieve diversity but to also address discrepancies in retention and graduation rates among minority students?
While it’s important to learn if a nursing school participates in a pipeline program that fosters a diverse student body through partnerships with school districts or other postsecondary institutions, it’s also crucial that the school continuously supports its students to ensure they graduate.
What financial programs does the school offer to support economically disadvantaged students?
“Nursing schools are really expensive,” Rodgers says. She advises to comparison shop when considering schools by asking for a list of resources that are available to help cover the full cost of attendance.
That includes not only tuition and room and board but also books, school supplies, uniforms, testing, and traveling to a clinical site for training. There are many scholarships specifically for minority students but she advises, “Be aware of scholarships, grants, and financial aid packages that solely cover room, tuition, and board instead of the total cost of attendance.”
Does the school have funded programs or campus affinity groups to provide cultural and socio-economic support for minority students?
As with many health issues, the global COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the health of Blacks and Latinx communities, while Asians and Asian-Americans have often been on the receiving end of racial slurs regarding the virus’ origin. Schools should provide emergency financial aid to meet basic needs like food and shelter for students, as well as offer mental health services that address their emotional challenges during these stressful times.
Johnson says affinity groups can build a sense of community and belonging. “Students from underrepresented groups have often stated how having such groups are invaluable in that they are able to bond together based on common backgrounds and characteristics,” she says.
Does the school provide a variety of educational opportunities on topics of diversity, inclusion, and equity?
Johnson suggests looking for schools that allow students more opportunities to share their experiences and concerns broadly across the school. Some schools require students and faculty to learn about diversity and inclusion through coursework and workshops, an approach that helps educate white students and takes the burden off students of color to solely lead the charge.
This includes creating spaces for white students to learn about their own potential inherent biases, how to confront racial injustice, specific actions to be antiracist, and ways of holding one another accountable to help convert these learners into allies.
If a program is online, does it follow a diversity plan?
Johnson says online nursing programs should offer the same opportunities for community and inclusion. “Students must inquire about the strategies and/or plans universities or colleges have in place to create a sense of community virtually,” she says.
She suggests looking for the following, for example: regular check-in sessions held by faculty and student leaders on video conferencing platforms to create opportunities for ongoing communication; virtual meetings and activities organized by student groups to promote a sense of community for underrepresented groups; and virtual advisor-student meetings instead of email or phone conversations.
Does the school look beyond campus for perspectives on racial and social justice?
Schools should welcome a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds, including from community members off campus, when making decisions about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Including church leaders, advocates, and city officials in discussions and decisions can benefit campus culture and help the school carry out its policies.
Does the school have a hospitable campus that is safe and inclusive for all students?
Across the U.S., many student activists have called on their school leaders to remove sculptures, monuments, building names and accolades that honor controversial historical figures. Ask schools where they stand on these issues. Do campus police and the local police department have a plan in place to help students of color feel safe and welcome?
These circumstances can negatively affect some students. Rodgers strongly suggests that students look at the campus climate because in recent months, colleges and universities have “seen a resurgence in racism, and schools need to address all of that.”
Does the school have faculty and staff who are members of minority groups, and does it have a plan to increase those numbers?
According to the 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Education, in 2013-14, 74% of faculty members at the nation’s colleges and universities were white, while 5% were Asian, 4% were Black, and 3% were Hispanic. But a diverse faculty can have a deep impact on course curriculum, campus climate and the academic experience for all students.
There are three significant advantages to having a diverse faculty, according to the Center for Education Data and Research:
Students of color benefit from seeing people like themselves in positions of authority.
Faculty from minority groups often have higher expectations for their minority students.
Faculty who share similar cultures and backgrounds with students can better determine effective teaching strategies and interpret their students’ behaviors.
All of these benefits promote student achievement, so learning what nursing schools are doing to increase diversity among faculty and staff could be another key in finding the school that’s right for you.
Minority Nursing Groups and Associations
Joining a group or an association that supports minority nurses can be a powerful tool in networking and staying on top of important issues. These organizations are a great place to start.
The National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations (NCEMNA)
Black Nurses Rock
National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN)
Asian American Pacific Islander Nurses Association (AAPINA)
Because their roles are similar, the jobs of physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) are often confused. But there are many things—from philosophy to salary to eligibility requirements—that set them apart.
PAs and NPs are both non-physician providers (NPPs) whose duties can include performing physical exams, treating patients, and prescribing medications, but that’s where the two jobs begin to diverge.
The differences between their respective approaches to care, the levels of specialization they allow, and the types of education they require are among the key factors that might make one field a better fit for you than the other.
What Do Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners Do?
Thanks to the rigorous education and training standards for each profession, today’s PAs and NPs are qualified to perform a wide range of primary- and acute-care tasks. In addition to the duties described above, it’s common for PAs to administer immunizations, set broken bones and close incisions during surgery. The nurse practitioner can also assist in ERs and ORs, and they often also order and analyze tests, treat patients with chronic conditions and manage patients’ overall health.
While PAs are trained in general medicine, NPs specialize in chosen areas of medicine or population groups, such as pediatrics, gerontology, women’s health, or mental health.
NPs tend to have more autonomy. Twenty-two states plus the District of Columbia allows them to work independently, under the oversight of the state’s nursing board.
“This is a broad generalization, but you would typically find PAs in settings where they work directly with a specialist physician and often gain significant skill in technical or procedural tasks,” explains Leslie Flores, co-founder of Nelson | Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants, based in La Quinta, California. “NPs more often work in cognitive medical fields like family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine. Also, NPs tend to be more specialized.”
Primary- and acute-care tasks of general medicine.
Follows a disease-centered model, which focuses on identifying and treating a patient’s immediate ailment.
Medical offices, hospitals, outpatient care facilities.
National certification and a license from a state medical or PA board.
Master’s degree from an accredited program, combining classroom instruction with about 2,000 hours of clinical rotations. Doctoral programs available.
Salary data: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics
Primary- and acute-care tasks within a certified specialty.
Advanced nursing skills, with an emphasis on holistic patient-centered care.
Medical offices, hospitals, outpatient care facilities.
Specialty certification and a license from a state nursing board.
Master’s degree from an accredited program, combining classroom instruction with about 1,000 hours of clinical training. Doctoral programs available.
Salary data: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics
Which Job is Right for You?
An NP career is a smart choice for those with a passion for any of the profession’s specialty areas. Among those already working in healthcare, RNs have a head start, by virtue of the admissions policies for NP educational programs.
And if you’re an aspiring NP who has not yet completed your undergraduate education, you’d be wise to start working toward a BSN as soon as possible.
The PA profession, on the other hand, is great for those who want to perform a broad range tasks and procedures, without committing to specialization. The PA profession also gives those already working in a number of different healthcare occupations an opportunity to take the next step in patient care.
As a rule, of the two professions, NPs tend to have more autonomy, which may make the nurse practitioner job more desirable for those who prefer to work on their own. Twenty-two states plus the District of Columbia grant NPs full-practice authority, which allows them to work independently, under the regulatory oversight of the state’s nursing board.
Elsewhere, NPs work in collaboration with healthcare organizations, or under their supervision. PAs almost always work under the supervision of a physician.
No matter which path you choose to follow, the good news is that you’re likely to find high demand for your services. As Flores puts it, “The coming physician shortage is real, and the healthcare system will continue to be pressed to become more financially efficient.
“Since NPs and PAs are both quicker to train and less expensive than physicians, there will be an increased reliance on them going forward. Not only are the job prospects hot, but most NPs and PAs will find their career choice to be very rewarding.”
What Are the Education Requirements for NPs and PAs?
Aspiring PAs and NPs both typically need a master’s degree from an accredited program, though doctoral programs are available for both professions. (There’s been buzz in the industry for years about requiring those who hold advanced nursing degrees—like NPs and PAs—to earn a doctorate degree instead of just a master’s degree. There’s been no decision made yet.) Many are drawn to the professions because they allow practitioners to take on roles similar to those performed by medical doctors—without multiple years of medical school.
In addition to classroom instruction, the programs include training in clinical settings (about 2,000 hours for PAs; 1,000 hours for NPs), and usually take two to three years to complete. But this is about where the similarities end.
Eligibility Requirements for NP and PA Studies
The most significant differences between the two professions begin with the eligibility requirements. Most NP schools only accept registered nurses (RNs) with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), although some offer “bridge programs” for nurses with an associate’s degree or diploma.
The prerequisites for most PA programs include undergraduate courses in basic and behavioral sciences (think chemistry, physiology, anatomy, and others). Applicants typically also need between 500 and 1,000 hours of hands-on patient care experience, gained by working as a lab or emergency-room technician, paramedic, RN, certified nursing assistant (CNA), or other recognized occupation. (The requirements for patient-care hours and occupations vary by school.)
Programs Available for NP and PA Students
There are more than 250 accredited PA programs across the country, and they all typically progress from classroom instruction to clinical rotations focusing on the major areas of medicine, including family medicine, internal medicine, surgery and pediatrics.
By the time a program is finished, a student will have a deep understanding of medical knowledge, patient care, interpersonal communication skills, professionalism, and the other core competencies of the profession. Most programs culminate with a Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS), but other degrees, including Master of Medical Science certified (MMSc) and Master of Science Physician Assistant (MSPA), are available.
Family nurse practitioner programs are among the most common, but gerontology, adult care, emergency medicine, and mental health are among the other options.
NP programs, on the other hand, are offered by specialty, such as family nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, or pediatric primary care nurse practitioner. So, in addition to considering a school’s location and fees, you should also make sure it offers a program in your preferred concentration.
Family nurse practitioner programs are among the most common, but gerontology, adult care, emergency medicine, and mental health are among the other options, according to Sean DeGarmo, the director, APRN Initiatives at the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Most specialties are further segmented by a focus in primary care or acute care, DeGarmo says. Including the ANCC, there are five organizations that offer national certification for nurse practitioners. Overall, approximately 400 institutions offer accredited NP programs, and the most common degrees are Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
Online and hybrid programs typically combine virtual classes with clinical training in approved facilities in or near students’ hometowns. But even completely online programs usually require two to three campus visits for immersive on-site education and training.
In contrast, distance learning is still rare among PA programs. However, as a possible sign of things to come, Yale School of Medicine introduced its online PA program in 2018, making its MMSc the university’s first degree offered through an online program.
How Do Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners Get Certified?
After completing their educational program, PAs need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE) and apply for a state license. As you gain additional skills, you can seek a certificate of added qualification (CAQ), but these are only available for seven specialties, including emergency medicine, pediatrics and psychiatry. CAQs are optional, but all PAs need to complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and pass a recertification exam every 10 years.
NPs will need to pass the certification exam for their chosen specialty and apply for an advanced practice license from their state’s nursing board upon completion of the NP program. To maintain certification, NPs typically need to complete 1,000 clinical work hours and 100 hours of continuing education in their specialty every five years. Post-masters (and post-doctoral) programs, which usually require about a year of study and clinical training, are available for those seeking certification in a sub-specialty.
How Do PA and NP Philosophies Differ?
The modern educational standards and training programs for both PAs and NPs were established in the mid-1960s, and their respective job titles reflect their traditions. The curriculum in PA schools was created by physicians and is modeled after medical schools, with a disease-centered approach to care, which places the focus of treatment on the ailment or injury.
Similar to advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) (a designation also held by nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and other nursing positions that require a master’s or doctorate), NPs follow standards that are steeped in the holistic, patient-centered approach of nursing. In this approach, NPs consider factors such as a patient’s lifestyle and long-term health in developing treatment plans.
Where Do They Work?
The economics of healthcare has created demand for PAs and NPs in just about every healthcare setting. Americans are living longer, and as the population ages, the need for primary-care physicians keeps outpacing availability.
While NPs and PAs are well-paid, they tend to earn a little more than half as much as physicians. This makes both physician assistants and nurse practitioners attractive to healthcare administrators seeking cost-effective ways to add staff and treat more patients. That said, the lion’s share of jobs for both professions are in physicians’ offices and hospitals. According to the most recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
55% of PAs worked in physicians’ offices
26% worked in state, local, or private hospitals
Of the remainder, 8% worked in outpatient care centers, such as HMO medical centers, kidney dialysis centers, outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers, and other non-hospitals offering outpatient care
The lion’s share of jobs for both NPs and PAs are in physicians’ offices and hospitals.
When it comes to NPs:
47% worked in physicians’ offices
27% in hospitals and 9% in outpatient care centers
Though BLS does not further separate the data by APRN profession, NPs represented nearly 95% of the APRN population.
What’s the Career Outlook?
The most recent BLS figures reports that there were 118,000 PAs compared to 189,100 NPs. The agency expects the number of PA jobs to increase 31% by 2028, while NP jobs are expected to grow 28%. Both rates are considered much faster than the average for all occupations.
The BLS also reports that the mean, or average, salary for physician assistants was $112,410 in 2019. In general, PA’s working in outpatient care centers out-earned peers in other workplaces, followed by those working in general medical and surgical hospitals, physicians’ offices, and other settings.
At $111,840, the average salary for NPs in 2019 was a just a touch less than that for PAs. Top earnings, in order of workplace, like PAs include outpatient care facilities, hospitals, and physicians’ offices.
But those working in the offices of other health professionals still did pretty well—all averaging six figures—as did those working at colleges, universities, and professional schools.
Most of us know all too well the challenges that go along with maintaining the vital balance between our job and life. Add to that mix the energy needed to continue your nursing studies, and you may find yourself in a non-stop juggling act.
If you have decided to go back to nursing school—for career advancement or personal achievement—consider these nine strategies for finding balance and enjoying life in the midst of this potentially chaotic, but exciting time.
1. Organize Your Space
Set up a place in your home dedicated to your studies, whether a desk in a home office or a card table and chair in the living room. Use it to house your computer, books, supplies and other materials essential to your nursing studies. Knowing you have a space reserved just for school work will improve your mindset…and your chances for nursing career success.
2. Rely on Some Non-Technical Scheduling Tools
Post a calendar on or near your desk and update it regularly with class dates, project deadlines and special events. Also, print a list of email addresses and phone numbers of nursing instructors, classmates and school personnel who can help you when you’re at home.
3. Prioritize Your Projects
Take time at the beginning of each week to list the nursing school projects and deadlines for that week, and allot time to work on these items each day. Tasks become less daunting if you break them up into smaller chunks that you work on for one or two hours a day instead of at the last minute.
4. Expect Disruptions
Some weeks will be routine, but the unexpected will occur—at home, at work and at nursing school. In these cases, step back and reprioritize the rest of the week. Simply having a written plan that you can refer to for your next task can help you navigate around disruptions to your busy schedule.
5. Set a Realistic Schedule
When you schedule your nursing courses, consider everything else going on in your life. If work and family commitments allow time for one course a semester, don’t overburden yourself. You will end up resenting both school and life if you find yourself drowning night after night in coursework— and missing out on important events—when you could have set more realistic goals.
6. Communicate With Your Boss
Before you start nursing school, tell your manager of your plans, especially if you hope that your education will increase your chances for promotion or give you new opportunities at work. Employers might also offer tuition reimbursement and require your supervisor to approve your studies before you enroll.
7. Manage Your Stress
Your nursing education is important, but so is your health. Take time for deep breaths, exercise and fun. If you let school consume all of your free time—while work devours the rest—you may see your performance slide in both areas.
8. Focus on Your Nursing Career Goal
By going to nursing school, you have taken an important step forward in your life and career. At certain points, achieving balance between your education, work and life may take its toll. Remember the reason you started your education in the first place, and picture yourself completing your last class or receiving your nursing degree. The goals that motivated you to start school can serve as a great incentive to finish it.
9. Enjoy the Journey
Going to nursing school is challenging, liberating and self-affirming. You’ll meet new people, have unforgettable experiences, stretch yourself in ways you never imagined, and gain valuable insights into yourself. Take time to enjoy this special time. You’ll not only reap career rewards at the end, but will expand your horizons every step of the way.
“Minority” can be defined as a group that differs from the majority of the population in terms of religion, culture, ethnic background, race, sexual orientation or physical ability. “Underrepresented minority” refers to groups whose presence in different areas is disproportionate when compared to overall population figures. The number of African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander and Native American/Alaskan Native students enrolled in nursing programs is significantly lower than the percent of the population they comprise. This is why it’s important for minority nursing students to understand what is out there for them.
What are the prospects for minority nursing programs and students?
The demand for diverse types of nursing students is at an all-time high. Hospitals and health care providers need nurses who can establish strong patient-client relationships with growing minority populations. These communities often have a high proportion of immigrant and first-generation members who may have limited English skills. Nurses from similar backgrounds can gain the trust of these individuals; other nurses may not be so aware of cultural beliefs and practices that can influence treatment methods. A diverse nurse workforce is a crucial component of effective community outreach efforts, making minority nursing programs more popular than ever before.
Why are nursing schools interested in recruiting minority students?
Minorities tend to have less access to health care and disproportionate rates of illness when compared to traditionally white areas. Consequently, nursing schools want to recruit individuals who are sensitive to cultural differences and who desire to practice holistic medicine in underrepresented populations.
What is the status of affirmative action in colleges and universities?
In recent years, United States courts have handed down a series of contradictory judgments about affirmative action policies, which consider race as one of several factors during the admissions process. Some of these decisions have curtailed affirmative action in California, Washington, Texas and other states; others have affirmed that diverse classrooms are crucial to the education system and have upheld school policies.
Are more minority students enrolling in minority nursing programs?
The retention rate of minority nursing program students has been problematic due to numerous factors, including family duties and financial situations. Nursing schools are taking many steps to resolve the issue of retention rate:
In addition to creating greater academic and financial aid resources, several schools have established mentoring programs that match first and second-year students with advanced nursing students.
A diverse nursing school staff also helps minority students to feel more at ease; at this point, however, there are not enough minority doctoral candidates to fill the positions schools offer.
Revised curricula that focus on holistic approaches to patient care also encourage minority students to apply. These new programs tend to be more culturally sensitive, appreciating students who work easily with minority communities.
Even a guide that focuses specifically on nursing may not examine each individual department or specialty in depth.
Nursing schools are also increasing class accessibility for students who must balance education with work and family obligations. The number of online nursing programs continues to increase; in addition, schools are developing off-campus classes in locations near minority communities.
Are scholarships available for minority nursing students?
The Ethnic Minority Fellowship Program strives to increase the number of underrepresented minorities who work as nurses in the psychiatric/mental health fields. They offer annual stipends to pre-and-postdoctoral students.
The National Black Nurses Association offers several annual scholarships with award amounts that range from $500 to $2000. Eligible applicants must be members of the NBNA.
The National Association of Hispanic Nurses offers scholarships to nursing students who are members of NAHN.
Minority Nurse Magazine sponsors annual scholarships for minority students with outstanding academic records who have demonstrated personal commitment to health care professions. Minority Nurse also maintains a large database of scholarships for minority nurses that students can browse.
Indian Health Service offers scholarships to American Indian/Alaska Native students from federally or state recognized tribes who intend to serve native populations after completing school. These awards are open to undergraduate and graduate students from a number of health-related fields.
Are there any minority nursing student organizations?
Individual schools may have minority nurse student organizations in addition to larger minority student groups; contact each school for information. There are also national minority nursing organizations for professionals. Often, students can become members of these groups, which include:
Do nursing schools try to address the needs of diverse patients?
Many nursing programs have revised their curricula to train students about cultural diversity before they leave school. Often, new courses are designed to educate students about the unfamiliar cultural beliefs that they may encounter in minority populations. Minority nursing program students are encouraged to learn new languages in order to meet the needs of patients who speak limited English. Students are also exposed to the different risk factors and symptoms for various minorities, an increasingly-important practice that prepares nurses for the diverse communities in which they will practice.
With the current nursing shortage and demand for qualified nurses, the health care industry is hiring nurses, and they’re not just hiring women. Men in nursing are becoming more and more popular and for good reason—there are many opportunities and good pay.
Read the question and answer below to learn more about men in nursing and whether it is the right career move for you. Then find a nursing school and start your training today.
What percentage of American nurses are men?
According to the 2016 U.S. Census, approximately nine percent of American RNs are men—and that number is on the rise.
Why would I want to be a nurse?
Contrary to what you may think, nurses have unlimited opportunities for career development.
Do you want to work in a challenging, fast-paced environment?
Critical care nurses and military nurses have some of the most demanding and interesting jobs available.
Want to be on the cutting edge of science?
Nurse researchers and practitioners often have opportunities to employ the latest medical technologies.
Interested in a career in business that incorporates your desire to improve patient quality of life?
You might want to consider a joint MSN/MBA program to meet the criteria for a career in administration as well as nursing.
Need to work different shifts to spend time with your family?
Many nurses are not constrained by the 9-to-5 work shift that others must accept.
What are some of the advantages for men in a nursing career?
Many nurses, male and female, enjoy the amount of time that they can spend with patients on a daily basis. Nurses can work with any social group in countless settings, from county general hospitals to private family practices. Increasingly, doctors and nurses view each other as peers in the health care field; nurses are respected members of the profession who bring their own unique experiences to the field. So this can be a great profession for both women and men in nursing with today’s many opportunities!
From doctors to patients, many people rely on nurses every day and night. While the job can be immensely rewarding, it can also be taxing. When nurses are frustrated, overworked or unsupported, this can be felt by both a medical institution’s staff and patients. As more people enter the health care system and the nursing shortage continues, it’s not uncommon for nurse burnout to occur (although it’s not a new concept).
Here’s a look at how nurses can prevent or remedy this problem.
How Nurse Burnout Can Happen
Nursing burnout, which usually happens gradually, doesn’t discriminate; it can happen to a new or seasoned nurse at any point in their career.
In many cases, nurse-to-patient ratio is a leading cause. According to the American Nurses Association:
Nurse burnout, according to American Nurse Association: 1 in 3 nurses report inadequate staffing levels, 2 in 5 units are shorts-staffed, 54% report excessive workloads, 96 out of 100 nurses report fatigue at the beginning of their shift, half of nurses say they spend an insufficient amount of time with patients.
In these conditions, there is less time for patient/nurse education. In addition, patients can feel neglected and nurses feel they can’t provide enough quality care or participate in a team approach. Negativity breeds, tasks feel stagnant and daily satisfaction decreases.
Although some hospitals and other medical facilities work to keep nurse-to-patient ratios low, certain occurrences are unavoidable sometimes. Patient acuity—a determination of nurse staffing needs—changes or nurses may call out of work for family reasons or illness. These factors can make it difficult for an institution to accurately staff a shift, yet still leaves nurses overworked and stressed.
Combatting Nurse Burnout with Relaxation Techniques
A nurse’s work environment won’t change, but fortunately, there are ways to manage stress in the workplace. In May 2015, a study from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center released findings that nurses cut their stress by 40% using mindfulness techniques.
Over the course of eight weeks, a group of nurses in a surgical intensive care unit participated in mindfulness exercises, yoga, meditation, music, and gentle stretching and saw significant improvement in their stress levels.
If you’re suffering from high levels of stress at work, consider implementing these methods into your day.
Nurse Burnout and Education
Education, both inside and outside the hospital, can play a key role in addressing burnout. However, as more medical facilities focus on lowering their ratios, educating nurses is often one of the first things to be pushed aside.
Experienced nurses also have another challenge. They become fatigued doing both their own job and training news nurses on a regular basis.
In school, you’ll find that delegation is a hot topic (the NCLEX-RN even has questions about it). Students are taught the importance of communicating clearly, but trust issues can hinder delegation in a real-life setting. Employers expect new nurses to hit the ground running, yet many new graduates are unclear about delegation guidelines in their workplace.
Staying up-to-date on nursing technology can also help decrease the risk for burnout. In some cases, older nurses with decades of knowledge and experience retire because the stress of using new computer charting systems is too much. This means the health care system often loses quality caregivers.
Some nurses say that if a medical facility is willing to provide the education needed to help nurses, both new and experienced, burnout could decrease.
Earning an Advanced Nursing Degree
Nurses often look to school as a way to avoid burnout. Many thrive knowing they’re working toward a larger accomplishment. And, with so many online degree options, nurses can earn a degree while working.
Since burnout and compassion fatigue can occur when a nurse feels disconnected, many RNs return to school to study a specialty they’re passionate about. With a specialized degree, nurses may find more job opportunities in a setting they’re happier in. A specialized nursing career can also mean a better work schedule and increased salary in some cases.
An advanced degree in nursing can help take you out of the frenetic environment of a hospital or large medical facility. RNs who go on to become nurse practitioners often open a private practice while nurse educators can be found in the classroom. Nurse administration roles put you behind the scenes where you’ll manage nursing personnel and oversee budgets and staffing. In fact, you could be responsible for ensuring your nurses don’t suffer from burnout.
Nursing Burnout or Compassion Fatigue?
Nurses can experience one or the other, or both. While nurse burnout is typically associated with the work environment, compassion fatigue tends to occur when a nurse doesn’t take care of their mental, physical and emotional well-being.
Compassion fatigue causes a nurse to become apathetic and tends to occur among nurses who commonly see death or chronic illnesses. There are steps a nurse can take to battle compassion fatigue—exercise, maintaining a healthy diet and connecting with friends—which help many happily continue in their career. However, if burnout is left to fester too long, it’s not uncommon for a nurse to leave the field altogether.
Avoiding Burnout: A Nurse’s Advice
An RN with more than a decade of experience offers this advice and encouragement to nurses:
Shadow lots of nurses in different departments and at different hospitals
Look at hospitals that provide education and try to maintain a ratio
Connect with coworkers; you’ll share many great experiences together
Focus on eating right, exercising and getting support
Remember, after your first year or two of nursing you can always try another unit or floor in the hospital.
Nursing and Self-Care
You spend all day taking care of others as a nurse, but what about yourself? By performing basic self-care tasks, you’ll feel better, have more energy and avoid burn out.
A 12-hour shift is a long time if you’re not eating right, or not eating at all. The good news is you don’t have to familiarize yourself with vending machine options. Many hospitals across the country have implemented wellness programs and revamped their cafeteria food options.
Although the primary goal for many facilities is to improve patient satisfaction, hospital staff can also benefit from the changes. Instead of processed meals, hospital foodservice companies are introducing more whole grains (quinoa burgers, anyone?) into their meals and utilizing an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit.
After the Cleveland Clinic began offering healthier options, many staff members started losing weight. Sugary beverages were eliminated and fryers were replaced with ovens. Cooks now chop more fresh vegetables instead of opening canned goods. Meanwhile, New York City runs the “Healthy Hospital Food Initiative” which includes guidelines on ways hospitals can improve the nutritional content of their food.
If you don’t work in a medical facility with healthy options, you can pack easy-to-transport snacks and meals. Here are a few ideas:
Easy-to-carry fruits (apples, peaches, oranges, and plums)
Hummus and cut vegetables
Plain yogurt mixed with raw nuts or fresh fruit
Sandwiches with lean meats, like turkey or chicken
Feeling fatigued? Nurses often rely on coffee for a caffeine boost, but go easy. Too much coffee can cause jittery feelings and a subsequent crash. Tiredness can also be caused by dehydration. Be sure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout your shift. Non-caffeinated herbal teas are another great option.
Running around caring for patients will burn calories, but nurses need more than that to stay well. Taking a few minutes to complete a few purposeful exercises not only revs up the metabolism, but has a mind-clearing and stress-reducing effect.
Squats: Stand up straight with legs hip-width apart. Squat down as if you’re almost sitting in a chair and hold the position for 10 seconds. Be sure you’re not leaning forward, which can strain your knees. Return to standing position and repeat.
Take the stairs: Get a short cardio boost by climbing a few flights of stairs.
Shoulder shrugs: Keep a set of 2- or 5-lb weights in your desk or cabinet to perform these exercises. With weights in hand, slowly lift your shoulders and slowly lower back down.
Incorporating these tips into your daily nursing routine will help keep you alert, focused and ready to care for others.