In many people’s minds, the “typical” nursing student is an 18- to 22-year-old enrolled in a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree program at a college or university. However, there are many degree options available for aspiring nurses at all stages of life—even if you’re a nontraditional student—and you’ll be graduated and putting on your scrubs before you know it.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a nontraditional student meets one of seven criteria: delayed enrollment into postsecondary education, attending college part-time, working full time, financially independent for financial aid purposes, dependents other than a spouse, single parents, or those without a high school diploma. If any of these describe you and you’d like to go back to school to get your nursing degree, here are seven online programs that anyone from around the country can take.
1. St. Xavier University
St. Xavier has numerous online options for those looking to earn nursing degrees. It offers an RN-to-BSN program for currently licensed registered nurses who have completed an associate degree in nursing (ADN) from an accredited school of nursing and are looking to take the next step in their education. St. Xavier was also named the best online master’s nursing program by U.S. News and World Report, and it offers three master of science in nursing (MSN) tracks online: clinical leadership, executive leadership, and nurse educator. If you’re not looking for the full degree, St. Xavier also offers certificates in clinical leadership and nurse educators.
2. Medical University of South Carolina
The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) offers an online RN-to-BSN program, which is a 12-month program that covers three consecutive semesters, allowing registered nurses to earn their bachelor’s degrees in just a year. The online program is designed specifically for working adults. MUSC also offers several online advanced degrees in nursing, including a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) and a PhD in nursing science, though some of the courses may require a visit to campus.
3. Johns Hopkins
Johns Hopkins is an incredibly well-respected name in the medical community—and you can earn a graduate nursing degree from the university online. Johns Hopkins provides an MSN in health systems management both by itself and in combination with an MBA. It also offers a DNP in three specialties: adult-gerontological health clinical nurse specialist, adult-gerontological critical care clinical nurse specialist, and pediatric critical care clinical nurse specialist. You can also earn a DNP Executive Track, either on its own or in combination with an MBA. Finally, Johns Hopkins offers a couple post-master’s certificates for nurses looking for even more education.
4. George Washington University
George Washington offers a wide range of online programs for nurses of all experience levels. It has both RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN programs, as well as four other master’s programs for adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners, family nurse practitioners, nurse-midwifery, and nursing leadership and management. Other options include three post-MSN certificate opportunities, two post-BSN doctoral degrees, and two post-MSN doctoral degrees, including a DNP degree.
5. The University of Texas at Tyler
The great state of Texas has equally great online programs for nursing students through the University of Texas at Tyler. Its RN-to-BSN track has a flexible schedule and graduation date, so you can proceed through the coursework at your own pace as your current job allows. Their graduate options include four MSN programs (administration, dual MSN administration/MBA, education, and family nurse practitioner), four certificate programs (post-master’s administration, post-master’s education, post-master’s family nurse practitioner, and post-baccalaureate health care informatics), two PhD programs (MS-to-PhD and BSN-to-PhD) and one doctor of nursing practice (DNP). As an added bonus, the University of Texas at Tyler was named the #1 most affordable online master’s in nursing program.
6. Duke University
Duke’s School of Nursing has been using distance-learning education strategies for more than two decades, and the school has honed its creative approach to distance teaching and learning over the years. Some programs do include a few short on-campus intensive sessions, usually two to three days in length, but the commitments are minimal. Duke offers a doctor of nursing practice as well as eight different nurse practitioner tracks for their master of science in nursing: adult-gerontology (primary and acute), family, neonatal, pediatric (primary and acute), psychiatric mental health, and women’s health. It also offers three systems MSN degrees in nursing and health care leadership, nursing education, and nursing informatics.
7. University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati’s reputation as a great online nursing school has spread: The school’s number of distance learners has been increasing, and the website boasts that more than 62% of the student body is now enrolled in online classes. Most of its graduate nursing degrees are offered completely online, though a few courses do have minimal on-campus requirements for clinical or lab work hours, so don’t forget to pack your nursing bag. The school offers four MSN specialty programs (adult-gerontological primary care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, nurse midwifery, and women’s health nurse practitioner) as well as two post-master’s certificates (psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and family nurse practitioner).
If online classes don’t appeal to you, see if any schools in your area offer a nursing degree for working adults who usually rely on night and weekend classes in order to accommodate work schedules. And no matter how your get your degree, you’ll have to study for and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) exam if you haven’t already and perhaps pass additional licensure requirements depending on your state.
Whether you’re a working nurse looking to take the next step or a young professional looking to switch careers, there’s a nontraditional degree program out there for you. Thanks to the recent breakthroughs in education technology, students can now attend nursing degree programs online anywhere, anytime, and these seven well-respected programs are a great place to start.
I recall my first clinical rotation as being one of the most exciting but stressful experiences as a student nurse. I was excited to finally apply the theories that we were taught in class to the ‘real world.’ However, I soon realized I was very unprepared. From the very early start times, extremely long days, and limited support from some faculty and peers as I ventured down this new path ultimately resulted in exhaustion and feeling unprepared. These feelings eventually affected my self-confidence more times than I care to admit. In addition to that, let’s not forget the culture of the units that I would be assigned to for weeks at a time. No one told us that the nurses would scatter when they saw students enter the ward and those that were forced to be with us made it known that they were not pleased with having us ‘tag along.’
Based on my personal experiences, I decided to put together a few key steps that I know would have been beneficial to me when I was a student nurse entering my clinical rotations and hopefully will be a benefit to you today.
1. Be Prepared.
- If you’re able to get some basic information regarding your specific patient or the types of patients on that unit a night or two before your clinical day, take some time to do some research.
- Look up the diagnosis and medications attributed to these patients.
- Write this information down in a small notebook that you can keep in your pocket that is easily accessible for you to review.
2. Be Early.
- It’s a good practice to start this habit now in preparation for the real work world. Treat clinicals like your job!
- Arrive a minimum of 15 minutes early. Grab some coffee or tea and take this time to review your material. This will also give you a few minutes of alone time with your clinical instructor, which is always a plus.
3. Look the Part.
- I know that ‘looking good’ is NOT on the list of priorities for someone who is sleep deprived and stressed. However, it’s necessary and will leave a positive lasting impression.
- Always make sure you are dressed per your school’s policy. If scrubs are provided or purchased, make sure they are always neat and pressed. If you are like me (i.e., not a morning person), pick a day during the week to complete this small task and NOT the night before.
- Carry a small personal hygiene bag with you always so that you can ‘freshen’ up midday. This will revitalize you, especially if your clinical days are long.
- Most importantly, don’t forget your necessary equipment: pens, stethoscope, penlight, scissors, etc.
4. Be Professional.
- ALWAYS address your patient by Mr. and Mrs./Ms. unless they say otherwise, especially with patients who are older than you are. This is not only professional but also respectful.
- ALWAYS introduce yourself to your patient when you enter their room and let them know that you are a student nurse and will be a part of their care team for the day.
- Most importantly, SMILE. Patients and staff will appreciate it.
5. Be an Active Participant.
- It’s OKAY to say ‘I don’t know but I will find the answer for you.’
- It’s important to ASK for help when needed. As we all know, there is no I in TEAM.
- I encourage you to ASK questions and ANSWER questions. This shows that you are not only prepared but eager to learn.
- Whenever possible, volunteer to observe as many procedures as possible. The more you can observe the better!
Lots of nurses get into the field because they like to help people and they get deep satisfaction from the nursing duties that allow them to do that. Many nurses are also fascinated with science and with always advancing their own knowledge to help patients or to discover how nursing can impact lives in the most helpful and positive manner.
With so many nursing career choices, those who are especially inclined to dig into the scientific background and facts around nursing might consider a role as a nurse researcher.
According to the National Institute of Nursing Research, “Nursing research develops knowledge to:
- Build the scientific foundation for clinical practice
- Prevent disease and disability
- Manage and eliminate symptoms caused by illness
- Enhance end-of-life and palliative care”
Nurse researchers are typically removed from daily patient interaction, but their skills are no less crucial. Using their knowledge and education, nurse researchers build a career designing, carrying out, and/or interpreting the results from studies. Researchers may follow their own interests to find out how to best advance care or cures or they might fulfill the research needs of their organization.
Beyond a nursing education, nurse researchers must have advanced training in research methodologies so they know how to design studies and interpret the results in an unbiased and accurate manner. This training is often obtained during MSN studies or even in a PhD curriculum (researchers are often funded for their PhD work). You’ll be able to explore your interests by focusing on specific areas, whether that is a disease, pharmacology, a body mechanic, or medical devices.
Nurse researchers are an important piece of the healthcare puzzle as they are able to establish the building blocks to help patients have a better quality of life, to cure disease, or to make the tasks of medical professionals easier, more efficient, and more effective. With your research skills, you’ll be able to examine how to improve the lives of individuals, groups, communities, and specific populations to bring to light new information or to interpret old information in a new and groundbreaking way.
If you are particularly interested in the science behind nursing, finding our more about a career as nursing researcher can set you on an ideal career path. Associations like the Eastern Nursing Research Society or the Midwest Nursing Research Society are great places to start investigating.
Student nurses don’t need anyone to tell them their lives are busy. With school, work, families, and a personal life, many student nurses are juggling more than most people. Tamar Rodney, MSN, RN, PMHNP-BC, CNE | PhD-c, is a Geneva Foundation/Jonas Veterans Healthcare Scholar 2016-2018 at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and is no exception.
To celebrate today’s observation of National Student Nurses Day, Rodney gave some insight to what life is like for a graduate student in nursing school. As a PhD candidate in nursing, she has been through the rigors of nursing school for a while. What she knows is that her dedication and the time spent on her education is going to bring her to the place she wants to be. Along the way, says Rodney, the journey itself is pretty amazing.
“I love being a nurse, and having the opportunity to make someone’s day or life better,” she says. “I felt drawn to nursing because I admired my memories of childhood reactions to nurses. Their presence meant someone was here to help. I have always carried that image with me of bringing a sense of comfort, security, and a sense of care to someone else.”
Rodney knew going for her PhD would be hard work, but she says her patients were her inspiration and continue to be the motivation to learning as much as she can. “My journey to pursue a PhD was influenced by the day-to-day care of my patients,” she says. “I saw problems that were not addressed and felt like having concrete research would be a good way to start being able to answer those questions.”
And while continuing her education is far from easy, it has brought her a level of satisfaction and of personal and professional growth. “Graduate school is as challenging as I thought it would be,” she says, “but I also got the opportunity to think independently and explore questions that I was interested in. I could finally expand my thinking about ways to provide better care for my patients. I also saw the direct link and importance of collaborating with other healthcare providers and disseminating research for implementation at the bedside.” Eventually, she says, she would like to combine the teaching, research, and practice areas of nursing into one career.
Rodney completed her LPN and RN at Dickinson State University in Dickinson ND, and she started out her career as an LPN working in a nursing home. “I loved it,” she says, “and felt like I would get a new history lesson every day I went to work.” From there, she worked in inpatient psychiatry, primarily to learn more about mental health and how better to approach treatment and diagnosis. It was during that time that she began her MSN program at the University of Vermont.
Discovering a new passion for mental health, Rodney took advantage of certification and gained her psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner certification. “I recently completed my PhD studies at The Johns Hopkins University, exploring biomarkers for PTSD in military personnel and veterans with traumatic brain injuries.” All of her studies are helping her get closer to where she wants. “My ultimate goal is to change the way we approach diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders,” she says.
Like nursing practice, a nursing career isn’t done in a vacuum. Joining a professional organization (Rodney belongs to the Graduate Nursing Student Academy) is a way to network and share resources with other student nurses. “Having completed my program I now have a large network of other young professionals with whom I can collaborate and have as supportive resources,” say Rodney.
And graduate school itself offers opportunities for growth that are unexpected, because you are finding the answers but also beginning to ask the deeper questions. “Graduate work in nursing is a unique way to advance one’s personal understanding of nursing practice, an opportunity to deliver the best care possible and advance nursing research and practice,” she says. “You can explore those questions that you have an interest in and explore innovative ways to answer it.”
Getting into nursing school is a huge achievement, but for many students, getting in is only the first step. Paying for nursing school is the next hurdle.
When you look at your final financial aid package, there’s likely a bit of a gap between the amount of aid you will get—including grants, federal loans, and scholarships from the school—and the final amount on the bill. There are a couple of ways to bridge this gap with personal savings and personal loans being common routes.
But if you do a little work, you’ll uncover a potential resource many people aren’t aware of.
Scholarships are an excellent way to help pay for your education. There are many scholarships available and they are not all dependent on having a 4.0 GPA. Of course, the Minority Nurse scholarshi p list is a great place to start, but there are also other places you can find funds to offset what you owe.
Scholarships do require work. You’ll have to do some research to find them, but with so many sites and lists available, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. Many scholarships require a short essay, but some only require an application. Scholarships based on financial need will likely require you to fill out information about your financial status and your income.
As a nursing student, there are many options to look into. If you are a a member of a professional organization, like the National Black Nurses Association, look into what they might offer. Student nurses can check into the Foundation of the National Student Nurses’ Association, Inc., to see what kinds of opportunities they have available. You can investigate opportunities specifically for minority nursing students as well like the one offered by Cherokee Nation.
One you have looked into professional organizations, check your community for scholarships, too. May local groups have specific funds set aside for students pursing higher education. If you have actively volunteered, say for a local fair or a community event, look into those parent organizations as well.
Once you have found scholarships, apply! Triple check to make sure you have included all the information they need to consider your application, and then get everything in by the due date.
With a little work, you can graduate with less debt.
Did you ever look back upon your career and reflect on those humble beginnings? As educators, we sometimes forget that it was not easy to aspire to the higher academic goals we have been so fortunate to have attained. When we counsel our students, we must not disregard that they too have many barriers to overcome in their journey to be successful. In retrospect, we can embrace the challenges we must face in the effort to ensure our students’ academic success.
One morning during break, I overheard one of my student’s discussion with her colleague regarding how lucky she was that her children would be cared for over the weekend. This would allow her time needed to study for the final exam. Knowing this student, I was aware that she was a single parent and working mom, and more importantly, my student was pursuing a future career in nursing no less. It was a revelation that this fortunate incident for her was not expected, but was a gift. I began to ponder how this student would have prepared for the final if the childcare issues had not been resolved. Upon review, I realized that this student’s grades were not always consistent. During counsel, her excuses for poor grades or incomplete homework assignments were due to illness (whether be it her own or one of her children’s) or because of a busy work schedule, which entailed all shifts conceivable. So, when did she have time to study?
Lack of study time was also noticeable in the part-time evening students. I recall the blank stares on their faces during a Q&A session in preparation for the day’s lesson. Upon inquiry, the group confessed that they had not prepared for the evening’s lecture in their attempt to balance work, family, homework, and study hours. The weekends had been relegated to study time in preparation for the upcoming week’s assignments, albeit incomplete. Add this to childcare, spousal duties, and familial responsibilities and you have one overworked, fatigued, and ill-prepared nursing student.
Many times, as educators we focus on the negative aspects of our students: the fatigue, lack of engagement during lecture or clinical, and the behavioral issues (tardiness, absenteeism, and disputes with colleagues). This can hinder our ability to focus on putting interventions into place to enhance our students’ learning abilities. We might complain about time consumed due to providing an inordinate amount of time with a student that was not responding to intense tutelage. Perhaps we should invest in discussions about the ever-changing policies affecting our curriculum or work hours. Somehow, the drudgery of this negative outlook overshadows a focus on the academic pursuits of those struggling to attain a portion of our accomplishments. We must be sensitive to the vulnerability of this population during their journey. Whether it be in the case of the traditional, the returning, or the recycled adult learner, financial constraints are taxing. Adhering to professional and attendance policies takes effort. Striving to maintain a precarious balancing act to function commendably in multiple roles are all central themes of the adult learner. In acknowledging this, it is incumbent upon us to assist our students in getting past these barriers.
I have contemplated methods to assist nursing students, which have resulted in better outcomes. Some interventions I have put into place have made the difference in my students’ success as evidenced in their test scores. The following interventions are worth noting:
- Games: the Millennials love them. Who said learning should be boring? The younger generation thrives off the technological support, which surreptitiously enhances learning. The games can be competitive, informal, and applied individually or after breaking the class into groups. Games are used best when they can be accessed as a resource after classroom sessions as a study tool before testing.
- Provide a quick recap at the end of class. Some students may be so attentive during lecture that they do not take notes that were imperative to have as a review for the next test. This is easy to rectify by providing a short review of pertinent facts at the end of the day, paying special attention to the material that will be included on the test. This quick review gives the learner another chance to process and make note of what the instructor was attempting to stress in the previous lecture(s). This may seem redundant, but we cannot forget that this is all new information for the learner.
- Remind the student of your availability. I state my office hours on a weekly basis most emphatically after testing. This publicly reinforces my commitment to their learning needs and hopefully abates their reluctance to seek my instruction.
- Review one-on-one over the previous tests taken with students who have scored poorly. Allow the student to reflect, write, and question the material covered in the test(s). Educators have gained insight about their students during these sessions (e.g., what type of learner they are, if there are linguistic barriers, and/or if there is a lack of effective study habits). This session also establishes a rapport between you and the learner, which can be motivational.
- Allocate extra time to be available for hours before testing. You would be surprised to see how many students will attend for review after a long, clinical day in anticipation of a test pending the next day. Is it more time consuming? Not nearly as much as counseling them one-on-one would be.
These are a few tips I have used to incorporate in teaching my students before I notice a decline in test scores. As I look back on my humble beginnings, I realize that the barriers I encountered are not so different. I am fortunate enough to have had support and encouragement throughout my career as a student and as a practitioner. It is as challenging for both the educator and the learner; diligence is required from all parties. But we are in the trenches together. We all had to start somewhere.