Nurses: Help Requested

I got a call from the friend of a friend, a young male, and he has a question I’m not terribly qualified to answer: what should he do to get into the Nursing field, de novo?

I am asking, on his behalf, for constructive input.  Keep the snark to yourself, this is for those interested in entering the worthy profession of nursing.


  1. Depends on his background, but step 1 should be to make an appointment with someone in the admissions office at a nearby school of nursing – preferably one he’s considering.

    Nursing was my second major, but fortunately I’d been a science major first and had nearly all the prerequisites covered. If he’s in a similar position, he should consider BSN schools as a first choice, because it won’t take any longer to get that degree than an AA.

    If he’s really young, as in still in high school, he should still consider the BSN as a first option if he or his family can afford 4 years of college. This is not because the BSN magically makes one a better nurse, but because it keeps your options much more open. That and I believe that I am a better nurse (not better than anyone else) because of the additional education.

    If he’s going to be supporting himself while he goes to school, then he’ll need to look at other factors – like being able to eat while he studies. In that case, the community college programs may be his best bet.

  2. –Obvious, but ensure you have taken all classes needed for entrance into a nursing program. These should be clearly listed on the program’s website or whatever. Make sure your credits will transfer to your college-of-choice! Also, don’t completely suck at science/chemistry.

    –If he has a bachelor’s degree in “something else” (biology etc), he can apply to a university that has a BS to BSN [Bachelor of Science in Nursing] program. My college had one where you could complete your nursing training in 18 months if you wish to go year-round, including summers.

    –Where I’m from, it’s essential to have a high GPA to get into any program. My BSN program, which I started in 2001, had a minimum 3.5 GPA (based on your GPA from nursing prerequisites) to have a decent chance of getting in due to the large # of applicants. Not sure about TX or anywhere else though.

    –Appear somewhat interested in medicine/patient care/research careers by having one already or volunteering in something medically-related. I worked as a student research assistant and unit secretary before applying to nursing school. Most, but not all, students in my class had some sort of medical job like “nursing assistant”. Some programs require this certification before entry, so check. I “challenged” my CNA certification (meaning took the test with no formal training) and passed after my 1st semester of nursing school. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to get.

    –As someone who has a 4-year nursing degree, I’d recommend (unlike Judy) to anyone who is looking to get into nursing out of high school to, instead of what I did, get a 2-year RN degree first then use the hospital’s education funds (a benefit of many hospitals) to obtain your BSN. You’ll get two more years of nursing income and nearly 2 free years of college out of it. There are many RN-to-BSN programs that have flexible/nighttime course scheduling. The difference in pay is only 70 cents/hr between RN and RNs with BSNs at my hospital. The extra education is valuable, but not essential for a nursing career unless one has aspirations of advancement like moi

  3. I would strongly recommend that anyone wanting to go into nursing make sure they understand what the work is like. Working in a hospital, even part-time, is a good way to get this sense.

    If he still wants to go into nursing after that, the starting point depends on whether he has the financial resources to go to school full-time or not.

    One can still become an LPN these days, but it’s not a very marketable degree anymore, so an RN at the least and preferably a BSN give lots of flexibility. Beyond that, physician’s assistants or nurse practitioners are even more advanced possibilities.

    The hospital I work at has responded to the nursing shortage* by helping employees pay for their nursing education, in exchange for agreeing to work for the hospital after graduation.

    *As with teachers, there probably isn’t a shortage of people who have nursing degrees, but a shortage of those willing to work in the conditions and hours that nurses many times are faced with. Something to consider and try to understand before going into the field.

  4. I’m just about finished with nursing school. It’s my second career, and I had avoided the sciences like the plague previously (I have a B.A. and M.A. both in humanities type fields). I’d double and triple check that the young man in question has his prerequisites done. Nursing faculties are not nearly as clear as they think that they are. I’d also recommend the A.D.N. route rather than the B.S.N. It’s a lot cheaper, most hospitals (at least in my area) pay for B.S.N. completion and offer astounding discounts on M.S.N., and the pay is only about $0.25/hr for A.D.N. vs B.S.N. A second benefit of A.D.N. programs is that the dean is usually a Dean of Sciences, rather than just nursing. Having been in a B.S.N. program in which the Dean was also a member of the nursing faculty and transfering to an A.D.N. program in which the Dean was not a member of the nursing faculty, I’ve found the latter dean to be much more responsive and interested in student concerns than the former.

  5. All the above advice is excellent!

    In a perfect world, I’d do the Associate’s Degree first and then do my BSN in an RN-to-BSN program, just to start making money as fast as possible. But…here in California, it can take just as long to obtain the ADN as the BSN because they won’t admit you to the nursing part of the program until the prerequisites are done!

    Given that, it is probably good to just go for the BSN if affordable. In CA, there is no difference in pay (at least in the SF Bay Area) but the BSN does give you more options.

    I absolutely, positively want to encourage your friend to go into nursing!!!!!!


    1. Research the schools he would like to go to. Even out-of-state ones, if he wants to go away to school.

    2. Do some volunteer work in a hospital setting. Just be in the environment. In my ER, our volunteers are indispensable. Watch the nurses. Talk to the nurses. Don’t listen to the burned out ones! : D And remember, there is more to nursing than just bedside hospital nursing – a nurse can work in many fields in many places!

    3. Start taking classes while you are exploring programs. Basic classes that transfer to the university level if you are in a junior college. Anatomy and Physiology (or Biology), Chemistry, Microbiology. You will need English. Math. Psychology. Probably Sociology. Most degree programs have a History requirement. Again, make sure that every single class you take at the junior college level is transferable to a university. I did this, and now 29 years later, all those non-nursing classes I took (I did some extra) transferred to the BSN program.

    4.Get a list of the pre-requisites and required courses from several schools in your area – just so you have an idea of what they are looking for.

    5. Study! Lots! But don’t stress out – try to enjoy the process of learning. When I was eighteen all I wanted to do was get out of school asap and work. Now, I am really enjoying my BSN classes and appreciating the knowledge I am learning.

    And Grunt Doc, please feel free to give my email address to your friend if they want some one-on-one ecouragement!!! : ) I did some posts that cover this material and I can send them the link.

  6. But…here in California, it can take just as long to obtain the ADN as the BSN because they won’t admit you to the nursing part of the program until the prerequisites are done!

    All of the 4-year programs in my state also made you take the pre-requisites before admission. My program had 500 qualified applicants (those who’d taken the pre-requisites and obtained the minimal GPA for entrance) and 96 spots in the program. They really want to weed out those who are not good in sciences/prerequisites before they let you into the nursing program so that all or most of the people who get in graduate and become nurses.

  7. Um…. yeah, as above. Holy cow you guys all get up early!!

  8. I teach clinical nursing for an ADN program in North Texas. GD, since you live in North Texas I am assuming that the individual asking for information is in Texas also. I agree with all the previous comments. One thing that I do want to point out is that number of apllicants far outnumber the available faculty and therefore the number of available spots in any nursing program anywhere in the US. It is important to take all the prerequisits and work to keep an acceptable GPA. GPA is not all that is taken into consideration though, work or volunteer history and school activities play a big part in the selection process as do the letters of reccomendation and application essays.

    It is easier to get into BSN programs, it is a big advantage if he is bilingual or multilingual. There are scholarships and grants available for minority students and they are actively recruiting men.

    Good luck to this young man.

  9. Mike Rhodus says:

    In my opinion, once you are in school, you need to work somewhere in the field (such as a nurse tech) and get acclimated. It will help you as you study and even if you only work 8-12 hours a week, for that short time you are surrounded by invaluable resources with whom you can discuss your current subject of study. I am in nursing school and when I finish, it will be to the credit of the doctors and nurses I spend my weekends with.

  10. One more thing. The other advantage of volunteering or working in a hospital is that if you are conscientious, you’ll have people willing to write letters of recommendation for you when you apply to nursing school. That can be the factor which tips the scales.

  11. Just finished my BSN in California, as a second career.

    It’s really important that he understands the duties and tasks. I figured that since I had changed diapers for my (now adult) kids, I could do the same for patients, so there just isn’t anything ‘too yucky’ a priori.

    Then he needs to know just how much his program will take over his life. If he does not yet have them, “A” grades in Chemistry, Microbiology, General Biology, Anatomy and Physiology and introductory Statistics are just about required – because of the shortage of spaces, programs are competitive (unless they’re run on a lottery system) for admission. For my year, we had ~800 applicants for 65 slots; that was quickly whittled down to about 350, based on pre-requisites. And he’d be far better off doing all of his university ‘general education’ requirements before he starts a program.

    First year, you get to use the A&P and Chemistry in Pathophysiology and Pharmacology classes, as well as nursing skills classes; the other big change is learning to ‘think like a nurse’, really understanding the ‘nursing process’, learning vocabulary.

    Second year was 6 5-week rotations in the required areas. Each was at a hospital, different days and times each rotation and different times on days within a rotation – for example, mornings on Monday, mids on Wednesday; because that schedule changes every 5 weeks, it’s tough to schedule other classes outside of Nursing. I used to watch television. I don’t much, any more, because I didn’t have time second year.

    And if he can fit it in, learning yoga or martial arts, something that teaches good body mechanics and flexibility, will be a big help.

    Worth it all, I think.

  12. Sailorman says:

    Not a nurse, but various family members are.

    My non-nurse advice:

    Know your local job market, or the market where you want to settle. The much-vaunted “nursing shortage” is all well and good. But in your local market, it may translate into “we have a lot of openings for CNAs working 3rd shift” and opposed to “we have a lot of openings for first shift labor and delivery nurses.”

    Again: Know your local job market. How willing are the hospitals to hire new nurses? Where will you get your experience?

    And again (for the last time:) WHAT SHIFT will you have to work?

  13. I have a question, and it may sound stupid, but I mean it very sincerely. With nursing programs so competitive, why is there a nursing shortage? Is it created by nursing schools? Is it that there are really so many unqualified applicants that you have to have a 5:1 applicant to acceptance ratio in order to get qualified people? Is it poor planning on the part of the people deciding how many nurses to train? Seriously… I’m curious.

  14. 3 major contributors to the nursing shortage, IMO.

    1. Schools of Nursing are understaffed and have to turn away qualified applicants.

    2. Hospital administrators (not all of them) see nurses as cogs in a machine and drive nurses out of the field by the way they treat them.

    3. The economy. Most nurses are still women. Married women. When the economy is good and husbands are working, more nurses work part time or not at all. When the economy sucks, nurses come out of the woodwork to support their families until things get better.

    So fix 1 and 2 and find a way to get more men into nursing.

  15. Follow on to Judy: 1(a) or 3(a) Nursing professors are not paid so well as practicing nurses.

    The California Nurse’s Association ( has this bit on one of their bragging pages:
    Highlights of what is included in various CNA contracts:
    Salaries and differentials
    # New grad rates up to $39.50/hr for day shift
    # Experienced staff nurses earn up to $59.16/hr
    # Nurse Practitioners earn up to $60.67/hr
    # Per Diem nurses earn a 25% differential in lieu of benefits
    # Nurses working the PM shift earn an extra 10%
    # Nurses working the night shift earn an extra 15%
    # Weekend differential of 30%
    # Charge nurses earn 5% premium

    New California State University professors do not make about $79K per year – a full time Lecturer gets about $53,500 at the moment (new contract this year will increase that to about $65K at the end of 2011 or so; faculty ranks, lowest to highest, are lecturer, assistant professor, associate professor, professor. Full professors average about $86K, will rise to about $105K).

    Let’s see, at least $79K to work, $53K to teach. What to do, what to do ….

    Now, there are certainly more considerations than mere money driving career choices, and perhaps a $20-$30K pay cut might seem a good trade for less physically demanding work, but that disparity looks pretty disheartening to me.

  16. Also, at least some of the college (especially community colleges) don’t have the facilities or money available to support bigger classes of nursing students, even if they could hire more faculty. My ADN program has about 180 student enrolled, and we are full to bursting with only 1 skills lab, 1 computer lab, and a finite number of classrooms. Another issue is that I live in a metro area with lots of other nursing schools, and it is challenging for our colleges to find clinical placements for all of us. Some students have evening clinical, weekend clinicals, or all their clinical hours smashed into a few weeks of intensives.

  17. Barbimar in Indiana says:

    I would love to go into nursing as a second career. I work a full time job.
    I have all of the prerequisites done…A&P, Micro, Chem, Pharm,etc. There are no weekend clinicals or evening clinical rotations available in Indiana. I have a great full time job and would have to quit my job to get the clinicals in. That STOPS me. If we were really concerned about a “shortage” of nurses, the schools would offer commuter students courses like clinicals in the evenings and on the weekends. The shortage would probably abruptly stop. I think the real reason the clinicals are not offered at that time is it is hard enough to get instructors to work days let alone evenings or weekends. I would love to find a local program that would help me to get where I want to go.