Nursing is both an art and a science and requires a holistic approach to education and training unlike many other fields of study. The art of providing nursing care deals with communication, critical thinking and the ability to adapt to change. The science of nursing concerns advanced knowledge of anatomy and physiology of humans and complex signs and symptoms of disease processes.

Both classroom and clinical education prepare a nurse to incorporate both the art and science of the profession to provide patient care and medical treatment. When a nurse completes their training they are able to comprehensively blend art and science together to care for their patients not only medically but also spiritually and psychosocially.


The first step in becoming a nurse is deciding what type of nursing education will best fit your career goals. This decision may be based on the type of nursing work you want to do, your ability to pay for your education or personal time constraints.

There are 4 ways to obtain a registered nurse degree: diploma, associates, bachelors and masters. A diploma in nursing is a 3-year degree program, typically offered by a healthcare institution such as a hospital. Hospitals are slowly turning away from developing and offering internal programs because of the expense and many have closed their programs all together, therefore a decline has been noted in the number of diploma degreed nurses working in the United States today.

An Associate of Science in Nursing, or the ASN, degree is granted by an accredited institution that confers the degree and is usually 2 to 3 years of classroom and clinical experience with a primary focus on the application of knowledge and skills in the delivery of medical care. Associates degree programs are offered at colleges, universities and community colleges.

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or the BSN, degree is granted when a nurse completes 4 to 5 years of education from a university or a 4-year accredited degree program. The emphasis in a bachelors program is on leadership, research and clinical work.

The Master of Science in Nursing, of the MSN, degree can be obtained by a nurse who has graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing or by an individual who may not have their bachelors in nursing but in another field. These programs are anywhere from 1 and a half to 3 years in length and offered by accredited universities.

After making a decision about what type of degree you would like to obtain, you can then consider what type of educational experience suits your lifestyle and where you will go to school. Colleges and universities offer on-site instruction in a classroom setting. Many schools will offer a variety of ways to attend classes, such as day or evening programs and even weekend programs for students who may be working a full time job.

In addition to traditional nursing education you might be suited to obtain the classroom portion of your nursing education online. The major advantage to obtaining a degree online is the ability to study from your own home and at your own pace. Coursework and prerequisites are usually the same as traditional colleges and universities. Major disadvantages of online education are that it requires a high degree of personal motivation and may cost more than traditional programs. While most coursework for online education is completed entirely from your own home with a computer, students should realize the clinical component of their education will have to take place in a clinical setting. Some online degree programs will assist students in finding a clinical site, but there is also a possibility the student may have to take on the responsibility for obtaining a preceptor in the community to assist them with completing their clinical requirements.


The requirements for admission to nursing programs vary from institution to institution with bachelors programs usually requiring more prerequisites than the associate degree programs. The enrollment process into any school can be rigorous and competitive therefore a student who applies for admission with a high grade point average will be considered over the applicant who has a lower average.

Recommendations from previous teachers or professors are often helpful during the admission process and sometimes required during enrollment. Most schools require 3 years of math, 4 years of English, 3 years of science including chemistry and biology and 2 years of a foreign language. Additionally, schools may require that applicant complete anatomy and physiology with lab, microbiology with lab and human development prior to making application.

When a student has been accepted into a nursing program they will begin the clinical work that is required to become a nurse. Supervised clinical “hands-on” experience is key to becoming a competent nurse. Clinical rotations provide students with experience in a variety of settings and nursing schools typically require the student to complete an experience in the areas of maternal-child, pediatric, adult medical-surgical, geriatric and psychiatric nursing.

Obtaining skills and knowledge

Nursing students are assigned to specific clinical experiences so they are able to learn the skills necessary to deliver care to patients with illnesses and diseases ranging from simple to complex and even life-threatening. During the clinical experience, nurses learn to develop care plans, work with other healthcare providers, and practice nursing related skills. Some of the basic skills that a nurse is expected to learn are phlebotomy, tracheostomy care, parenteral nutrition, medication administration, wound care, injections, intravenous therapy and catheterization.

During the maternal and child clinical experience, the student has an opportunity to work in a hospital on an obstetrics unit to care for pregnant women and their newborns. During this time the nurse may have an opportunity to witness childbirth.

The adult medical-surgical clinical externship provides experience working with a diverse patient population who present with varying degrees of health conditions who require inpatient medical care, procedures and many times surgery. Students will often have the opportunity to observe surgeries during the medical-surgical experience.

Psychiatric clinical experience typically takes place in either a private psychiatric hospital or within a medical hospital that has its own psychiatric unit. Students learn to care for patients with mental illnesses during this time.

Long-term care facilities are the setting in which student nurses work with the elderly and learn the unique and complex health issues of the geriatric population.

Pediatric clinical rotations are usually within specialized pediatric units. Such specialized care is generally available in major hospitals. The student provides care to children with different illnesses and needs.

Nursing Graduates

After graduation from any nursing program the nurse must take and pass a national examination in order to be licensed as a nurse. Many states require licensed nurses to take continuing education within specified timeframes in order to maintain their licensure and employers will often pay for or provide this for nurses as a benefit.

Once a nurse is licensed they can begin looking for jobs. Nursing instructors recommend that new graduates start out by obtaining experience working in hospitals and performing direct patient care for at least 2 years. This foundation will ensure the nurse has the necessary basic skills and enough experience working with a variety of patients to work in most any field of nursing.

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