When you hear the name Florence Nightingale what comes to mind? Maybe it's the 'Lady with the Lamp' image or the Crimean War. Or perhaps it's nursing school, a concept she helped pioneer when opening London's Nightingale Training School for Nurses in 1860.
Formal nursing education took shape in America 13 years later with Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing in New York City. It was first of its kind in the nation, strongly influenced by Nightingale's intention to train nurses to perform qualified and specialized care, and develop the necessary skills and sensitivity to meet patient needs.
If that sounds familiar, that's because it is. In the almost 150 years since nursing school began in the U.S., its purpose remains the same. Yes, there are stark differences—like an emphasis on research, actual healthcare laws and regulations, and the trade-off of snake oil for bona fide medical technology—but students continue to pursue nursing for careers that let them make a difference in a respected, stable industry.
So, after all this time, why do so we hear the same misconceptions about nursing school again and again? The following is a collection of nursing school myths and realities, so prospective nursing students (and everyone else) can have a better idea of what the experience truly entails.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing's 2018-2019 report on Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, men comprised 12.9 percent of students in baccalaureate programs, 12.2 percent of master's students, 11.2 percent of research-focused doctoral students, and 13.4 percent of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) students. In 2008, men made up 10.4 percent of baccalaureate students and 8.4 percent of master's degree students. Another report from the National League of Nursing (NLN) shows that men made up 8 percent of Registered Nurse (RN) program graduates, which was an increase from 6 percent in 1989.
Yes, the title of "nurse" has many connotations, including images of mothers nursing their children and women in white cotton dresses and caps walking the hospital floor. Neither of these representations is inaccurate, but they don't help the stereotype that only women enroll in nursing school. Because if the numbers prove anything, it's that men attend nursing school more than ever before.
Nursing exams tend to make nursing students feel mentally scattered. A fundamental multiple-choice question can become so overly simplified that it's hard to tell what it means, or if the correct answer is missing, or there are multiple correct answers. Other times, nursing exams may not seem comprehensive enough or may seem like they're missing essential content areas. It's a frustrating experience that sets many nursing students up to feel like they can't win.
The reality of nursing school exams isn't that their questions are intended to trick you, but make you think differently. Many nursing students who run up against the impossibility of exams haven't mastered the thought process that NCLEX style questions require, even after so much time in school. One of the best ways to increase your chances of passing is to familiarize yourself with an exam's different question types, which include fill-in-the-blank, multiple-choice, order response, and select-all-that-apply (or SATA) questions.
Where do we even begin? Differences in nursing degrees are immense, especially when accreditation—or lack thereof—comes into play. While some employers require RNs to have a bachelor's degree, an associate's degree is typically the gateway to entry-level work in the field, including specialty areas such as the neonatal ward, emergency room, and intensive care.
Many nurses also have a bachelor's, master's, or doctorate. Generally, a higher degree comes with more advanced certification and specialization, more significant professional opportunity, opportunities for leadership and management roles, and enhanced earning potential.
If advanced nursing students wanted to become physicians, they would pursue medical school. Instead, many choose nursing school for its approach to healthcare that lets them provide holistic care to patients; something physicians are not typically expected to do. Nevertheless, the professional responsibilities of advanced practice nurses and physicians are becoming increasingly intertwined. The overlap is partly due to the shortage of healthcare providers across the U.S., which has required Nurse Practitioners (NPs) to provide the primary care evaluations and treatments typically expected of physicians.
Are nurses as smart as physicians? Yes—and they're just as capable, too. A report from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners indicates that, in 2019, 86.6 percent of NPs were certified to evaluate patients, diagnose illness, and prescribe medication. The connection between nurses and their patients is another real marker of their effectiveness in the workplace. Studies show that nurses are more vigilant about patient safety than physicians and more honest, especially at the end of a patient's life. Nurses are also more accurate at predicting which patients might pass away in the hospital, while physicians are better at longer-term estimates concerning illness.
No disrespect to plumbers, but nursing school is not for learning a trade. While technical training—like how to interpret test results and use medical equipment to stabilize and monitor patients—makes up the foundation of nursing school, nursing students are also tasked to take a compassionate, broad-thinking approach to their program. One way they do so is through mock clinical scenarios and debriefings with faculty and cohort members, which prepares nursing students to communicate with patients and their families and other members of their care team later on. Plus, they're required to spend a considerable portion of their time focused on assignments, studying, and staying on top of deadlines—a habit that will be useful down the line as they manage patient care plans.
Nursing students also have to understand there are no black-and-white answers to exam questions, but rather, the "most right" responses to the circumstances they pose. The same notion is true for the majority of patient care scenarios, which fall into a gray area and task nurses to quickly determine the most appropriate treatment plan, sometimes without the ability to ask a patient what's wrong.
Nursing school is also quick to show students that a sense of humor is an especially powerful tool for letting go of the complicated emotions that can accompany everyday work in the field. After all, laughter is said to have significant health benefits—and you don't need a nurse to prove it.
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