10 things about nursing degrees you may not have known

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The world of nursing education is full of degrees available in traditional, online and mixed formats. If you are looking into getting your first nursing degree or are a nurse preparing to obtain a higher degree, use this list to get the inside scoop about nursing degrees!

10 things about nursing degrees you may not have known

1. Having a nursing degree does not mean you are a nurse.

Anyone who has looked into nursing will know this already, but if you are just starting to research careers, this is for you. After you have completed a nursing degree program, you must pass a form of the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in order to practice as a nurse. If you cannot pass that test, you cannot work as a nurse, regardless of your degree.

2. A nurse’s level of nursing degree may not equal clinical competence.

It is well known that experienced nurses function with exponentially greater competence than nurses who simply “have the degree.” If I were choosing a nurse to take care of me, I’d choose a nurse with years of experience over a nurse with a higher degree with fewer years of experience. There is just no way to thoroughly teach “real-life nursing” in a degree program. Bedside job experience is essential to true competence.

3. An advanced nursing degree (master or doctorate level) may not require a bachelor’s in nursing (BSN) degree.

If you have an associate’s degree in nursing but have a bachelor’s degree in a different specialty (like business or computer technology), programs around the country may allow you to enroll in a advanced nursing degree program if you complete prerequisite courses to bring you up to speed. Check with each individual program about their requirements.

4. Many hospitals in the USA are considering hiring exclusively Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)-prepared nurses for bedside patient care.

While this decision may insult experienced non-BSN nurses, I believe this trend is the future in nursing. Start preparing now for these requirements.

5. A nursing degree is not ideal preparation for medical school.

We nurses like to say that every doctor should be a nurse first in order to better understand people and their holistic issues, but medical schools do not agree. Pre-med undergraduate programs heavily emphasize biology, chemistry and physics, while nursing programs emphasize nursing tasks, care plans and charting the daily grind. If you are interested in being a physician but would like to start off as a nurse, explore advanced nursing practice options such as Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) or Nurse Practitioner (NP) options first. If these advanced nursing options do not appeal to you, just go to med school and skip the initial nursing degree. I’ve heard through the grapevine that med schools do not look at a prior nursing degree as a plus on application forms.

6. Diploma nursing programs still exist.

Diploma programs are 1 to 3 years long, and are often associated with religious healthcare institutions. These programs are roughly equivalent to either licensed practical nurse (LPN) programs or associate degree registered nurse (RN) programs, depending on their coursework. Diploma programs generally have a high ratio of “hands-on” clinical time to classroom time.

7. Nursing degrees include courses with MATH (eek!).

Some of you just decided nursing wasn’t for you. But really, math is essential—specifically, basic algebra and below. You will have to know basic algebra for your chemistry courses, as well as for courses that include drug calculations. When you work as a nurse, you will need to calculate correct doses and intravenous (IV) rates. If you plan to enter any intensive care specialty (especially neonatal ICU), your math skills will be used every shift.

8. You may not need a master’s degree to be a nursing instructor.

For classroom work, most schools hire MSN-prepared nurses to teach their BSN students. However, some schools/state boards will allow BSN-prepared, experienced nurses to function as clinical instructors only. Some associate’s degree programs may also allow BSN-prepared nurses to become involved in some classroom work. If you have a passion for teaching, don’t think you have to wait until you get that MSN. Check around and get involved in the next generation of nurses now!

9. Having a job in healthcare will make it easier to pass your nursing degree program.

Remember #2 above, talking about clinical competence? Having a job as a patient care tech, unit secretary or nursing assistant prior to or during your program will give you a head start on that competence, making the “lingo” more familiar and routine tasks easier to perform in front of instructors.

For nurses considering higher degrees, get involved in policy and procedure committees at your facility, and brush up on research techniques, detailed anatomy and physiology, and government healthcare regulations in order to prepare yourself for advanced coursework on these subjects.

10. You can do some undergraduate nursing coursework overseas.

How about that! Did you know that Cyprus has opportunities for nursing students to do coursework and clinical rotations for credit toward an undergraduate nursing degree? This program is also open to pre-med and health students. Hellooooo, Mediterranean beaches!

Have more thoughts about nursing degrees? Share with us in the comments!

Jessica Ellis
With experience in multiple specialties such as ER, ICU, CVICU, PACU, NICU and case management, Jessica has also been a key contributor for several of the world’s leading healthcare publishers. Jessica has been certified in CPR, BLS Instructor, PHTLS, ACLS, TNCC, CFRN, NRP, PALS and CPS. She previously functioned as an editor and contributor for, and an author/editor of numerous online nursing CEU courses for Coursepark. Jessica accepts ongoing professional nursing writing contracts for both authoring and editing from major textbook and online education publishers internationally.

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