Non-Traditional Nursing Students Take Non-Traditional Pathways

May 10th, 2011

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By , BSN, RN

Nursing is unquestionably one of the most traditional career pathways a woman can take. And yet, today, nursing has become a non-traditional career opportunity pursued by people who are anything but the traditional 18-year-old right out of high school.

The changing face of the college student is older, seasoned and busier, possibly male and just as likely to have kids of their own already on the college path. On top of that, attending nursing school these days is anything but a traditional form of education when you take into account all the alternatives to a brick and mortar, two-to-four year school that are out there waiting.

Every four years the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the principal Federal agency responsible for the evaluation and development of the nursing workforce in the United States performs a national survey. They find out who is going to nursing school, how they went, what they are doing with their educations and even what nurses nationwide have planned for their future employment and educational opportunities.

The face of America's nursing population is changing. For starters, the average age of registered nurses graduating from their initial nursing education program after 2004 is 31, considerably older than the average age of 24, in 1985. A growing percentage of RNs are earning academic degrees prior to their initial nursing education; from 2000 to 2008, the percentage with previous degrees rose from 13.3 percent to 21.7 percent.

The most recent entrants to nursing school and the nursing profession hold degrees in other health-related fields, liberal arts, humanities, business and management. Today's average nursing student is more likely than ever before to come to nursing as a second career.

The most recently graduated RNs aren't all women either. Nearly 10 percent of nursing school graduates between 2005 and 2008 were men. And, all the grads were an ethnically diverse group too. New nurses' ethnicity numbers are up from 15.5 percent to 22 percent since 2001, with African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians round out the nursing student body in this country.

So, how are all these older, educated, ethnically diverse men and women getting back into school? There are a number of options. Starting with people who already have bachelor's degrees in something else, getting a BSN is a two year program just like traditional Associate Degree programs. If you have all the prerequisites under your belt, you can go to a traditional four-year school for only two years. Classes, clinical are all right there in your hometown or nearby and your classmates will be diverse, including ranging in age from 18 to over 30, 40 and even 50 or higher.

If two years seems like a long time on a college campus there may be a better option available. Accelerated baccalaureate nursing programs build on previous learning experience. The programs are available in 43 states and the District of Columbia and are growing in popularity.

Students are fast tracked and complete their school coursework in a shortened amount of time, usually 12-18 months. Classes are intense, fulltime and there are no breaks between sessions. Typically, second degree students are motivated, older and have high academic expectations.

Students who excel in these programs are those who have already proven they can handle a college level curriculum. These students usually don't work due to the demands of the class work and clinical schedule. Financial aid for these accelerated programs is limited and you will often find these students either have substantial savings or family that is helping sustain them during this year to year-and-a-half.

If there is no rich uncle and you must keep working look to the web. Nurses make up a large segment of the online college student population.

Distance-based programs are more common for programs offering a post-licensure bachelor’s degree than for other post-licensure degrees. Overall, RNs working full-time in nursing are more likely than any other group of RNs to take more than 75 percent of their coursework as distance learning. More and more hospitals are either requiring or incentivizing the Bachelor of Science in nursing. The dilemma that faces most working nurses is how to attend school and keep working. Online may be the best answer ever.

  • Work-study takes on a new meaning when you can nurse from 7-3, go home, fix dinner and then attend class in your pajamas.
  • It's certainly affordable. There are fewer fees. You aren't paying for things you don't use, like the student union building, the gym and parking.
  • You can go to school anywhere. Always dream of that big university in another state but couldn't get there…no problem now.
  • It's no different from a "regular" college, just more convenient. Many online university programs are accredited by the same agencies which certify traditional institutions of higher learning. Online schools have the same expectations for students regarding assignments and test taking and they generally have high expectations for their professors as well. Most hire academically qualified instructors or industry experts.
  • In some areas of nursing an online degree is even better than a traditional university education. No more floor nursing for you? Get a degree focused on informatics while online, you have proved you have the computer skills to do the job. Online students can't help but be tech savvy.
  • Freedom. Kids on spring break…take that laptop to the beach. On call for the hospital, no problem, class is wherever you are.

There are even options for students who are interested in starting nursing school from the very beginning of the college process. Blended programs allow students to do many or all of their academic classes online and skills labs and clinical rotations either on campus or at hospital's local to them.

Non-traditional students taking non-traditional routes to reach a very traditional career are becoming more and more common; they might not be so non-traditional for much longer.

2 Responses to “Non-Traditional Nursing Students Take Non-Traditional Pathways”

  1. Carl Says:

    As a nurse who has completed an accelerated nursing program…it very tough but worth it.

  2. cna online Says:

    Excellent site you have here but I was curious
    about if you knew of any user discussion forums that cover
    the same topics discussed in this article? I’d really like to be a part of online community where I can get feed-back from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Bless you!

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