7 Qualities the Top Nursing Programs Have in Common
Choosing a Nursing program can be even more nerve-wracking than the application process. If you dig into the research, you start realizing how very different programs can be. And if you don’t do your research, all the schools can blur together in one blob of confusion. How are you supposed to choose? Does your Nursing program really matter in the end?
According to the nurses who’ve been there—your choice does have a big impact on your experience and your future nursing career. There are some important qualities that top Nursing programs have in common. Asking a few questions about these features in the program you are considering will lead you to a well-informed decision.
“Choose the school that best represents your future as a nurse,” says Darnell Morgan, DNP, MHA, RN and president of N.U.R.S.E. INC. No matter what kind of ranking system you use, the best choice will always be a school that matches your nursing ambitions and can help you reach them. So how do you find that school? Read on to see what nurses say are the most important qualities in a Nursing program, and take note of the factors that matter to you.
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What to look for in a top nursing program
“If you are looking to enroll in a Nursing program, you want to look at the curriculum,” says Colleen Koob, Dean of Nursing at Rasmussen College. Koob says that even though programs are supposed to prepare students for the NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse (RN), not all go about it in the same way.
“Look to see if the program is systematically based or concept-based,” Koob says. “Also look at the approach to care. Does the School of Nursing follow a particular nursing theory, or are the following any types of educational models?”
Koob points out that you might have preferences as to the kind of nursing care you want to provide. Or maybe you have ideals or beliefs around the nursing profession. If so, make sure the program you enroll in shares—or at least doesn’t conflict with—those beliefs. “Most students look first at the cost of a program,” Koob says. “But if the curriculum fits your style of care, this truly is a better indicator of a good fit.”
2. NCLEX success rate
Both Koob and Morgan recommend looking into the NCLEX pass rate at the school you are considering. Koob says anyone trying to get into a Nursing program should consider whether they will pass the NCLEX after completing the program. If the program does not prepare students for the exam, that will be apparent in the passing rate.
However, treat the pass-rate figure with caution. “It’s easy for a school to have a high pass rate if they fail everyone out who may have a harder time grasping the concepts,” says consumer health advocate, Michelle Katz. “A school that spends extra time making sure students understand the concepts may have a lower pass rate, but they may get more passionate, quality nurses who don't just rely on a photographic memory.”
A really low NCLEX pass rate might be a warning sign to pass it over, but even if your program doesn’t have a sterling record, it could still be the right one for you. In the end, no program takes the exam for their students. “Nursing school provides the basics of becoming a nurse. The quality of the program cannot be judged based off of a pass rate alone,” Morgan says.
3. Instructor availability to students
“If I were to do it again, I would interview some of the tenured instructors on their commitment to the students,” Katz says. “If they are willing to make sure students understand the lessons and spend that extra time doing so.”
Nursing school is a difficult endeavor, and engaged instructors who make themselves available to help students can make all the difference when you are feeling behind.
4. Reputation with State Boards of Nursing
“Aspiring nurses should choose a school based on its reputation with the state board of nursing,” Morgan says. To research this, Morgan suggests running a simple google search with your state’s name followed by “board of nursing” for some solid information to start with.
“On those same sites, students will be able to see the approval of the school,” Morgan says. This means the state board has verified that the program meets their requirements. That verification ensures that your prospective program will enable you to apply for the state licenses you need once you graduate Nursing school.
5. Career search assistance after graduation
“It’s extremely hard to get your first job with no previous experience,” Katz says. “Especially if you switched careers. Be sure the school you choose has a relationship with those placements.”
Many Nursing schools develop a relationship, or at least a rapport with healthcare facilities in their area. This creates some extra trust when you are applying for positions and the employer is familiar with the school you just graduated from. A program’s job placement rate can indicate how much support they offer graduating students in the job search.
It’s worth asking an admissions representative how long it usually takes their graduates to find a job and where most of them wind up working.
6. Instructor nursing experience
When you are investigating a program, be sure to ask about the instructors’ nursing experience. The world of nursing changes very quickly. Instructors who haven’t worked as a nurse in a while will not have the same understanding of the workforce as those with fresh experience.
“If they are not currently practicing and only teaching, they have honestly lost their touch because they have been in the classroom for so long,” Morgan says. In the course of your search, ask an admissions representative about some of the instructors and their experience in the field.
7. Program options
Students come to Nursing school in all sorts of different situations. If you already have a Bachelor’s degree in something, a school with an accelerated BSN option (A-BSN) would save you months of time.
“You can complete a traditional program in six semesters (four regular and two summer) or you can complete the A-BSN program in 14–18 months, save a few thousand dollars, be rewarded again for your first Bachelor's and begin a career,” Morgan says. For Morgan, who already held a Bachelor’s degree, this option was crucial.
Or maybe you are ready to become an RN, but also have dreams about becoming a certified nurse midwife or a nurse practitioner. In this case, you might want to see what kind of graduate school options your program offers, just in case.
Picture yourself in five years...
Ultimately, the best Nursing program is the program that matches your needs and ambitions. “I say this to my own students all the time: ‘Where do you see yourself in the next 3–5 years?’” Koob says. Think about the career you want beyond Nursing school and make your choices with that picture in your mind.
“Looking ahead like that isn’t easy,” Koob says. “But it is so very rewarding; it’s worth the time.”
Would you like to know a little more about the qualities that can impact your experience in a Nursing program? Check out our article, “10 Facts You Didn’t Know About the Rasmussen College Nursing Program,” for more specific details.