Study nursing in the USA

Nursing involves a demanding and rigorous practical education. Carol Toussie Weingarten from the National Student Nurses Association explains the different nursing programmes.

Nursing education is demanding. Courses within nursing programmes focus on the sciences and include: biochemistry, pharmacology, nutrition, anatomy and physiology; social sciences like psychology, ethics and sociology; classroom, clinical and simulation laboratory nursing science courses covering the lifespan; and courses such as research and statistics. Many nursing programmes also include liberal arts courses in English and the humanities, as well as electives of a student’s own choosing.

Strong interpersonal skills, critical thinking, ease in adapting to new situations and ability to respect and appreciate diverse cultures are needed. Instruction, assignments and resources are in English, so fluency is important. The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) may be required as well as other criteria for admission. Like other health care students, nursing students need physical stamina. In addition to classroom and laboratory study with readings and assignments, nursing education includes such settings as hospitals, clinics and communities.

Types of nursing programmeSelecting an educational programme for nursing can be confusing, because in the United States several types of programmes prepare nurses. Community colleges offer associate degrees (AD). Usually two years in length, they are shorter and less expensive than the four-year university based nursing programmes, which offer the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees. Hospital systems may also offer educational programmes, leading to a diploma, which is not considered an academic degree. Many nursing programmes now offer online options.The greatest opportunities for career development come with the BSN degree. Many AD and diploma programmes are now connected with universities so their graduates can earn their BSN degrees while working.

International students should check carefully to ensure that the type of United States educational programme selected meets the requirements for practice in their own countries. Some countries have a BSN degree as the basic educational requirement for nurses. Other factors to consider are the size of the programme, location, academic requirements, facilities, programme flexibility, living arrangements, cost and resources for international students.

Registered NurseIn the United States, graduation from an accredited nursing programme confers an AD, BSN degree or diploma but does not automatically bring the title of ‘RN’ (Registered Nurse). Graduates must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination Computerized Adaptive Testing (NCLEX-RN, CAT), commonly referred to as ‘the Nursing Boards,’ in order to be listed (registered’ and issued a license to practice as a “Registered Nurse.” Although the examination is national, nursing licenses are issued by the states in which nurses will practice.

International students who graduate from accredited nursing programmes in the United States, pass the NCLEX-RN, CAT and receive a state license, can be called ‘Registered Nurses.’ Depending on the terms of their presence in the United States, they may work as Registered Nurses.

Many international students return to their countries after graduation and without taking the NCLEX-RN, CAT. Although they would not be Registered Nurses, they are indeed nurses who have earned degrees or diplomas. They practice in their countries according to the country’s requirements; some countries have their own nursing licensing examinations and some do not.

The National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA)Although hundreds of general and specialty associations for graduate nurses exist, the National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA) is the only national pre-professional association dedicated to nursing students.

NSNA’s membership is open to students in American nursing programmes; however, NSNA is an excellent source of information about nursing and the nursing student experience for international students and their advisers.

Written by Carol Toussie Weingarten
National League for Nursing Consultant (NLN) to the National Student Nurses Association (NSNA)