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Nursing School: The Curriculum

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

A standard basic or generic baccalaureate nursing program is a four-year college or university education that incorporates a variety of liberal arts courses with professional education and training. It is designed for high school graduates with no previous nursing experience.

Currently, there are more than 700 baccalaureate nursing programs in the United States. Of the 583 programs that responded to a fall 2005 survey conducted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, total enrollment in all nursing programs leading to a baccalaureate degree was 163,706. A report from the National Advisory Council on Nursing Education recommends that at least two-thirds of the nursing workforce holds a baccalaureate degree or higher by 2010, compared to the current 40 percent. Obviously, nursing schools will play a fundamental role in achieving that goal.

The baccalaureate curriculum at nursing schools is designed to prepare students for work in the growing and changing health-care environment. As nurses take a more active role in all facets of health care, they are expected to develop critical thinking and communication skills in addition to receiving standard nurse training in clinics and hospitals. In a university or nursing college setting, the first two years include classes in the humanities, social sciences, basic sciences, business, psychology, technology, sociology, ethics, and nutrition.

In some nursing programs, classes begin in the sophomore year; others begin in the junior year of nursing school. Many schools require satisfactory grade point averages before students advance into professional nursing classes. On a 4.0 scale, admission into the last two years of the nursing program may require a minimum GPA of 2.5 to 3.0 in pre-professional nursing classes. The national average is about 2.8, but the cutoff level varies with each program.

In the junior and senior years at nursing school, the curriculum focuses on the nursing sciences, and emphasis moves from the classroom to health facilities. This is where students are exposed to clinical skills, nursing theory, and the varied roles nurses play in the health-care system. Courses include nurse leadership, health promotion, family planning, mental health, environmental and occupational health, adult and pediatric care, medical and surgical care, psychiatric care, community health, management, and home health care.

This level of education comes in a variety of settings: community hospitals, clinics, social service agencies, nursing colleges, and health-maintenance organizations. Training in diverse settings -- not limited to a school of nursing -- is the best preparation for becoming a vital player in the growing health-care field.

By Linda K. Amos, Ed.D., RN, FAAN, Former Associate Vice President for Health Sciences, Professor of Nursing, University of Utah

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