Questions to Ask When Choosing a Nursing School

Questions to ask when choosing a nursing school

While you search for the right nursing school, it is important to have your questions ready. But how do you know what questions to ask when choosing a nursing school? Well, you have come to the right place.

Finding the right fit for an accelerated nursing program requires research, but first it is important to ask relevant questions because the answers will help you determine if the quality, values, and mission of the program will fulfill your goals.

To find out what questions to ask when choosing a nursing school, we spoke to Rebecca Zukowski, Ph.D., RN, Director of Misericordia University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Here are the eight questions our program director recommends every nursing student should ask before applying to the ABSN program:

  1. What Sets the ABSN Program Apart?
  2. What Do You Look for in Students?
  3. What Can I Expect During the Nursing Program?
  4. What Clinical Experiences Are Offered and Where?
  5. What Is Most Surprising about the Program?
  6. What Kind of Support Will I Receive Since Coursework Is Online?
  7. How Does Your History Impact the Education of Current Students?
  8. What Is Your NCLEX Pass Rate?

She explains the importance of each question in more detail below.

1. What Sets the ABSN Program Apart?

What differentiates one nursing school’s education from another? This is important to find out as a potential nursing student because you want to make sure your goals and values align. At Misericordia University, Dr. Zukowski believes the curriculum and the school’s values are exactly what sets the ABSN program apart from others.

“What sets us apart is the combination of a very strong curriculum combined with a mission-driven organization that really relies on the values of mercy, service, justice, and hospitality,” she says.

Why are those values so important? Because they are the foundation of the curriculum. The goal is to foster an educational environment that adheres to these values so you can graduate prepared to live them out with patients, families, and your employers.

“We really do believe it differentiates our graduates from others because they have those values instilled throughout the curriculum,” Dr. Zukowski says.

“In the caring profession, we believe this is critically important for holistic care of patients.”

For instance, one of Misericordia’s values, or “care-isms,” is mercy. Dr. Zukowski says mercy is demonstrated through the practice of nursing by showing compassion, love, and care.

“Our ABSN faculty will be looking for that in students as they practice at the bedside through communications, language, and how they deliver care,” she says.

2. What Do You Look for in Students?

Every place is different, but when finding the right student for an Accelerated BSN program, like Misericordia’s, commitment is most important.

“A commitment to the study and the application of the principles students are learning is key,” Dr. Zukowski says. “The ABSN program is going to take a lot of their time. They are going to have to be very committed to the program and to learning those core competencies because that is what is required for pre-licensure nursing students.”

Nursing students studying

She explains how at the end of the 16-month program, every student will be prepared to sit for the licensure exam, NCLEX-RN. The only way they will be successful at that is if they have adequately prepared, practiced, and passed through each of the courses offered.

“It’s intense, so we need someone who is committed, really wants to be a nurse, and who wants to put in the effort upfront to really do this and do this well,” she says.

3. What Can I Expect During the Nursing Program?

Another important question to ask when choosing a nursing school is how the curriculum is laid out. Knowing how it works and what is expected during a program is key to figuring out what nursing degree path would be the best fit for you. Misericordia’s ABSN program actually blends online curriculum with hands-on experience, which is unique and helpful to those who are more independent and seek some flexibility when they study.

“Our classroom experience is online, so when you are in an online course, it’s very different than sitting in a traditional classroom,” Dr. Zukowski says. “In a traditional classroom course, the expectation is that the faculty member’s role is to facilitate your learning. But with online courses, it is the student who must take a great deal of responsibility for the progression.”

Dr. Zukowski also explains that the online coursework is asynchronous so there will be a lot of readings, assignments, exercises, and tests that are all part of that didactic component. That means it is important for students to hit the ground running, especially with the knowledge that they are going to have to keep up with the pace.

The second part of the ABSN program at Misericordia University involves students coming into the nursing education center to participate in laboratory and simulation experiences so core competencies can be practiced.

Misericordia student in hospital

“Every week, students will have to be physically on-site at our Robinson Township location to interact with laboratory faculty and instructors,” she says. “During lab, students must pass critical skills that are needed to be a nurse.”

Beginning in the second semester of the ABSN program, students will be working in a clinical setting in addition to the labs and online work.

“The entire program is built on the curriculum that has been found to be very successful at Misericordia over the years,” Dr. Zukowski says.

4. What Clinical Experiences Are Offered and Where?

Clinical experiences are where students really gain the real-world practice they need to be a successful nurse. That is why it is very important to ask about a program’s clinical experiences — including what health care facilities you will be learning in and what kind of diverse experience is offered.

As Dr. Zukowski explains, if you become a Misericordia ABSN student, you will have access to some of the best health care settings in the country. “Pittsburgh is an amazing center of health care excellence. Our students will be training in some of the finest facilities in the city, and that is going to help them as graduates to compete for the best jobs,” she says.

At Misericordia, clinical education actually starts in the second semester of the ABSN program. These diverse experiences will provide you with a comprehensive learning environment.

Clinical experiences for Misericordia ABSN students include:

  • Acute Care
  • Pediatrics
  • Obstetrics (including Labor & Delivery)
  • Specialties, like Psychiatric Nursing

“I think that’s really something that students need to know so that it’s not as if they are going to run out of places to train,” Dr. Zukowski says. “They will be able to build their resumes with the experiences they get during their time with Misericordia and the ABSN program.”

5. What Is Most Surprising about the Program?

You can look at the website and read the flyers, but many times, the most interesting information can only be discovered by talking to someone who knows firsthand about the nursing program. For instance, as stated above, Misericordia’s Accelerated BSN program offers clinical experiences early on. This is not common for most programs in the Pittsburgh area.

“Students are usually surprised to hear about the pace of the program and how soon they are in the clinical settings seeing patients,” Dr. Zukowski says. “So this isn’t something they have to wait a number of years to experience what it’s like to be a nurse — they will be immediately immersed in nursing. I think they will be surprised to see how quickly they are put into the role of a nurse and how quickly they will learn critical skills inpatient care.”

6. What Kind of Support Will I Receive Since Coursework Is Online?

Having access to instructors and other faculty members as you navigate a nursing program, especially one with an online component, is essential during an accelerated nursing program like Misericordia’s. Just because you are completing work online does not mean you are on your own. Dr. Zukowski has been teaching online for a decade and knows the importance of engaging with students frequently.

“Faculty support in our program is robust,” she says. “Even online, you understand a student’s progression and where they may be having challenges. Just like a classroom setting, you are there to offer support in that.”

Misericordia also provides faculty advisors who can help support and mentor students through the ABSN program. There are also success coaches available who can help students in other ways.

“Students may need help with time management, navigating priorities within the curriculum, taking tests, and developing better study skills,” Dr. Zukowski says. “So all of these support systems will be available to our ABSN students so they can have everything they need to succeed.”

7. How Does Your History Impact the Education of Current Students?

Another question to ask when choosing a nursing school is about the school’s history, especially when it comes to nursing education. How long have their nursing programs been around? What role does nursing play for the university as a whole? What programs and degrees are offered? These all carry a lot of weight in the education you will receive and how others will perceive your experience and degree once you graduate.

Misericordia University campusMisericordia University’s Nursing Department is not only one of the institution’s founding programs, but it is also among the oldest in the state, serving the community for more than 90 years. It offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in nursing.

How does that rich history impact the education of students? “Misericordia has a demonstrated history with understanding how to educate nurses in a quality manner,” Dr. Zukowski says.
“Misericordia also understands the progression of nursing education because many of our ABSN graduates we want to go on to master’s- and doctorate-level degrees. So we understand the critical importance of foundational level entry into practice and also the entry into the bigger picture of the progression of nursing education into a master of doctorate level.”

8. What Is Your NCLEX Pass Rate?

This is one of the most important questions to ask when inquiring about a university’s nursing program — What is the NCLEX pass rate?

This question is the most critical to finding a quality nursing program. Why? Because nursing programs have standards to meet in order to be able to continue to be approved by the state board of nursing. NCLEX pass rates are a part of that.

All quality nursing programs look to the metric of first-time pass rates on the NCLEX exam. “It’s a metric of the quality of the program and the curriculum. So it is really important to potential students to pay attention to that,” Dr. Zukowski says. “Understand that the pass rates don’t happen accidentally. They happen because these curricula ensure students are acquiring the knowledge, skills, and ability to be able to pass that exam on the first time. So when you look at pass rates, you are looking at a reflection of the quality of the program.”

At Misericordia, the BSN program currently has a 95% first-time pass rate (2018). “We have been consistently above the national average (87.56%) and state average (92.84%) for many years,” Dr. Zukowski says.

Are You Ready to Get Started?

Now that you know the questions to ask when choosing a nursing school, it is time to make that first call. But before you do, here is the last piece of advice from Dr. Zukowski that can help provide the push you need to begin your journey.

“You will find Misericordia’s ABSN program very exciting, but my advice is to come prepared to totally commit over 16 months because the payoff, in the end, is great,” she says. “Come prepared to work very hard with a committed heart and a committed mind and you’ll reap the benefits during the ABSN program and in the end with an amazing career.”

Are you ready to reap the rewards of a quality nursing degree from Misericordia? Contact us today.

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