What to Look For in a Nursing School

Are you wondering what to look for in a nursing school? Things to consider include a program’s accessibility, curriculum standards, accreditation status and commitment to student success. Misericordia University’s ABSN program in Pittsburgh has high marks in all these criteria.

Finding the right nursing school for you. What to look for in a nursing school.

You’ve recently decided to change paths to nursing, a personally rewarding and professionally lucrative career path. A great first step in making that happen involves pursuing an educational path that maximizes your time and investment.

A cursory search of nursing programs will show you that you’re not limited in the available routes to become a nurse. This is great news if you want to enter this in-demand profession, but the myriad options can quickly make your head spin if you have no idea where to start or what to look for in a nursing school!

With so many nursing programs out there, how do you even begin to narrow down your nursing school search? Start by knowing what to look for in a nursing school and how to find the right fit for you. In this blog post, we’ll explain various factors to consider when researching nursing schools and delve into why each of them matters in the context of your future nursing career, including:

  • Accessibility
  • Rigorous curriculum
  • Approval and accreditation
  • Proven track record of student success
  • Student support resources

We’ll also explain why Misericordia ABSN may be the best fit for you if you’re looking for an accessible, accredited program with a reputation for academic excellence and supportive faculty and staff.

How Hard is it to Get into Nursing School

Experts predict the demand for nurses will continue to rise over the coming decade, making it more difficult to find nursing programs with seats available. This is partly due to a concurrent nursing faculty shortage. In many cases, there simply aren’t enough nursing faculty to teach students who want to earn a nursing degree to enter the workforce. More than 800 U.S. schools of nursing reported having more than 1,500 faculty vacancies for the 2016-2017 academic year, according to a recent American Association of Colleges of Nursing survey.

Infographic showing how Misericordia creates accessible education by not having a waitlist and multiple start dates.

For this and other reasons, finding a nursing program that has seats available is vital if you want to become a nurse any time in the near future. Misericordia University’s ABSN program makes quality nursing accessible for qualified students in a variety of ways, including:

  • Multiple start dates
  • No entrance exam
  • Minimum 60 credits required
  • No wait list

Multiple start dates

For the reasons listed above, oftentimes there are more applicants for nursing school programs than there are seats available. Some traditional university nursing program only start students once (maybe twice) per year, which with the current demand for nurses can sometimes lead to a backlog of nursing school applicants.

Meanwhile, Misericordia ABSN has the capacity to enroll more qualified students more often throughout the year. Because we offer three start dates per year — in January, May and August — we don’t have a waitlist. That means qualified students have the opportunity to start classes when they want to start, not just when there’s an opening, then complete their nursing degree in as few as 16 months.

No entrance exam

Along with good grades, a common requirement for acceptance into a nursing program is passing an entrance exam. While these assessments are intended to demonstrate your aptitude for success in any given program, they do present an extra hurdle to jump over on your path to becoming a nurse.

While you must meet specific academic requirements to qualify to apply to Misericordia ABSN, unlike some other nursing programs, Misericordia ABSN does NOT require prospective students to complete any entrance exams or submit any personal statements or resumes as part of the application process.

“Misericordia ABSN takes a holistic admissions approach. If you have a 2.75 GPA and complete the prerequisites, it’s a simple process,” says Ken Johnson, a Misericordia ABSN admissions counselor.

Minimum 60 credits required

You may be pursuing a BSN from any number of avenues. Perhaps you’re in a pre-nursing bachelor’s degree program at your institution but are stuck on the waitlist to begin its BSN program. Or maybe you’re in the middle of pursuing another non-nursing bachelor’s degree, discovered you actually want to become a nurse instead but feel obligated to complete your degree to qualify for enrollment in an accelerated BSN program.

Those aren’t concerns for prospective students with the Misericordia ABSN program. In fact, it’s the only ABSN program in Pennsylvania that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree. As long as you have completed a minimum of 60 credits from a regionally accredited institution within the specified minimum grade requirements, you’re eligible to apply to our program.

“Many students come to us really wanting to become a nurse but maybe they went down another path, but now in 16 short months they can realize their dream and become a nurse,” Johnson says. “I think that’s what’s most surprising to prospective students — that they can realize their dreams very quickly if they commit to the program.”

Rigorous curriculum

The end goal of any quality BSN program should be how well it prepares you to sit for and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), the licensure exam that determines if you can practice as a registered nurse. The Misericordia accelerated nursing curriculum offers a solid mix of online and onsite instruction taught by experienced, highly supportive faculty to help you do just that.

Below, we’ll outline how the three components of our ABSN program — online learning, skills and simulation labs and clinical rotations — work hand-in-hand to prepare you to become a confident, competent nurse.

Online learning

It’s a common misconception that online-based education is somehow less rigorous than a traditional BSN program taught in a classroom. In the Misericordia ABSN program, nothing could be further from the truth.

The computer-based portion of our curriculum developed by top instructional designers to meet the rigorous curriculum standards set forth by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing matches the same level of rigor and quality of classroom-based nursing theory coursework. How nursing concepts are presented is what makes the difference, and can be beneficial to you no matter your preferred style of learning.

For example, while traditional education resources like textbooks and lectures are still an important component of the Misericordia ABSN curriculum, innovative elements such as patient care scenarios and 3D animations with advanced graphic design elements make it easier for nursing students who are visual learners to recall the information in class and in the field.

Infographic showing how online learning encourages critical thinking and caters to different learning styles.

Online learning is beneficial to your nursing future in other ways, too:

  • In an online classroom, you can’t sit passively in the back row and avoid answering questions. Participation in discussion forums forces you to engage with course materials and think critically.
  • Knowing the ins and outs of how to access information in an e-Learning platform equips you with vital technological skills necessary for today’s rapidly evolving health care landscape.

Skills and simulation labs

Many nursing programs also involve a skills and simulation lab experience, which is meant for students to practice their clinical abilities in a realistic, low-risk environment before they apply them in a real-world health care setting. Misericordia ABSN students complete this portion of their nursing education under the guidance of our expert nursing instructors at our dedicated nursing education center in Robinson.

What sets one nursing program’s skills and simulation experience apart from another? When evaluating this nursing school component, consider the following:

Infographic showing how nursing labs are evaluated during the program.

Equipment and technology

The tools you use to practice your nursing skills and the environment in which you’re honing these abilities matters. Nursing programs with up-to-date medical equipment and technology will serve to prepare you for the continually evolving health care landscape. The Misericordia ABSN program’s dedicated nursing education center in Robinson is equipped with computerized medical manikins, advanced hospital equipment and medical supplies and also includes testing spaces and skills labs set up to look like a real hospital environment.

Post-simulation debriefings

Post-simulation debriefings in the Misericordia ABSN program are your chance to break down what happened during the simulated scenario and learn from your mistakes in a judgement-free setting. As a Misericordia ABSN student, you can expect to complete several simulations, playing the part of either nurse, patient, patient family member or doctor so you can get a holistic view of the patient care experience.

Because we want you to learn from your mistakes, simulations and debriefings aren’t graded, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still take them seriously. They’re a vital component of the lab experience during nursing school. In fact, recent studies have found quality debriefing sessions with nursing instructors and fellow cohort members directly correlate to a “statistically significant” improvement in such skills as:

  • Vital signs assessment
  • Psychomotor skills
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • Task management
  • Team working
  • Situational awareness

Clinical rotations

Maybe one of the most important parts of any nursing program, clinical rotations are where you put nursing theory and skills into practice in a real-world health care setting under the guidance of nursing faculty. They involve working with real patients and learning more about working environments and teams, giving you the chance to build your confidence and make lasting connections in the field.

Since clinicals are the hallmark component of any comprehensive nursing curriculum, finding a nursing school with a strong clinical element is crucial to your future career as a nurse. When weighing your nursing school options, look for a program such as Misericordia ABSN that offers clinical rotations that:

Offer placements in diverse specialty areas

To excel in your future nursing career you’ll need to be ready to care for patients across the lifespan with all sorts of maladies. Finding a nursing school that offers clinical rotations in a variety of specialty areas is important because it prepares you for all kinds of patient care scenarios.

Students enrolled in the Misericordia ABSN program complete 675 hours of clinical practice in diverse specialty areas.

“They will get experience in acute care, pediatrics, obstetrics (including labor and delivery) and specialties like psychiatric nursing,” says Misericordia ABSN Director Rebecca Zukowski, Ph.D., RN. “It’s a comprehensive training environment clinically.”

Begin early in the program

The earlier you can begin clinical rotations, the better, because it means you’ll have that many more opportunities to apply holistic nursing practices learned from your coursework and labs to in the real world. In Misericordia’s 16-month ABSN program, clinical rotations begin second semester.

Take place at top health care facilities in Pittsburgh

Completing this critical component of your nursing education in health care environments committed to delivering excellent patient care and keeping pace with the ever-evolving health care landscape will serve you well no matter where you choose to take your career after graduation. Not to mention you’ll stand to build professional connections with the nurses and other health care providers you work alongside for your duration in the program.

Misericordia ABSN offers quality clinical rotations at leading health care facilities in Pittsburgh, Zukowski says.

“Allegheny Health Network, for example, has amazing hospitals and health care systems. The kinds of clinical experiences our students will have there are amazing. They’ll be able to build their resumes with the experiences they get during their time with the Misericordia ABSN program,” she says.

Nursing School Accreditation

If you’ve researched anything about what to look for in a nursing school, you’ve likely come across information about approval and accreditation and wondered what they are and why they matter.

What is nursing school approval and accreditation?

When considering where to pursue your nursing education, keep in mind there are differing levels and types of accreditation for academic institutions and that one does not ensure the other:

  • Institutional accreditation refers to an entire institution meeting a set of standards designated by an accrediting body.
  • Programmatic accreditation refers to a specific program within an academic institution meeting certain criteria such as faculty qualifications, course content and program quality.

What accreditations should a nursing school have?

While several national accrediting bodies exist, six regional accrediting agencies oversee academic institutions within their particular geographic areas. Misericordia University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

On a programmatic level, the U.S. Department of Education has approved two primary bodies that accredit general nursing education:

  • Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), which accredits all levels of nursing education from LPN to clinical doctorate.
  • Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), a branch of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which accredits bachelor’s, master’s and postgraduate-level nursing programs.

Misericordia’s baccalaureate degree program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

What does State Board of Nursing approval mean?

No matter what nursing school you choose, it’s important to find one that is approved by its state’s board of nursing (BON). Each state has its own unique set of eligibility requirements for taking the exam and obtaining nurse licensure. These requirements are meant to protect the health, safety and welfare of its population.

Earning your nursing degree from a state BON-approved nursing school ensures your qualification to sit for the NCLEX; if your program doesn’t have this approval, you likely won’t be allowed to take it, thus making you ineligible to practice as a registered nurse.

“Nursing programs have standards to meet in order to be able to continue to be approved by the state board of nursing,” Zukowski says. “All quality nursing programs look to first-time pass rates on the NCLEX exam as a metric of the quality of the program and the curriculum.”

Misericordia University has legal permission from the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing to operate a nursing department in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Why is nursing school accreditation important?

Nursing school accreditation matters because it grants you the ability to:

  • Receive financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Transfer schools or advance your degree.
  • Have a competitive edge in the job market.
Infographic showing advantages to students of enrolling in an accredited nursing program, like financial aid eligibility.

From a caregiving standpoint, nationwide standards ensure patients can count on receiving the same level of care from registered nurses wherever they live.

Proven track record of student success

One of the best ways to determine if a nursing school will adequately prepare you to enter the profession is its previous track record. When researching different programs, keeping in mind a school’s history and trend of NCLEX pass rates can help you sift out the highest quality nursing programs from the rest.

History of university/nursing program

Pursuing your BSN at school with a stellar reputation of graduating students who are prepared to enter the workforce can definitely help you land your first post-graduation job. It shows potential employers that you’re able to excel in an academic institution known for its high educational standards.

The Misericordia ABSN program, for example, extends the university’s 90-year legacy of offering students a quality education, professional preparation, and service leadership.

“We have one of the oldest nursing programs in the state and currently offer programs through doctoral level. We have bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees in nursing,” Zukowski says.

Trend of high NCLEX pass rates

Another way you can gauge the quality of nursing programs you’re considering is how well it prepares its students to sit for the NCLEX. As mentioned earlier, all state-approved nursing schools must report how many of its students pass this exam on the first attempt.

The Misericordia ABSN program sets the academic and clinical groundwork necessary for you to sit for this exam. 2019 graduates of our BSN ground programs had a first-time NCLEX pass rate of 96.23 percent.

Infographic about Misericordia's 96.23% NCLEX pass rate in 2019

“It’s important to potential students to pay attention to that and understand that that doesn’t happen by accident, that these curriculums ensure that the students are acquiring the knowledge skills and the ability to be able to pass that exam on the first time,” Zukowski says. “When you look at pass rates you are looking at a reflection of the quality of the program.”

Student support resources

No matter what type of program you choose, nursing school is a notoriously intense experience for most students. Finding a program that offers built-in support resources can make the whole process — from getting in to understanding coursework to staying motivated through such an intense schedule — that much more manageable.

Between admissions counselors, dedicated faculty, faculty advisors and success coaches, the Misericordia ABSN program is well equipped with these kinds of dedicated staff to help you succeed through your nursing journey.

Admissions counselors

Even deciding where to earn your BSN can induce stress, a fact that is not lost on Misericordia ABSN’s dedicated team of admissions counselors. Their whole job is to help prospective students determine if they’re a fit for our program, and if so, the best time to start their accelerated nursing education as well as a plan to make it all happen.

“We help students set up a game plan for accelerated nursing school and start the admissions process,” Johnson says. “Our program is a little different, as we’re mostly talking to students who already have degrees and want a change. So we’re helping them start a new chapter.”

Dedicated faculty and faculty advisors

Even in programs that offer an online component, plenty of face-to-face support from faculty and instructors is a great characteristic for a nursing school to have. You want to know that if you ever find yourself struggling with a tough nursing topic that you have someone to reach out to for clarification and guidance.

Misericordia ABSN nursing faculty and clinical instructors are available myriad ways. You can reach out to them by participating in instructor chat sessions through our e-Learning platform, emailing, calling or stopping by their office at our nursing learning center in Robinson Township.

“We also have a faculty advisor who students can go to for mentoring and support,” Zukowski says.

Success coaches

Separate from faculty advisors, Misericordia ABSN success coaches are there to help you brainstorm solutions to any issues you encounter in nursing school. Their job is to assist you with study strategies, serve as a sounding board for any anxiety you encounter in the program and just generally help you achieve success in nursing school. Think of this person as your accelerated nursing school cheerleader.

“We offer myriad support resources for students, not just faculty support. For example, because sometimes they have multiple courses running at the same time, success coaches help them learn how to be successful at test taking and what they can do to help their study skills,” Zukowski says.

Infographic showing how many people are in the ABSN program to support students.

The right fit for YOU

All other measures of quality aside, when choosing a nursing school ultimately it comes down to which one feels like the best fit for you and your needs. If you’re looking for an accredited online-based accelerated nursing program to fast-forward into the profession, the Misericordia University ABSN program may be exactly what you’re looking for. To see if you are a good match for our program, complete this form to have an admissions counselor contact you.

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