Is an Accelerated Nursing Program Right for You?

As current nurses retire and the need for new nurses with more advanced training continues to rise, the Department of Labor predicts the demand for one million registered nurses (RN) to fill open positions. Another reason for the push to hire more nurses trained at the bachelor level is to address care and access for racial minorities. Healthcare researchers have determined that a diverse and highly trained workforce is the best way to accomplish this. In response to this unprecedented demand, nursing schools nationwide are employing innovative methods to reach potential students.

One way to attract talented students is by offering accelerated nursing programs at the bachelor and graduate degree levels for people whose college degree is in an area other than nursing. The accelerated bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs enable people with an undergraduate degree in another discipline to transfer to a career in nursing by building on what they have already learned. Accelerated nursing programs also present the information these students need to succeed in their new nursing career.

Understanding Accelerated Nursing Programs

Accelerated nursing programs enable students who previously earned a bachelor degree in a non-nursing discipline to complete a second degree in less than 18 months. Some programs take as little as 11 months to complete. Because this requires full-time study, most schools that offer accelerated BSN programs encourage students not to work at the same time. Even a part-time job is likely to be too demanding. These programs are the quickest way for a person to earn the BSN credential that many healthcare organizations now prefer.

Students applying to accelerated nursing programs receive academic credit for college courses they completed previously. That eliminates the need to repeat them, although many degree programs include brief refresher courses. Patients benefit from the previous work experience of these older students, even when it wasn’t in nursing. Students in accelerated BSN programs tend to see them through to completion at higher rates than students earning their first bachelor degree.

More About the Emergence of Accelerated Nursing Programs  

One challenge that accelerated nursing programs face is to maintain the quality and integrity of nursing education while producing qualified nurses as quickly as healthcare organizations need them. To date, the reputation of colleges offering accelerated BSN programs remains excellent. That is one reason why the enthusiasm for these programs continues to increase. Prospective nursing students are appreciative as well since they do not have to complete an additional four to six years of college required for a typical bachelor or master degree.

Students enrolling in accelerated nursing programs cite a changing economy and the desire for their career to make a difference in the world as motivating factors. With no previous experience in nursing, students can be ready to work as an RN in 18 months or less. Those who opt for an accelerated graduate degree are eligible for a high-level nursing position in just 36 months. Accelerated degree programs, in general, have increased in popularity nearly tenfold since first introduced approximately 25 years ago.

Employers value those who graduate from accelerated nursing programs because they bring a level of depth and maturity to the job. They are better able to absorb new information quickly in their work as an RN after having done this in school. Moreover, their clinical nursing skills are often stronger than RNs who obtained a degree the traditional way. Because of the substantial benefit to employers, many schools offering accelerated BSN programs are now working with healthcare practices to provide tuition assistance and other incentives to attract the most highly qualified nurses.

The Fast Track to a Nursing Career

Accelerated BSN programs prepare adult learners to move into a new career in nursing quickly by granting credit for previous college work. Some people also refer to accelerated nursing programs as second degrees. They are an excellent option for people who already have a degree and want to make a career transition into nursing. The curriculum in these programs builds on information learned previously. It moves at a fast and intense pace. Students don’t typically take time off for summer breaks and long holiday breaks as they might in an entry-level degree program.

Students who complete accelerated nursing programs are often more successful in school than those in entry-level degree programs. Because they are older and usually have significant work experience, they remain focused and motivated to do well. They are enthusiastic about gaining clinical nursing experience and tend to participate more in lectures and labs. These programs focus on teaching leadership skills, cultural sensitivity in patient care, wellness, prevention and evidence-based practice in nursing. Instructors often work in the field of nursing or have in the past.

The typical structure for an accelerated BSN program is to combine classroom lectures with hands-on instruction in a laboratory setting. After completing all formal requirements, graduates of accelerated nursing programs are eligible to take state licensing exams as well as the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), both of which are essential to working in the field of nursing. Students who are considering enrolling in one of these programs should understand the following:

  • Accelerated nursing programs differ in both length and intensity than a typical degree program that people interested in nursing might enter after high school. Programs are full-time without breaks between each session. The instruction is also faster and more intense, which allows students in accelerated BSN programs to obtain the same number of clinical hours as those enrolled in a typical nursing degree program.
  • Most colleges that offer accelerated nursing programs require at least a 3.0 grade-point average for admission. It is the job of the admissions counselors to select students who will do well in the intense and fast-paced environment. Due to the rigors of the program, they give preference to students who don’t intend to work at the same time.
  • Colleges have specially designed these programs for students who have already achieved success in the college setting. These mature students know what to expect and feel dedicated to completing the program successfully to begin a new career in nursing.

Accelerated Nursing Programs Online

In some ways, nursing schools have been slow to adopt online learning. That is because students must learn and practice many of the skills in a laboratory setting. However, college administrators understand that accelerated BSN program students still have other obligations even when they aren’t working at an outside job. For this reason, many schools now offer the option of completing some of the basic or core requirements online.

Accelerated nursing programs sometimes replace lectures and laboratory work with simulations of actual work experiences of nurses. Clinical rotations are a required and essential part of earning this degree. Students can complete this portion of their program in their local community, which comes in handy when attending the school itself requires a longer commute.

Students enrolled in accelerated BSN programs have the flexibility of completing their assignments when it is convenient for them. However, they must still adhere to due dates and advance through the program at the same time as other students. Classes typically don’t take place on campus each day.

Financial Aid for Accelerated Nursing Programs

Financial aid is even more essential for students in accelerated nursing programs than typical college students due to the difficulty of maintaining outside employment at the same time. Gift aid, which includes both grants and scholarships, is most attractive because students don’t have to pay it back, with federal and state awards based on financial need and scholarships on qualifications. Individuals and organizations offering scholarships determine the criteria and select the recipients they feel meets them the best.

Deciding to go back to school is a big decision for anyone, especially those already in the workforce who have numerous other responsibilities. It’s important that family understands the intensity of the program and supports the student’s goals. The student should also consider finding a mentor since this person would understand his or her daily struggles and serve as a source of encouragement.

Source: CNA Training