Lists are published all the time of the top nursing schools in the country. These schools provide a rigorous educational experience, are highly selective and often affiliated with a medical hospital and university. They are primarily BSN programs, and that university's name on your resume looks great when applying to grad schools.
That being said, a nurse's alma mater is less important than her experience and licensure status. A nurse can be extremely successful working with patients whether she attended a major university or a local community college. However, all quality nursing schools will have the following five things in common.
1. High NCLEX Pass Rates (First Time)
The gold standard of evaluating the quality of a nursing program is how well it prepares its students to pass the NCLEX. What good is a nursing program if you can't practice afterwards? Top nursing schools will prepare students to pass the licensing exam from day one, and some may have an extensive test preparation course that lasts for the duration of nursing school. Compare the NCLEX first-time pass rates of all of your prospective nursing programs to determine quality.
Accreditation by a national accrediting council means that the school is adhering to certain quality standards. Accreditation requires schools to have quality instructors, clearly communicate with students and have an in-depth curriculum, as well as much more. You will be able to sit for the NCLEX if you attend an unaccredited school, but jobs with government agencies and applying for higher education will be out of your reach. It is also indicative that the school may not be providing the best education for its students. Top schools are always nationally accredited.
3. Valuable Clinical Hours and Experiences
The best nursing schools will have good relationships with the hospitals in the area, and their students will have ample learning opportunities in a variety of fields. Long-term care facilities are an important part of learning the fundamentals of nursing, but they should not make up a large portion of the clinical experience. Also, the students should get plenty of clinical hours to help them gain needed experience.
4. Attrition Rate
Nursing school is difficult, so inevitably some students will drop out. However, a school with many dropouts is concerning. Does the school adequately support its students? Is the curriculum disordered and difficult to follow? Does the school accept candidates that are academically prepared? A high attrition rate begs all of these questions, and another: do you really want to attend a school that people are dropping out of at a high rate?
5. Student Satisfaction
Speaking to recent graduates or current students will give you an idea of what the program is actually like. Do they feel that the program is organized? What is their overall impression? Would they attend that school again? Keep in mind that every student will have complaints about every nursing school, but talking to students does give you an idea of what kind of challenges you may face.
More important than attending one of the "top nursing schools" is attending a quality nursing school and working hard to master the concepts they teach you. Your individual attributes in combination with a quality education will be what sets you apart as a great nurse.
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