What's the Nursing Curriculum Like for Registered and Practical Nurses?

A nursing curriculum is the blueprint to your career destiny. Nursing curricula vary by school, whether the program is for an undergraduate or associate degree and, within those programs, whether it is for registered or practical nurses.

Practical Nursing Programs

The fastest way to get into nursing is through a practical degree program. Typically lasting three semesters and requiring few prerequisites, as a practical nursing student, you could graduate with a diploma after 40-50 semester credits. Not all courses carry the same weight though: For example, practical nursing classes include fieldwork, and can total 10-12 credit hours. Here is an example of typical courses that are required by a program:

  • Fall semester — Anatomy and Physiology I, General Psychology and Practical Nursing I
  • Spring semester — Anatomy and Physiology II, Expository Writing and Practical Nursing II
  • Summer semester — Practical Nursing III

Registered Nurse Programs

Though a great deal of variation can exist from one program to another, the goal of the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is to train you to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) — and to work as an entry-level RN. All associate nursing programs include a year of supervised clinical practice. In addition, a typical curriculum will total around 70 semester credits and may resemble the following:

  • Fall semester — Anatomy and Physiology I, General Psychology, Introduction to Health Concepts and Algebra and Pharmacology
  • Spring semester — Anatomy and Physiology II, Health-Illness Concepts and Microbiology and Holistic Health Concepts
  • Fall semester — Expository Writing, Nursing Leadership and Management, Developmental Psychology and Health Systems Concepts
  • Spring semester — Professional Research and Reporting, Family Health Concepts and Adult Health Concepts

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a 120-semester hour liberal arts degree. Along with a nursing skills curriculum similar to associate programs, the BSN will deepen your professional understanding by expanding coursework into other academic disciplines. It includes a strong focus in nursing theory and clinical work with multiple populations. Here is an example of one school's BSN curriculum:

  • First semester — Introductory classes in chemistry, algebra, psychology and sociology as well as a computer literacy class
  • Second semester — Biochemistry, Expository Writing, Fitness and Physical Health, two to four Humanities (a blend of arts, history and literature) courses and an elective
  • Third semester — Two additional Humanities classes, Microbiology, Anatomy and Physiology I and Developmental Psychology
  • Fourth semester — Statistics, Nutrition Science, one Social Science elective and Anatomy and Physiology II
  • Fifth semester — Introduction to Professional Nursing, Pharmacology, Nursing Care of Families, Nursing Care of Children and Clinical Nursing Foundations I
  • Sixth semester — Clinical Nursing Foundations II, Concepts of Physiopathology, Health Assessment, Clinical Nursing Foundations II and Maternal Nursing
  • Seventh semester — Mental Health Nursing, Medical and Surgical Nursing, Nursing Management, Nursing Research and Geriatric Nursing
  • Eighth semester — Community Health, Nursing Care of Adults, Nursing Issues and Trends and Senior Thesis

These curricula represent the coursework required to become a practical nurse or a registered nurse at both the associate and bachelor degree levels. If you are already a nurse looking for ways to advance your education, accelerated nursing programs with a similar, but trimmed down nursing curriculum might be the answer, bridging you from PN to RN or RN to BSN.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tags: allied-health, associate degree in nursing, Healthcare and Medical, LPN, nursing, patient care, Registered Nursing, Vocational & Practical Nursing, Empower

Charles R. Hooper, MSW

About Charles R. Hooper, MSW

With over 20 years experience as a medical social worker and a master's degree in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have been honored to dedicate most of my professional life to service in health care. I have worked in multiple medical/nursing settings, including cardiology, orthopedics, neurology, trauma care and others. I also founded the medical social work program at a regional trauma center and a very busy emergency department. View all posts by Charles R. Hooper, MSW →
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