What Do You Learn in Nursing School?

Reader question: Ive heard nursing school is hard but rewarding. But exactly, what do you learn in nursing school? What subjects, skills, and procedures should I expect?

Answer: Students normally spend half of their coursework learning the theoretical skills of being nurses, such as learning the hearts rhythm or patient care.

The other half is spent applying those principles and philosophies into practice through hospital clinical rotations; this includes learning procedures such as starting an IV. This way, they get to experience the responsibilities of being a nurse first-hand and equip them for their chosen profession.

What you learn in nursing school varies with the program chosen

The breadth and depth of skills, procedures, and knowledge learned by nursing students depend on the nursing program they choose.

Students can aspire to become Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN), Registered Nurses (RN), and Advanced Practice Nurses (APN) through various programs offered in vocational and technical learning centers, community colleges, universities and in a number of large hospitals.

Well overview whats learned in each nursing profession.

In the US, each state has its own Nursing Board which governs the training and licensing of all nurses, and licensure is only valid in the state where it was issued. Also, there may be prerequisites for nursing school that need to be met.

Registered Nurses

Students aspiring to become an RN can take one of three routes: a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a 2-year Associate Degree in Nursing (AND), or a 3-year hospital training diploma. For the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the minimum requirement is BSN.

The ADN programs are usually available at community colleges in your locality. For full time students, they usually complete the degree in two years. (Read: How long is nursing school?)

The ADN curriculum generally requires the completion of 18-20 courses and 115-130 credit hours. The following are sample courses you may take:

  • Communication skills and critical thinking, verbal and non-verbal
  • Pathophysiology
  • College algebra
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Fundamentals in nursing, role of nurses in the care and treatment of patients
  • Nursing process
  • Physical assessment, patient history-taking and data collection
  • Medical-surgical nursing which includes 80 hours of theory and concepts, 20 laboratory hours, and 150 hours of clinical practice
  • Maternal-newborn nursing which includes 60 hours of theory and concepts, 20 laboratory hours, and 90 hours of clinical practice
  • Pediatric nursing focuses on caring for children and requires 60 hours theory, 20 hours laboratory, and 90 hours clinical practice
  • Foundations of mental health nursing consisting of 60 hours theory, 20 hours laboratory, and 90 hours clinical practice
  • Current issues in the field of nursing
  • Advanced medical-surgical nursing with 40 theory hours and 150 clinical practice hours
  • Integration practicum strengthens the students’ skills and knowledge in different supervised settings
  • Basic nutrition
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

The credits earned from an ADN are usually recognized and accredited should the student decide to pursue BSN.

The breadth of BSN degree programs generally include all those covered by ADN programs but with greater depth.

This 4-year degree is usually available in colleges and universities. (See our school finder to find a program near you.)

The first and second years emphasize learning of natural sciences, humanities, social sciences and other minor nursing courses.

The third and fourth years focus on major nursing courses and practical clinical training in healthcare clinics and hospitals. Onsite practical training settings vary, such as primary care, critical care, public health, and mental health care.

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN)

LPNs typically acquire their nursing education from technical schools or hospitals.

An LPN training program requires from twelve to eighteen months of rigorous curriculum state-approved schools, which includes both classroom learning and supervised clinical training in placements – usually in hospitals.

After completion of such program, you have to pass the licensure exam before you can legally start practicing your career as an LPN.

Licensed nurses usually work in hospitals or clinics, and generally provide basic patient care under the direct supervision of physicians and registered nurses.

Compared to registered nurses, their responsibilities are quite limited and potentials for career advancement could remain practically impeded.

The LPN curriculum generally contains the following subjects and courses:

  • Introduction to human anatomy and physiology, with focus on how body structure and systems relate to health and diseases
  • Basic concepts of medical and nursing care, with emphasis on roles the LPN in the hospital setting
  • Mathematics involved in pharmacology, drug preparation, dosages and administration
  • Fundamentals of practical nursing
  • Communication skills, legal and ethical concepts, medical and surgical concepts
  • Concepts on caring for adults and children
  • Concepts on mental health and diseases
  • Clinical training follow every on concept learned
  • A curriculum usually has between 600 to 700 class hours and 900 to 1,000 clinical practice hours.

Advanced Practice Nurses

Nurse practitioners (NP), Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS), Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM), and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) are all Advanced Practice Nurses or APNs.

At the minimum, an APN must have a master’s degree or post-baccalaureate degrees.

NP or Nurse practitioners work independently of physicians in diagnosing, interpreting laboratory tests, treating patients and managing healthcare. Courses include:

  • Theoretical foundation for APN
  • Statistics for the healthcare professional
  • Pathophysiology for APN
  • Clinical decision-making
  • Applied pharmacology for APN
  • Healthcare policy and politics
  • Research for APN
  • Health assessment, management
  • Primary care
  • Clinical practicum

CNS or clinical nurse specialists are experts in a particular field of specialization. The curriculum can be taken online and can be completed from 2 to 3 years.

CRNA or nurse anesthetists are registered nurses with at least one year experience in an intensive care unit or post-anesthesia care unit and a master’s degree in Nurse Anesthesia
Practice which usually takes from 24 to 36 months to complete.

Students learn test concepts and anesthesia techniques, and their application to medical, surgical, dental, obstetrical and pediatric cases.

CNW or nurse midwives must complete the general course requirements for all APNs, but with added specialized course on:

  • Reproductive healthcare of women
  • Labor, birth and newborn care
  • Caring for the family in crisis
  • There are many ways to learn and assess what you learned

Whether students aspire to be an LPN, RN or APN, the program requirements will entail learning about theory and concepts, and acquiring skills through practical placements.

Theories and concepts are learned through essays, readings, research, and other forms of academic work.

Learning concepts and theories prepare students to the practical placements that follow.

Practical placements allow students to get insights from the actual work setting where they will be given responsibilities, tasks and opportunities to learn from nurse mentors.

A placement can take several weeks depending on program requirements.

Mentors assess the students’ achievements against expected learning outcomes for every course.

Assessments can be in the form of essays, assignments, presentations and exams.

The extent and intensity of the education and training required for nursing students will vary depending on the roles that they will eventually take as nurses.

I hope this answers the question, what do you learn in nursing school? If you completed your degree and are an RN, consider answering this question: What did you learn about yourself in nursing school?