POV: In Defense of Associate Degree Nurses
I write to offer a different perspective than the one reflected in the cover story on nursing education in the Oct. 20, 2008, edition of Community College Week. I found the article very unflattering to the nursing profession, though that attitude is indicative of how the public and many educators view the profession.
I hold an associate of science nursing degree from Seminole Community College and a bachelor’s degree in health care administration from the University of Central Florida and am working on my master’s as a family nurse practitioner. I take the time to mentor nursing students at the hospital where I work during their clinical rotations.
The notion of a two-year nursing degree in the United States is an urban legend, a myth perpetuated by the lack of knowledge not only within the general public but one that permeates through the world of academia.
Students seeking admittance into one of the limited-seat nursing programs must successfully complete rigorous pre-requisite courses, typically including chemistry, anatomy, physiology and algebra. If students have not completed them in high school, they must pass them at the college level.
Students who earn an associate degree in nursing must pass the exact same state board exams as do nurses with bachelor’s degrees to attain licensure. The groups have similar pass rates. The starting pay for both groups is generally the same. When a graduate of either group goes to work in the health-care setting, they both must be trained by the employer for up to six months before going to work on their own.
Both groups must complete the same amount of continuing education units to maintain their licenses, and they both require additional training in the specialty areas of their choosing. There are more than 100 specialties of nursing, and to be proficient in any, registered nurses must continue their education. There is no requirement to have a bachelor’s degree to attain this training or added certification to practice in these areas.
Community colleges fulfill a need in our country with the training of the nurses who will someday take care of you, me, or someone that we care about. There are not enough seats in the universities to fill the need, and the community colleges have stepped up and aggressively addressed that shortage.
The colleges are under-funded, underappreciated and shunned in the academic community as a lesser level of education.
Yet they turn out the greatest number of qualified nurses. There is a lot to be desired in all of nursing education in the United States, but until the perception changes of what a nurse does and is, there will not be any great strides.
I frequently speak to student nurses about how “one nurse can make a difference,” and that holds true whether they are at the bedside, in the classroom, giving a shot, cleaning the patient up from an accident or just being there to listen.
It is those moments that make nursing, no matter what the education level, count, because you can never teach compassion. Being a nurse is many times a thankless job, with long hours, high stress and low pay.
Many community college nursing students are working on a second career. They are older than the university students and are parents working to support families while going to school to better themselves.
It is unfortunate that in any other profession, when people are trying to better themselves, there are 10 people to help them climb the ladder. In nursing, there seem to be 10 nurses kicking you in the head to keep you down.
In closing, I acknowledge there is a real shortage of nursing instructors.
Students who want to teach need to be encouraged to further their educations so that they can become instructors. It is the responsibility of nurses to respect their instructors. Colleges need to find ways to provide nurses with incentives to leave the bedside to teach.
Just as patients have no choice but to trust the nurse with their lives, we must teach nurses to accept that responsibility humbly.
We must strive at all levels to improve the education of nurses.
Dino V. Soriano Sr. RN, HSA
Lake Mary, Fla.