The Nursing Diploma: The “Old-School” Way to Becoming a RN

What is a nursing diploma and how is it relevant in your pursuit of a career as a registered nurse? A diploma in nursing is an entry-level nursing degree. This means that completing a nursing diploma program can make you eligible for sitting in the NCLEX, the mandatory examination for getting a license as a registered nurse.

Diplomas were the mandatory education and skills training programs for the nursing professionals in the mid 1900s. Those were the times when nursing degrees were not offered yet and individuals who entered the profession did so through nursing diploma programs.

Gradually though, these diploma programs that were administered by hospitals, gave way to associate and bachelor of science degrees, which are offered by schools and colleges. The 800 or so nursing diploma programs in the 1970s have trickled down to less than 100 to date.

Nursing Diploma or Associates Degree in Nursing?

A nursing diploma program is not the only express route to starting one’s career in nursing. The associate’s degree in nursing or ADN is another entry-level nursing degree that can lead to a license as a registered nurse. The question is, which is the better jump off point?

The two programs are quite similar in many aspects. Both don’t require 4 years of classroom instruction and hands-on training, unlike the BSN degree. Both also qualify you to sit for the NCLEX, the all-important exam to obtain your license as a registered nurse. The ADN degree will typically take three to four years to complete and is done in most community and junior colleges. A nursing diploma is a hospital-based program which typically takes about three years to complete as well.

The biggest difference between the two is when it comes to advanced degree opportunities. An associates degree in nursing meets all requirements for a higher nursing education so you have the flexibility to pursue a BSN degree if you want. The nursing diploma program, on the other hand, does not. This difference is particularly important if you have plans in advancing your degree in the future.

What you do get with a hospital-based diploma in nursing is a program that gives emphasis on patient care and clinical skills. Of course, considering that it’s a three-year program, there will also be various nursing-specific course subjects required such as basic pharmacology, nursing informatics, elements of patient care and patient care specialties, psychology, sociology, and others.

Nature of Work of the RN

With a nursing diploma and a license on hand, you are qualified for entry-level staff positions in hospitals and patient care facilities, where you will be tasked primarily to see to the care and treatment of patients. Getting patients’ vital signs, recording medical history, and administering medications are only a few of the responsibilities that you will need to do once you become an RN. You will also need to perform diagnostic tests and basic procedures, operate medical equipment, and assess a patient’s condition, reporting any significant changes to the physician.

It is the staff nurse’s job as well to regularly update the patient and the family on the illness or injury, give adequate information and instructions on post-treatment care and management, and in general, provide the much-needed support and encouragement to them.

Average Earnings and Job Outlook for RNs

It can’t be denied that many are interested in going into the health care industry, nursing in particular, because of the stability it offers. And indeed, nursing is one of the best-paying jobs these days, with those belonging in the middle income bracket earning anywhere between $51,640 and $76,570. Nurses in general medical hospitals, where diploma holders most often start their careers, enjoy annual wages of about $63,000.

Further, employment prospects for new nurses remain to be excellent as they have been for the past years. In 2008, there were 2.6 million active nursing job positions and more are waiting to be filled in. Hospitals continue to have the highest demand, employing more than 60 percent of the work force. More opportunities, however, are expected to open up in home health care and in patient care facilities.

Even with just a three-year diploma in nursing, graduates can go on to become licensed nurses, work in hospitals, and even go on to higher management positions by putting in a few more years of schooling. A nursing diploma may not be as common now as they used to be, but it’s still a workable option towards a nursing career.

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