Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are advanced healthcare practitioners with similar responsibilities, such as diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medications. However, their training and paths toward certification differ in significant ways. This blog post unpacks the key differences between NPs and PAs to help you determine which career path best aligns with your goals. What Is a Nurse Practitioner? A nurse practitioner (NP) is a licensed clinician who provides comprehensive healthcare to patients of all ages. An NP can work in virtually any healthcare setting, diagnosing patient conditions and prescribing medications. As of October 2022, nurse practitioners have full practice authority in 27 states, meaning that they can practice Read more
Is it hard to become a nurse? Yes. Will it be worth the effort? Definitely. If you’re thinking about getting an associate degree or bachelors degree in nursing—or if you’re a working registered nurse who’s contemplating earning your graduate degree—it’s normal to feel nervous about the idea of school. Nursing requires more dedication than many other careers. However, it’s one of the most rewarding jobs you can have.
Nursing school is notoriously difficult—and it’s not for everyone. Graduate school is challenging as well. But how tough are we talking about?
How Hard Is It to Get Into Nursing School?
There is no simple answer to this question. Every nursing program has different admissions requirements, and your particular situation and background may make you more attractive to some schools than others. The good news is that there are several levels of nursing and hundreds of nursing schools and graduate nursing programs across the country, so if you don’t get accepted by one, try researching others.
Ultimately, your ability to get into nursing school or grad school will come down to these factors:
- Competition: Even though the demand for nurses is high, the competition for seats in nursing programs is even more intense. In 2018, over 75,000 qualified applicants were turned away from undergraduate and graduate nursing programs due to a lack of faculty and classroom space.
- Prerequisites: Given this competition, the more prerequisites you have finished before applying to school, the better chance you have of getting accepted. Research early on which prerequisites you need so you can get ahead of the game.
- Experience: Any experience you have in the health care field will help your application. If you don’t have clinical experience yet, consider volunteering at a clinic or hospital.
How Hard Is Nursing School, Really?
Nursing school should be hard. Good programs take a rigorous, immersive approach to preparing you for patient care. There are pressing deadlines to meet, lab skills to master, and challenging exams to take. You may have moments of feeling exhausted, burned out, or defeated. You must be smart with the way you manage your time.
If you are thinking of going to grad school to earn your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), expect to put in the work. Graduate coursework can be very challenging because you are learning more advanced material. However, the level of difficulty will depend on the school and how well your prior education and work experience have prepared you. It also depends on the BSN program’s flexibility. Some programs have self-paced options that allow you to accelerate your time to degree completion by proving your competency in areas of knowledge. Or, you may be able to take a lighter course load to more comfortably balance your work and life responsibilities.
5 Things You Should Know About Nursing School
1. You’ll study a lot.
Nursing programs have a demanding credit load, and many nursing students stack challenging courses during the same term in order to fast-track their degrees. That could mean multiple critical exams falling on the same day or week. However, as long as you take the time to study and prepare, you should be okay. Search the Web for practice tests and reach out to classmates to form study groups online.
2. You’ll need good time management skills.
If, for example, you will be attending grad school while working full-time as a BSN-level nurse, you will need to craft a schedule that keeps it all in balance. Find an employer who offers flexible scheduling. And consider an online BSN program so you can study anytime and anywhere, such as your favorite café or library. Planning out your work and study schedule ahead of time will help lessen your stress.
3. You’ll be challenged.
There’s no doubt that nursing school and grad school are challenging. You’ll be pushed out of your comfort zone. There may be times when you feel burned out and want to give up. That’s normal and okay. Just remember to stay positive and focused.
4. You’ll have job flexibility.
Because of the increasingly high demand for nurses in this country, nurses are afforded a level of flexibility that a lot of other professions can’t provide. They can work as traveling nurses. They can work locally or virtually anywhere farther afield. They can also choose from dozens of specialty areas. Some nurses choose to change role specialties multiple times. Aside from patient care roles, options include working as a nurse educator, nurse informaticist, nurse executive, family nurse practitioner or nurse entrepreneur. Nurses with more experience and an advanced degree may have more flexibility in setting their work hours and choosing their location.
5. You’ll have opportunities to advance.
Whether you are earning your RN, your BSN, or your graduate nursing degree, improving your credentials will open up new doors for nursing career advancement. It will also expose you to opportunities you hadn’t even thought of. You will network and collaborate with faculty and your peers in other specialties, expanding your connections and your awareness of the possibilities. Joining a professional association can help as well.
Why Nursing School Is Worth It
Graduates of a nursing programs have the satisfaction of knowing they will make a difference in the lives of others. They also have an excellent chance of finding employment right out of college. In the United States, the number of jobs for RNs is expected to grow 12% from 2018 to 2028.
Master’s and doctoral degree programs prepare nursing students for a number of direct and indirect patient care roles across a wide range of practice areas. You can be anything from a chief nursing officer (CNO) to a nurse administrator. The nursing career opportunities are extensive and exciting.
Sure, nursing school is hard. But success is possible if you have a positive attitude, stay organized, and commit to it 100 percent.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, as well as Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates designed for a working registered nurse. Our programs are offered online, with optional on-campus immersions* and an annual interprofessional trip abroad. Role specialties include Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Nurse Educator**, Nursing Informaticist, and Nurse Executive. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Complete coursework when and where you want—and earn your advanced nursing degree while keeping your work and life in balance.
*The FNP track includes two required hands-on clinical intensives as part of the curriculum.
**Nurse Educator specialization not available for DNP program.
American Association of College of Nursing. “Nursing Faculty Shortage.” Last updated September 2020. https://www.aacnnursing.org/News-Information/Fact-Sheets/Nursing-Faculty-Shortage. Accessed: January 26, 2022
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners.” Last modified December 7, 2021. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm. Accessed: January 26, 2022
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Registered Nurses.” Last modified September 8, 2021. https://www.bls.gov/OOH/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm. Accessed: January 26, 2022
National League for Nursing. “Nursing Education Statistics.” http://www.nln.org/newsroom/nursing-education-statistics. Accessed: January 26, 2022