While it may seem necessary, nurses are not required to attend medical school. Depending upon what area of nursing an individual wishes to pursue, either a 2-year degree from a vocational school or 4-year degree from a college or university is all that's needed to begin practicing. Nurses must also pass a licensing exam prior to practicing.
Medical school is not necessary to begin a career as a nurse. There are a number of pathways you can take. It depends on what your end goal is for nursing, what kind of work environment appeals to you the most, and which population you may want to focus on. For the purposes of this question, I'm going to assume you're thinking of becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) and would be happy working in any number of medical environments.
To become an RN, you will, of course, need some form of higher ed degree. As a junior going into your senior year, it's a good idea to start looking into accredited nursing programs now, and apply early. (This is an excellent resource: https://www.allnursingschools.com/) Nursing programs can be very competitive. As an industry, nursing is in high demand, and lots of people are interested in entering the field, but there are only so many openings for students. To be a standout applicant, I recommend two things: Grades and experience.
As a student, you will want to concentrate on doing well in your science classes. If you have the option of taking an anatomy/physiology class at your school, I highly recommend doing that. Is there something like a pre-med or health science-type club at your school? If so, consider joining; even if the intended career paths of the other students don't totally align with yours, it's in the same realm.
If you have the time and energy outside of school to get some experience, I would recommend looking at places like assisted living facilities, where you can get some hands-on experience with people who need that kind of support. As a high school student, you will be limited in what roles you'll be allowed to take on, but it doesn't hurt to contact places and just ask - even a summer experience can be helpful. You can shadow the CNAs or LPNs, assist with transport (as in, helping a resident go from one place to another, not driving them in your car), or set up the residents' food trays and help deliver them to their rooms or the dining area. Hospitals may offer very entry-level positions such as patient sitter, patient transport, or dietary aide that will also get you this kind of experience. It looks awesome on a resume and makes you a stronger candidate for a nursing program.
Start looking into nursing programs soon. It may seem early, but remember that this time in 2022, you'll be wrapping up your senior year and will want to have an idea of where you'll be attending. I can't stress enough how competitive these programs can be, so the more you prepare yourself and start early, the less stressed out Future Leslie is going to be. Here are a few degree options:
- Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) - You'll be in and out of school quicker and will therefore be able to enter the workforce sooner. However, the ADN isn't always regarded as highly as other degrees because the bachelor's programs go more in-depth.
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) - This is the traditional pathway to becoming a nurse. You will have to ensure that the college/university you're looking at is accredited, and, as I said, these programs can be extremely hard to get into because of how many students want a spot.
- Accelerated Nursing Program (ABSN) - This is a popular option for folks who enter college to earn a degree other than a BSN but still want to become nurses. These are post-baccalaureate programs that will give you the skills and clinical experience to earn a nursing degree in 18-24 months. The downside is that they're very intense and can be expensive; you're also in school for much longer overall because you will have earned a BA/BS already.
There are also graduate degree options, but again, it depends on your specific nursing goals.
Let's say that Future Leslie has decided that the BSN route is the best match. Great! Apply to as many schools as you can, in various parts of the country. Do some research into what the pre-requisites are. Do you have to have a certain SAT/ACT score? Do you have to have a certain GPA? Make sure that you continue to do well in your classes and study hard for those exams. The higher your scores, the better chance of getting in.
In the event that you don't get into a nursing program in 2022, it's not the end of the world. Really. It's not. Take that time to gain more experience with patients. By this point, having your high school diploma will open up more opportunities for you. You can work as a tech in a hospital setting or earn your CNA (training takes just a few weeks, and sometimes the employer will cover the cost if you agree to work for them for X amount of time). Then, try again as soon as the schools are accepting applications. With the additional work experience, you'll be an even stronger candidate than before. But here's hoping that you'll be able to get in your first try!