April 8, 2014

Graduate School | Bedside Nursing Experience

QUESTION: How many years of bedside nursing experience would be "appropriate" before applying to graduate school?

ANSWER: This is dependent upon the school and the program selected but I personally believe that NO specific amount of bedside experience will ALWAYS equate being a proficient medical professional. Meaning, you don't need 10+ years of bedside experience to be successful in a nurse practitioner (NP) or certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) program. I'm relatively new to nursing but I've found that old-school nurses tend to have the same thought process which is, "nurses need to pay their dues and put the proper time in before even considering going to graduate school." I find the phrase very concerning and discouraging to individuals who want to advance the nursing profession.

As a young nurse, this really made me second-guess myself and hold back on applying to programs. What changed my mind was simply evaluating the nurses who had the "appropriate" experience and their overall performance. I've collaborated and worked with individuals who have 10+ years of bedside experience and they too have mild efficiency problems and seek assistance, just like I do. No one is perfect and as long as you have the proper education, adequate nursing experience and academic qualifications, nothing should hold you back. Having experience will definitely help you in your desired program but, having a certain number of bedside nursing years doesn't automatically make you competent in your position.

With that said, I've also worked with individuals who went straight to graduate school without ANY bedside nursing experience and this was problematic. These individuals have no bedside nursing point-of-reference and have never used their nursing skills to care of individuals. This is a big concern because graduate programs don't teach nursing foundations or medical fundamentals. You are excepted to have a certain database within yourself and nursing intellect. With no bedside experience, you lack this general knowledge and it puts you at a severe disadvantage academically and professionally. I believe bedside nursing experience is a necessity and should be required for all graduate nursing programs.

In summary, bedside nursing experience is great and will help you in your desired program. But, you don't need a decade or certain years of experience to advance your nursing career. Though, you will need bedside nursing experience in general to provide you with nursing foundations and adequate critical thinking skills. Apply for graduate school when you feel you ready and meet the requirements.