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Personal tips on a nursing career path

Is nursing for you? consider volunteering at the hospital

The Bermuda College has embarked on a publicity campaign in the wake of recent criticism of its associate degree in science, nursing programme.

Anyone who is considering nursing as a career is perhaps wondering about the best way forward. Here are some suggestions, based on my personal experience as a former registered nurse, and what I have learnt about the evolution of nursing education over the last three decades.

In May 1969, I graduated from the Montreal General Hospital School of Nursing’s three-year diploma programme. There were just over 100 graduates in the Class of 1969. In the summer of that year, we took the New York State licensing exam. The vast majority of us passed it, and we became registered nurses.

Across town, Montreal’s venerable McGill University also had a nursing programme. But it was a cut above ours. It was five years in length, and we heard that its student nurses did their anatomy and physiology courses alongside medical students. McGill nurses graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing, which prepared them for careers as nurse administrators and educators. But just like us MGH grads, they had to pass a licensing exam (likely New York State’s) in order to become registered nurses.

Little did I know then that the McGill programme would become the template for nursing education in North America and the UK Hospital-based diploma programmes like the one under which I trained are history.

While many graduates of diploma schools feel something has been lost in the process, nursing education has moved from a hospital setting to colleges and universities. My nursing school graduated its last students in 1972.

Today, both in Canada (all provinces except Quebec) and the United Kingdom, nursing school graduates have a bachelor’s degree as minimum. The website of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario says: “Evidence supports the fact that baccalaureate-prepared nurses are most able to provide safe, ethical, cost-effective and high quality nursing care for Canadians.”

While I am not familiar with the range of nursing programmes in the Caribbean, the University of the West Indies in Jamaica has a highly regarded and competitive BSN programme for entry-level nurses.

In the US, there are two-year associate degree programmes for aspiring registered nurses. (In 2015, a Bermudian graduated from the New England Institute of Technology’s two-year Associate in Science Degree in Nursing programme in Rhode Island, with the support of Government’s Department of Workforce Development.) But bachelor’s degrees are preferred and graduates of two-year programmes are encouraged to pursue a bachelor’s degree after qualifying as registered nurses.

The move towards a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement for nurses was the reason for then shadow health minister Louise Jackson’s opposition to Health Minister Nelson Bascome’s proposal, back in 2006, to establish a two-year associate degree programme at the College.

So what’s a Bermudian considering nursing to do? The worldwide shortage of nurses was the impetus for starting a nursing programme in Bermuda, so the sky’s the limit as far as opportunities, both in Bermuda and overseas. While nursing has been traditionally viewed as a career for women, it offers equally great opportunities for men. But academic standards are more rigorous. In the UK, entry is “competitive” according to the UK’s Health Careers website and applicants need “a minimum of five GCSEs at grade C or above”, plus two “A” levels. Some universities may require three “A” levels.

Canadian colleges and universities require a strong academic background as well. While many nursing programmes are open only to Canadian citizens or landed immigrants, Ontario’s Seneca College, Humber College and the University of Toronto, as well as the University of Calgary in Alberta, are among those that admit international students.

So for anyone who is considering nursing, here’s my advice. Determine whether nursing is a good fit for you by working or volunteering at the hospital or in a nursing home.

Speak to registered nurses working in the profession. Have a chat with representatives of the Bermuda Nursing Council (www.bnc.bm), which is the regulatory body for the profession, and the Bermuda Nurses Association (www.bna.bm).

Buckle down at school because you need good marks in a broad range of subjects. Investigate nursing programmes in the US, Canada, the UK and Jamaica.

If you wish to start at the Bermuda College, I strongly recommend enrolling in the associate degree of science degree programme. That way you will be able to transfer into a bachelor’s degree nursing programme overseas. The College’s own website says the sciences “provide the foundation for a variety of careers”, including medicine, nursing, teaching and lab technology.

Would I recommend the College’s nursing programme? I would not rule it out, but I would consider all other options first, because in my humble opinion, despite the best of intentions, the nursing programme is a work in progress.

Suggested websites: http://www.mona.uwi.edu/nursing/about/schoolfacts; https://www.rcn.org.uk; https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/i-am/looking-course; http://www.senecacollege.ca/fulltime/BSCN.html; http://www.neit.edu/Programs/Associate-Degree-Programs/Health-Sciences/Nursing; https://www.college.bm/index.php/academics/associate-in-science-degrees