Berkeley Today Stories
It takes passion and commitment to succeed in the Practical Nurse program.
How to Succeed as a Nursing Student
Josiane Hickson, Ed.D, RN-BC, NE-BC, is the Chair of the Nursing and Patient Care Technician programs at Berkeley College. Dr. Hickson has more than 10 years of experience in academia serving in such roles as Adjunct Assistant Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she taught graduate courses for masters and doctoral cohort students in the Nurse Executive Program, and as Adjunct Professor at Mercy College where she taught RN-B.S.N. students. Her professional career included serving as Director of Nursing in the emergency room at St. John’s Riverside Hospital, working as Clinical Program Manager at Mount Sinai Hospital, and as Administrative Nurse Manager at Montefiore Medical Center
Joan Zarra, RN, MSN, is the Associate Chair of the Nursing and Patient Care Technician programs at Berkeley College. Ms. Zarra has more than 14 years of experience in academia, including several years teaching in nursing programs. Her professional career has included serving as a staff nurse in the areas of pediatrics and oncology, as well as in management and research positions
Dr. Hickson and Ms. Zarra offer the following advice on how to succeed as a nursing student at Berkeley College:
Essential skills and personality traits of nursing students
“There are four Cs that I look for when interviewing people for nursing positions,” Dr. Hickson said. “Anyone entering the field of nursing has to have the first two — caring and compassion. The second two — collaboration and competency — can be taught on the job.”
In addition, she said, that all nurses whether LPNs or RNs need to be fierce advocates for their patients, ensuring that they are getting the highest level of care.
Ms. Zarra said that successful nursing students all seem to share certain traits. They are critical thinkers, able to think on their feet. They have good study habits, are willing to read every day, and are able to comprehend what they are reading.
“The language of science and medicine is unique, and nurses must be fluent in that language,” Ms. Zarra said. “They also need good basic math skills to perform drug calculations, understand prescriptions, and calculate infusion rates and drip factors — skills that we cover in the program.”
Dr. Hickson added that nurses at all levels must be humble enough to accept criticism and comfortable enough to ask for assistance when required.
“I sometimes feel that nurses think they need to know all of the answers,” Dr. Hickson said. “Nobody has all of the answers, and when asked something that they are unsure about nurses must be comfortable enough to say they don’t know but will find out.”
Be prepared for a rigorous program of study
Students entering the Practical Nurse Certificate Program and the LPN to B.S.N. degree program need to understand that these are rigorous programs, requiring long hours of study in addition to clinical rotations. The programs require about 14 to 18 hours of reading and another 14 to 18 hours of studying per week.
“In addition, students participate in almost 700 hours of clinical rotations at local hospitals or long-term care facilities,” Ms. Zarra said. “And once they have completed the program, they must pass state certification exams before they can work as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or registered nurses (RNs).
Set yourself up for success before enrolling in the nursing program
Because of the substantial commitment of time required to succeed in these programs, students must have a support plan in place before enrolling. Parents need to make sure they have backup childcare in place. Working students must have the flexibility needed to accommodate their jobs and the nursing program requirements.
“Before entering the program, I encourage students to have a discussion with their employers,” Dr. Hickson said. “They should explain that advancing their education will not only benefit themselves but also the organization. This is the time to ask if the work roster can be adjusted to accommodate the student’s college schedule.”
Dr. Hickson also advises students to consider all of the people who will be part of their support system as they pursue a nursing certificate or degree. Seek out relatives or friends who would be willing to help with carpooling and other family commitments.
“When I was pursuing my nursing degree, I sat my husband and children down and told them that I would no longer be able to do the laundry two or three times a week and they would have to help to pick up the slack at home,” Dr. Hickson said.
Room for growth within the profession
Ms. Zarra said that LPN certification offers students a springboard into the nursing profession. LPNs are qualified to work in long-term care facilities, subacute care facilities, or home care.
“Many LPNs get one or two years of work experience, and then return to college to complete an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in nursing,” Ms. Zarra said. “Those with Associate’s or Bachelor’s degrees in nursing can become registered nurses (RNs). The market is wide open for RNs, and there’s lots of room for growth.”
Registered nurses are employed in clinics and doctor’s offices and they can work in cardiology, orthopedics, labor and delivery departments, and emergency or operating rooms in hospitals. Some RNs may oversee LPN nurses and work as part of a team with physicians and other healthcare specialists.
“RN credentials provide people with an opportunity to diversify themselves within the profession,” Dr. Hickson said.