Carolina nursing deans detail degree options in the field

Vanessa Infanzon

Students learn at the Hunt School of Nursing at Gardner-Webb University. Photo by Gardner-Webb

Many college students pursue a nursing degree because they want to help others. Others are drawn to the career because of an experience with a family or personal medical issue.

No matter the reason, considering a career in nursing requires analyzing your own interests, academic strengths and future goals, Carolina experts in the field say.

Thayer McGahee, dean for the School of Nursing and associate professor at USC-Aiken
said nursing is sometimes viewed as a glamorous field. She said prospective students “need to know upfront the rigor that is required to get in.”

Academic strength in science and math, as well as an interest in these areas, will help students be successful in a nursing program. Ninety percent of the curriculum is science based. Being a caring and compassionate person is desirable, but without the science and math skills, students may run into problems as their programs progress.

“We do work hard to admit students who will be successful in the program. We want it to be a win-win. We don’t want to admit students who aren’t going to graduate,” McGahee said.

McGahee recommends that students thinking about nursing examine why they want to pursue the career. She said if the reasons are that they know they can get a job and make a decent salary with a nursing degree, or if outside forces – like being told they should do this – drive them, they will struggle as students or once they are in the job.

“Nursing school is challenging. It’s difficult,” McGahee said. “It really takes, what I call, internal motivation, special dedication.”

What are your options in nursing?

There are several undergraduate degrees in nursing. Depending on your own particular situation, one of these may be a good fit:

LPN – A Licensed Practical Nurse requires a one-year to 18-month diploma program at a community college.

ADN – Associate Degree Nurse requires a two-year associate degree at a technical or community college.

BSN – Bachelor of Science in Nursing requires a four-year college degree, which can be earned as the initial licensure degree or as a bridge program for those who are already licensed through an RN to BSN track at a four-year university.

RN – Registered Nurse is the state licensure granted after passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) exam. To sit for an exam, you must have an ADN or BSN.

Where do you start?

Nicole Waters, assistant professor of nursing and incoming dean for the Hunt School of Nursing at Gardner-Webb University, said there are many ways to begin a career in nursing. At each level, responsibilities increase and change. All may work in a variety of settings like nursing homes, hospitals and doctors’ offices.

An LPN, an entry-level position, can start intravenous lines, administer some medications, document information and assist with procedures; all determined by the scope of practice for that state. Waters said nurses with an ADN and BSN degree are qualified for work such as IV medication administration for chemotherapy, wound care, blood administration and case management.

Employees with a BSN degree may have more opportunity for leadership positions like nurse manager or office manager. The Institute of Medicine has a goal for most nurses to have that level of preparation in just a few years. Waters said, “By the year 2020, it’s supposed to be that 80 percent of our nurses are at the BSN level prepared.”

McGahee explained that research shows that facilities with a higher number of BSN prepared nurses at the bedside have fewer medication errors, accidents and return visits, and shorter stays and higher patient satisfaction. She attributes the difference in the four-year BSN curriculum. The classes, labs and clinical experiences stress critical thinking and application.

If students decide to pursue the ADN degree first, they can enter a bridge program for the BSN degree. Often this flexibility makes it easier on students if there are financial concerns because they can work while taking online classes.

“The technical programs and the four-year programs work closely together to try to make a seamless transition,” McGahee said.


Vanessa Infanzon is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. In her former life, she worked in Student Life at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte and Queens University of Charlotte. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @morethanVMI