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Are you Smart Enough to be a Nurse?

*Original post released on 4/10/2023

Getting into nursing school and becoming a nurse is quite possibly one of the hardest things a student can pursue! Does that really mean that you aren’t smart enough to become a nurse? I think this is one of the doubts every nursing student or nursing student hopeful has at one point or another. In this article, we’ll discuss the typical minimum requirements for nursing school acceptance and why those requirements are established by programs. Then we’ll take a look at other qualities necessary for nursing students to possess that aren’t necessarily intelligence-based and why those qualities may matter more than the program-established entrance requirements. Let’s dive in!

For most nursing programs across the nation, there is a standardized set of application requirements that must be met to apply for a Bachelor’s program in nursing. These can include but are not limited to:

  • Fulfilling nursing, science, and math pre-requisites with a “C” letter grade or better
  • Maintaining a 3.0 GPA or better overall (and sometimes within your nursing pre-requisites)
  • Achieving minimum score requirements on entrance exams such as the TEAS or HESI exams
  • Filling out an application which may include essay prompts to evaluate your overall language skills
  • Potentially participating in an interview portion of the application, whether online, via phone call, or in-person
  • Completing a criminal background check, drug screen, physical exam, and other health compliance requirements

While these may be common requirements for nursing program applicants to meet, programs neglect to take into consideration other qualities students may possess that will help them excel as future nurses. In my opinion and experience, the majority of these qualities I’m about to discuss can make all the difference in whether a student becomes a mediocre nurse or an exceptional nurse…more so than their level of book knowledge. For instance, it is very difficult to teach and instill qualities of commitment, dedication, and perseverance. A good nurse will also have a desire to learn and continue learning, even after graduating from their program. Furthermore, a great nurse will admit when they do not know something and be resourceful in finding further information to aid them in their professional duties so their actions are competent and safe. A quality nurse has attention to detail, is punctual, organized, goal-driven, honest, humble, trustworthy, respectful, and has integrity. Finally, a great nurse also possesses the skills of deduction, anticipation, and common sense (which actually isn’t all that common).

You might think to yourself that those are a list of qualities that don’t ultimately matter when you’re applying to a nursing program, and technically, you’d be correct. Nursing schools are competitive and want to maintain their accreditation and certifications with as little hassle as possible. They want to rank high among other programs in the nation and have NCLEX passing rates as close to 100% as possible to boost the appeal of their program. By increasing the demand of nursing school application requirements, the school is creating a highly competitive atmosphere which helps them recruit the best candidates and make it more likely for them to achieve their overarching goals. Meeting their requirements will not and does not ensure success in nursing for any student who’s been accepted. In fact, some of the most “attractive” applicants on paper struggle to pass their nursing exams and ultimately the NCLEX. Test taking is a skill and it doesn’t technically require flawless nursing-specific knowledge. Failures can happen to even the most academically inclined students.

Ultimately, why do I say that the ability to be a nurse…and a good one at that…doesn’t rely specifically on how smart you are? Because your patients won’t be thinking about what your grade was on X exam in Y class while they’re admitted to the hospital. They trust that the hospital has hired a licensed and competent nurse who will provide the appropriate care that meets their needs. Your future patients aren’t necessarily concerned with how smart you are, but rather that you are attentive to their needs, address and escalate their concerns, stay diligent and vigilant about their health, advocate for them when they cannot, and anticipate changes in their condition before it worsens to a point of no return. Hospitals don’t care how smart you are or where you obtained your degree from either. Hospitals are businesses. The only thing that matters to them is that you have a degree, have passed your licensure exam, maintain an unencumbered nursing license, are safe and competent in your skills, not a liability, and maintain health compliance.

So, are you smart enough to become a nurse? That’s not the question we should be asking ourselves as potential future nurses. The correct question is whether or not you possess the qualities required of a good nurse that will guide you through clinicals, labs, lectures, and exams. Stay hopeful, because I firmly believe that anyone can become “book smart” but those aforementioned qualities can’t always be instilled in students. Work on meeting those program requirements but remind yourself that you’re more than the list of achievements and grades shown on your application. Your strengths will get you through the hardest times of that nursing program, and your weaknesses have the potential to be your fatal undoing. Therefore, self-evaluation to see if we possess those qualities is more vital to answering that question we all end up asking ourselves. Yes, you can be and likely are smart enough to be a nurse…but do you have the makings of a great nurse? Until next time, happy studying!

Andra Alyse

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