The Nurses Lounge

Accelerated vs. Traditional Nursing Programs: The Race to Finish

The path to becoming a nurse can be exhilarating. From the first decision to step into this career field to the day you walk across that stage at your graduation, you put forth the time, effort, and sacrifice to join one of the most fulfilling careers in the world. There are several programs available at the Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate level that allow you to learn what it takes to succeed in the field. Depending on which practice level you want to advance to and how fast you would like to get there, most colleges and universities give you the option to choose from an accelerated or traditional nursing program.

Throughout nursing school, I got the chance to meet various men and women from all walks of life. I was introduced to unique stories such as the foreign student who had to retake courses with American policies and standards, the veteran with a medical background who decided to utilize their skills in the civilian world, and even the middle-aged parent who decided to take a chance at a second career now that their nest was empty.

Although these people had different experiences, they all shared a common goal–to become a nurse. In the past, nursing programs faced many obstacles while fighting to gain credibility and opportunity for their students. Many were very rigid in flexibility and curriculum, leaving little room for the “non-traditional” student. Thankfully with time, many opportunities have emerged to cater to these kinds of students– including the ability to complete your degree fully online, in-person, or a by combination of both, within as little as nine months! This increased flexibility allows many to personalize their own path to becoming a nurse. However, there is much to be said about which program best prepares a nursing student for not only their license exam, but a successful career.

There are several pros and cons associated with both traditional and accelerated programs. With me being fresh out of high school, still working part-time, and maintaining a new life as a young adult in a big city, I decided to apply for the traditional baccalaureate program at a university, which spanned three years outside of my core classes. That choice allowed me to fully experience life on campus while managing nursing school, my personal life, and even other interests/hobbies without feeling overwhelmed. However, I could see how others would choose an online and/or accelerated program as well. For example, some of my classmates were middle-aged or had young children, so starting their career a lot sooner was preferred. Now there are still some Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs where you can become an LPN or RN in about two years; however, most organizations are beginning to prefer, at minimum, a Baccalaureate of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree for advancement into leadership and increased compensation. Nevertheless, most accelerated programs offered at the baccalaureate level serve as an alternative to traditional programs, and condenses the curriculum within two years or less (or serves as a bridge from an ADN to BSN).

While this alternative may seem desirable for those who want the fast track, there can be some negatives associated with it too. We all know that nursing school can be challenging. From the 12 hr clinicals days to the difficult exams and research projects, the hard work and dedication can take a toll on your mental and physical health, as well as your relationships with family, friends, and partners. Therefore, cramming all that you need to complete your degree within a few months can be even more tumultuous. Because of the overwhelming or condensed material, many people have said that the opportunity to really absorb the information or gain the proper clinical skills were missed. With that being said, it is very important to not only complete the program, but retain the information and practice your clinical skills as much as possible while being in an accelerated program.

One can’t say for certain if an accelerated nursing program is better than a traditional one, or vice versa. Each kind of program offers various benefits and preferences for a student nurse. Whether your circumstances support you moving at a gradual or accelerated pace is solely up to you. My advice would be to map out your career goals, weigh out the pros and cons of each type of program, ask an academic counselor for assistance, and know that it is okay to move at your own pace–even if that pace changes during the process.

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