Higher Ed. Hidden Gems: Become a Nurse


If nursing has piqued your interest, here are some ways to approach the career and afford the cost of school.

Two Year Associate Degrees
For students, including high school grads, entering a two-year associate program in nursing may be one of the most affordable ways to get your start. At Sandhill Community College in Pinehurst, N.C., full-time in-state tuition costs a little more than $1,300 a year.  Out-of-state tuition runs about $7,500 a year.  After that, you qualify to take the NCLEX exam to become a licensed registered nurse. But know that a two-year degree may limit your ability to get promoted later on. “Without a bachelor’s degree you will not have career mobility,” says Diana Mason, editor-in-chief of The American Journal of Nursing.  “Your eye needs to be on getting that bachelor’s degree at a minimum."

Advanced Degrees
To get an advanced degree, sometimes you need look no further than where you are currently employed to receive financial help. For example, if you’re employed by the Veterans Health Administration, check out its scholarship titled the National Nursing Education Initiative available to permanent full- and part-time Veterans Affairs nurses who wish to get a bachelor’s or post-grad degree. (You need to have been working for at least one year to qualify for the scholarship.)

Also, many hospitals will pay staff nurses to complete an advanced degree.  At Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, there are scholarships for employees who’ve been with the hospital for at least six months.  Undergrad nursing students can receive up to $4,250 a year and graduate nursing students can earn up to $5,250 a year towards tuition.  And there’s no catch. Employees don’t have to stay with the hospital after graduating.  “If they finish their program, they could leave. They don’t owe us money," says Joan Orseck, nursing recruitment coordinator at the hospital.

Hospital Reimbursement
You can also seek education programs that have partnerships with area hospitals that may reimburse your tuition if you agree to work there upon graduation. The Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford has an alliance with the Sacred Heart University in Fairfield and Goodwin College in East Hartford. There is a tuition reimbursement for students, but they must commit to working at Saint Francis for at least six months after graduating.

Duke University’s Watt School of Nursing and Duke University Health Systems will reimburse tuition, about $25,000 for the two-year program, if the student agrees to work for a period of three years at Durham Regional Hospital or Duke Health Raleigh Hospital upon obtaining his or her degree. Eligibility is determined when students are accepted into the nursing program.

At Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, one scholarship program, called CHANCES, provides tuition assistance of up to $16,000 per academic year, for up to two years. You must first get accepted into a nursing program and after graduating you must work as a registered nurse for the hospital for a total of 18 months for each academic year you received financial support. 

Switching Careers? Consider a Fast-Track to Nursing
Time is money, right? If you already have a bachelor’s degree and decide you want to enter the field of nursing, there’s no need to go through another four years for a bachelor’s in nursing, which may cost $20,000 a year.  Accelerated BSN (bachelo'rs of science in nursing) programs are available for individuals who already have a bachelor’s or higher degree in another field and who are interested in moving into nursing quickly.  In 2006, 197 of these programs were available. Accelerated BSN programs last 12 to 18 months and offer the quickest route to a bachelor’s in nursing for those who already hold a degree.  The faster you get out, the faster you can start making money and paying off your loans.

Insider Advice for New Nursing Grads
If you’re looking to find work right away, it’s best to be flexible and willing to move, especially to regions in Arizona, Texas and the Midwest, where there are relative shortages for nursing staff. Northeast hospitals, meanwhile, have their hands full with applications and few spots to offer to new graduates, according to Joan Orseck of Hackensack University Medical Center. Of course once your career gets going, jobs are open, regardless of the locale. Says Orseck: “Experienced nurses? We’re always looking.”



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