Most nursing diplomas are offered through hospital-based schools and place heavy emphasis on clinical experience. In a nursing diploma program you will spend time in a classroom, but the majority of your training will take place in a clinical setting working with real patients.
There are a few colleges that offer an online diploma, but they do not offer the same level of clinical experience that is provided by hospital-based diploma programs. This extensive hands-on practice will help prepare you to earn your license by taking the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).
Nursing diplomas are a common choice for students who are not interested in pursuing a higher education and who want to start working sooner. These programs are structured so that you take courses and clinical labs alongside a small number of general prerequisite courses. Both your courses and your clinical rotations will usually take place in a hospital setting, although you will usually have to travel to a nearby partner campus for your prerequisite science and liberal arts courses.
It is important to remember that many graduate-level degree and professional certifications like ARPN programs will not accept students with nursing diplomas. Instead, these programs often require you to first earn a bachelors degree and RN license before you can enroll. As the field of nursing has become more specialized, educational requirements for jobs have also been raised. As a result, there are fewer nursing diploma programs in the U.S. and they are not as popular as they have been in the past.
Who should pursue a nursing diploma?
A nursing diploma program may be a good choice for you if you want to enter the nursing field quickly and do not have the interest, time or financial recourses needed to a pursue a more advanced degree. The nursing diploma also focuses heavily on hands-on training and includes only a minimal number of liberal arts and general science requirements.
If you think that you might want to pursue a higher degree like a bachelors or masters in the future, then a nursing diploma is probably not the right choice for you. Instead, you might consider a traditional or online associate, which requires a similar amount of time to complete. However, the coursework and clinical hours that you earn during an associates nursing program can usually be applied toward a bachelors or even masters degree in nursing at a later time.
Nursing diploma courses
Because nursing diplomas focus on hands-on clinical practice, many courses are designed to emphasize practical strategies for improving patient health as well as your professional, legal and ethical responsibilities as a nurse. Examples of some of the courses that might be required include:
This course will teach you how to promote reproductive health for families through conception, pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. You will learn about how to consult new parents on infant health and treat children for acute and chronic illnesses.
Medical and Surgical Nursing
This course introduces you to the physiological and psychological changes that a patient undergoes during injuries or pathological illnesses. You will acquire the skills that you need to accurately diagnose patients as well as to outline treatment plans that promote their recovery and general health.
Concepts in Nursing Practice
This is probably the most theoretical course that you will take during your nursing diploma program. You will learn about the legal and ethical roles of nurses in the healthcare industry as well as about several general approaches for helping patients at the physical and psychological levels.
In psychosocial classes, students are instructed in common strategies for recognizing and treating individuals, families and communities that suffer from abnormal psychological conditions. You will develop the skills that you need to assess the mental health of individuals and groups as well as learn how to select appropriate nursing intervention strategies.
Gaining admission to a nursing diploma program
In addition to a highly practice-oriented program, nursing diplomas also have admissions requirements that differ from traditional degree programs. Because your nursing diploma program will require you to work primarily in a hospital setting, you will have to undergo physical examinations, drug and alcohol screenings and immunizations for a variety of diseases before you can begin your program.
Admissions requirements for nursing diplomas almost always require you to provide a copy of your high school diploma or GED, and some may even have written application requirements, such as a statement of purpose. To learn more about the ins and outs of applying to degree programs, take a look at the article Nursing Colleges: The Admissions Process.
Holding a job during your nursing diploma program
Many students continue to work while pursuing their nursing diplomas. In fact, many students try to strengthen their resume with additional clinical and hospital experience in order to be competitive when they finish their degree and enter the job market. The best nursing careers are usually available to nurses who have the most clinical experience.
If you would like to work during your nursing diploma, 1 very practical option is to apply to externship programs. These paid clinicals are usually located at community healthcare organizations and offer competitive salaries for nursing students to shadow and assist professional RNs on the job.
Some well known health institutions like the Mayo Clinic also offer externship programs. In this 10-week paid externship, for example, nursing diploma students rotate and work alongside registered nurses with various specialties in a hospital setting.
During these externship programs, you will also usually have access to medical libraries, which can be a good resource when you start to study for the NCLEX exam. Additionally, externships often lead to post-graduation employment opportunities. Some of these programs will even let you convert your externship hours into paid time off if you receive a full-time position after the
Studying online for a diploma in nursing
If you choose this degree path, a nursing diploma online may not be the best option. First of all, there are very few accredited programs that offer this degree online. Secondly, the biggest advantage of a nursing diploma is the intense hands-on experience that you gain in real clinical settings. Although the few accredited online nursing diploma programs that are available will require you to earn some kind of clinical practice credits, in most cases you will not gain enough hands-on experience in order to perform confidently once you are working as a nurse.
However, if enrolling in a traditional nursing diploma program is simply not an option for you, accredited online nursing diploma programs will still prepare you take the NCLEX and earn your RN license. You should keep in mind, however, that there are not very many of these programs and they may not be viewed as favorably by employers as a traditional degree.