The Myth of the Second Degree Nurse

I’ve had enough.

Enough of being told that people like me may be “smart”, but can’t make clinical decisions where it counts. Enough of having derogatory labels bestowed upon me.

It’s time to set the record straight. I present to you my favorite myths about second degree nurses and nursing students (SDNs).

  1. SDNs are ambitious/cutthroat/want to skip the whole “patient care thing” in order to climb the ladder faster and higher. My classmates and other SDNs I have met became nurses FOR THE PATIENTS. Or for the intellectual challenges. Perhaps a few for job security (too bad the economy proved nothing is recession-proof, not even nursing). But the vast majority are here because of the patients. Our nursing school admissions essays read the same as anyone else’s. The difference is we’re entering this field after a lot of life experience and deliberation, so we usually have a pretty good understanding of where we want to go with it. Hence why a second-degree master’s program, that culminates with the opportunity to advance our knowledge and practice, makes sense to many of us.
  2. SDNs only have “book smarts”. Oh please. I can name countless examples from my own cohort of how we were told that we entered our clinicals and jobs extremely well-prepared and capable. I was told by experienced critical care nurses that I had good instincts. Many of us are already being asked to orient new grads, only one year after being in their shoes. Because they trust us and our clinical knowledge. One of my good friends, an L&D nurse, has been complimented not only for seeking out opportunities to expand her professional understanding through certifications, but for also knowing the limits of her new practice and not being afraid to ask questions. With life experience comes wisdom. Which can be just as important as either book smarts or clinical knowledge.
  3. SDNs skimp on clinical hours. I can’t speak for all nursing programs in the country, but I can tell you this… My program is broken into two distinct sequences: pre-licensure, in which we prepared to become RNs, and graduate-level courses, in which I am now enrolled. Our pre-licensure coursework was insanely challenging and our clinicals were insanely intense. In fact, we had more clinical hours than our BSN counterparts at the same university. And our clinical rotations featured clinical instructors who supervised our groups and led post-conferences. Regularly. We were not left to our own devices any more than an ADN or BSN student would be.
  4. SDNs skimp on nursing content. The only reason we didn’t actually get awarded BSNs at the point we finished our prelicensure track was some mumbo jumbo about undergraduate vs. graduate status and confusing the financial aid office (plus we needed two university-required religion classes that they could have easily built into the curriculum). But don’t get me started on that. My point is, my prelicensure program lasted longer (17 months) than some accelerated BSN programs and contained the same nursing content. Because we all had previous Bachelor’s degrees, we didn’t need to re-do an undergrad core curriculum.
  5. Who needs a nurse with an undergrad degree in French (or Anthropology, or Business, or Math)? I do! I’d also like a nurse who’s traveled the world, experienced a loss, had his/her own children and worked on a team. We may need a few tries learning how to start an IV or put in a Foley (doesn’t everyone??), but the skills and life experiences we bring into our work are unique and offer opportunities to find common ground with patients, express empathy and simply share what it means to be human. When we are invited into the intensely human experience of suffering, these abilities are irreplaceable.
  6. SDNs are released into the wild with zero nursing experience. We completed our prelicensure courses, successfully negotiated 180-hour capstone rotations, sat for the NCLEX and became new grad RNs just like everyone else. We struggled to find our first nursing jobs just like everyone else. But as I work on my graduate courses, I’m a practicing RN with a regular job. By the time I finish my MSN in 2012, I’ll have almost 2.5 years of direct care experience under my belt.
  7. SDNs can’t be Advanced Practice Nurses/ Clinical Nurse Leaders with so little experience. See #6 above – I’m already building my clinical experience. And depending on our program, we may have many more years of school and clinical hours before we are licensed in an advanced practice role. Not to mention the certification process it takes to become advanced practice nurses – it’s no walk in the park. And then there’s the CNL, who is not intended to be all-knowing about all-things – we are equipped with a skill set that can be applied across multiple settings. CNLs are resourceful coordinators of care and advocates who can support direct care nurses by providing information about evidence-based practice. Graduates of my program have been tapped to manage departments and coordinate quality and process improvement programs at hospitals because of these skills. Being an effective leader is about clinical knowledge and then some.
  8. SDNs are inflated/egotistical/think the nursing profession didn’t exist before we came along. I have enormous respect for the nurses who have taught me in my clinicals and on the job. Except for instructors and professors, very few have had advanced degrees (heck, most had ADNs and were just fine with that). The knowledge and wisdom I gain from your clinical expertise should never be dismissed or negated, and I hope that I have expressed (and will keep expressing) how much I learn from you. But as a long-time outsider looking in, and now as a newbie nurse, I have a fresh pair of eyes that sees a health care status quo that is unsustainable. I am not here to threaten your job or question your judgment. But I am also not afraid to question the way things work and wonder if it could be better. And believe wholeheartedly that nurses can lead the way.

Feel free to agree or disagree. There may be concerns about individual second-degree nursing programs, and those concerns may be valid. Might I also point out that not all ADN or BSN programs are created equally, either.

But please avoid making gross generalizations or attacking an entire population of well-educated professionals. We’re here to stay and we’re in it for the same reasons the rest of you are.

So if we could refrain from the eating of the young, I would greatly appreciate it. 🙂

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