Becoming a nurse is a goal that many people strive for. Those looking to become a nurse should be aware that in many states, nursing programs are impacted. This means that there are more applicants than spots available in the programs. The Affordable Care Act and overall increased demand for healthcare services mean more nurses are needed in the workforce. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15% increase in RN jobs by 2026.

Since many programs are impacted, many schools prefer prior experience in healthcare. Sometimes previous experience helps students gain admission into the programs. Thankfully, there are many options available for nurses-to-be.

One idea is to volunteer. Hospitals have volunteer programs available for teenagers as well as adults. The time commitments are usually low, only a couple hours a week are needed. Volunteers can choose from many different areas, but selecting an area where patient care is performed is probably best (as opposed to, for example, working in the gift shop).

Another idea is to work as a private caregiver. Sometimes jobs are available in privately-owned care facilities and for individuals with specific care needs, and occasionally prior experience is not required. Caregivers may be required to help with mobility, feeding/ dressing, transportation, etc. These activities are a good experience for people as these tasks are what students learn first in nursing programs.

For teenagers, internships through high schools may be available. The Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) is a national student organization that promotes career opportunities in the healthcare industry. There are many health related internships available in many areas of healthcare, including nursing. Students can shadow or volunteer in specific care areas to gain experience, as well as determine which one is right for them. For example, some student internships allow the student to shadow in administration as well as clinical areas to see what type of nursing they are interested in.

Becoming a medical assistant (MA) or certified nursing assistant (CNA) is another fantastic way to gain hands-on nursing care experience. Many MAs work closely with physicians and observe many types of diagnoses and illnesses, and some even administer vaccines and certain medications. CNAs provide hands-on care such as feeding, mobilizing, and bathing patients, and work closely alongside nurses. Along with clinical experiences, working in entry level careers such as an MA and CNA allows the student to earn money to help finance nursing school tuition and fees.

Gaining experience in the healthcare field is a good idea for those hoping to become nurses. Many people have an idea of what nurses do, but being exposed to and learning the tasks of basic nursing not only prepares students for the nursing program and may help boost their chances of admission into the program but helps them confirm that nursing is the right field for them.