How to Get Your Diploma in Nursing

The nursing field is growing at a remarkable rate these days, with registered nurse job demand increasing by 16% by 2024. The highest paying nursing jobs are for those who have a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

But a fantastic way to get started in nursing with only a year or two of education is to earn your diploma in nursing. Earning your diploma will allow you to enter the clinical nursing job market and to gain very valuable bedside experience. Then, after you have worked for awhile, you may decide to earn your associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree later.

At one time, hospital-based nursing education programs were the most popular way for nurses to get an education. There used to be thousands of these nursing diploma programs. Today, there are a few hundred nursing diploma programs, but it still is a good way to get your foot in the door in a rapidly growing field.

Education Process for Nursing Diploma

There are many one and two year nursing diploma programs available at community colleges, vocational schools, and hospitals in most major cities. You can contact your state’s board of nursing for a list of nursing diploma programs near you.

Depending upon the state you are in, you may need to be a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) before you earn your diploma in nursing. To become an LPN, you would need to take an approved LPN program that lasts up to one year. Then you would take your NCLEX-PN examination to become an LPN.

In other cases, you would just take pass your nursing diploma program. The program focuses on the essential nursing clinical skills that you need to succeed in nursing. You also will be prepared for passing the NCLEX-RN examination.

While looking for a nursing diploma program, we advise that you ensure that it is accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission.

What You Will Take

A nursing diploma program can vary from one to three years long; it will depend upon the learning institution where you are studying. All of these providers will require that you have at least your high school diploma or GED.

Some programs require you to complete non-nursing prerequisite classes including math and biology before you apply for admission. Some programs may work with a local community college so that you can take your required classes before you are admitted.

RN diploma programs will combine clinical experiences with both laboratory and classroom work. You can expect to take the following subjects:

  • Psychology
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Medical/surgical nursing
  • Pharmacology

Typical Curriculum and Objectives

Taking a nursing diploma program will prepare you to work effectively in nursing homes, hospitals and many other health care settings. A nursing diploma program will typically teach you the following learning outcomes:

  • Learn how to act ethically, in a caring way and responsibly, with quality care and evidence based practice skills
  • Be able to use effective communication skills with patients and other healthcare professionals
  • Use science, math and liberal arts skills in your clinical decisions
  • Provide care to many populations and settings
  • Minimize risk to patients
  • Collaborate effectively with other health care professionals
  • Use current technology to properly manage patient data and reduce chance of errors

Common classes in most RN diploma programs are:

  • Communication skills
  • Nursing fundamentals
  • Nursing skills
  • Nursing pharmacology
  • Introduction to clinical practice
  • General anatomy and physiology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Health alterations
  • Clinical care across the lifespan
  • Introduction to clinical management

Advantages of Getting a Nursing Diploma

Most nursing diploma programs are based at a hospital and they focus on clinical care and nothing else. If you are interested in working in clinical care first and foremost, a diploma can be a good choice.

A common misunderstanding is that a diploma program is not as good as an associate’s degree in nursing. While the school or hospital will determine what you are studying, you will be well prepared in any case to take the RN exam.

This program also takes less time to complete than other ways to earn your RN designation. This allows you to start work faster so that you can earn a living and gain clinical experience.

Another advantage of most diploma programs is that your coursework can in most cases be transferred to a college or university later if you decide to get your associate’s or bachelor’s degree. This can save you a great deal of time.

Getting Your License

After you graduate from your nursing diploma program, you will need to take your licensing examination to become a registered nurse RN.

The NCLEX examination is also known as the National Council Licensure Examination. It is a standardized nursing exam that your state board of nursing uses to determine if you are prepared to work as an RN.

Before Taking the Exam

You need to apply for your RN license through the state board of nursing for your state. That state board will decide if you have met the criteria to sit for the NCLEX exam. They will check that you have passed an accredited nursing diploma program (this process is the same if you decide to instead earn your associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing).

After you have applied for your RN license, you will be mailed an NCLEX Exam Candidate Bulletin. At that point, you need to register with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to take the exam.

After the state board has verified that you may sit for the exam, you then will get your Authorization to Take the Test, or ATT. You also will get a testing center list ad instructions on how to set up the time to take the test.

What’s On the Exam

The NCLEX exam covers four basic areas of patient needs:

  • Safe, effective care environment: Care management; infection control and patient safety
  • Psychosocial integrity: Adaptation and coping; adaptation on a psychosocial level
  • Health promotion and maintenance: Growth and development throughout life; preventing disease and detecting it early
  • Physiological integrity: Providing basic comfort and care; physiological adaptation

About the NCLEX-RN Exam

This exam is a multiple choice test that uses Computerized Adaptive Testing or CAT to check how competent you are in clinical nursing practice. RN candidates must answer at least 75 questions, and LPN candidates have to take 85 questions.

After you have answered the minimum number of test questions, the computer then will assess your competence level. If you are well above the passing standard, you will pass. If you are not above the standard, you fail. If you are on the borderline, the computer will continue to ask you questions until it can properly assess your level of competence.

You have five hours to take the exam. The test is scored by the computer and also by the state board’s testing service. You will told after approximately one month if you passed or not.

Continuing Education

One of the biggest advantages of the nursing profession is that you can easily continue your education when you like and earn a higher level degree. Earning your BSN degree or even your master’s of science in nursing later will greatly expand your career options. Make sure the nursing program you choose is a CCNE accredited nursing program. Many high paid nurses at the top of their field originally began as RNs with their diploma or associate’s degree.