Nurse education consists of the theoretical and practical training provided to nurses with the purpose to prepare them for their duties as nursing care professionals. This education is provided to nursing students by experienced nurses and other medical professionals who have qualified or experienced for educational tasks. Most countries offer nurse education courses that can be relevant to general nursing or to specialized areas including mental health nursing, pediatric nursing and post-operatory nursing. Courses leading to autonomous registration as a nurse typically last four years. Nurse education also provides post-qualification courses in specialist subjects within nursing.
During past decades, the changes in education have replaced the more practically focused, but often ritualistic, training structure of conventional preparation. Nurse education integrates today a broader awareness of other disciplines allied to medicine, often involving inter-professional education, and the utilization of research when making clinical and managerial decisions. Orthodox training can be argued to have offered a more intense practical skills base, but emphasized the handmaiden relationship with the physician. This is now outmoded, and the impact of nurse education is to develop a confident, inquiring graduate who contributes to the care team as an equal. In some countries, not all qualification courses have graduate status.
Traditionally, from the times prior to Florence Nightingale, nursing was seen as an apprenticeship, often undertaken in religious institutes such as convents by young women, although there has always been a proportion of male nurses, especially in mental health services. In 1860 Nightingale set up the first nurse training school at St Thomas' Hospital, London. Nightingale's curriculum was largely base around nursing practice, with instruction focused upon the need for hygiene and task competence. Her methods are reflected in her Notes on Nursing, (1898).
Some other nurses at that time, notably Ethel Gordon Fenwick, were in favor of formalized nursing registration and curricula that were formally based in higher education and not within the confines of hospitals.
Nurse education in the United States is conducted within university schools, although it is unclear who offered the first degree level program. So far as known Yale School of Nursing became the first autonomous school of nursing in the United States in 1923. In Europe the University of Edinburgh was the first European institution to offer a nursing degree in 1972.
There are multiple entry levels into nursing. This has led to confusion for the public, as well as other healthcare professionals. The earliest schools of nursing offered a Diploma in Nursing and not an actual academic degree. Community colleges began offering an Associate of Science in Nursing degree, and some diploma programs switched to this model. Universities then began to offer Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Bachelor of Nursing degrees, followed by Master of Science in Nursing degrees, and Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees.
Nursing degrees in the UK
Pre-registration nurse training and education in the UK is now via a Bachelor's Degree (a UK Level 6 qualification) following the phasing-out of the Diploma of Higher Education (a UK Level 5 qualification) in Nursing which was previously offered at universities and colleges.
To become a student nurse, individuals must apply through the University and Colleges Admissions Service (commonly referred to as "UCAS") to their nursing degree choices, choosing from one of the four nursing fields: Adult, Children, Mental Health and Learning Disabilities. Requirements for entry to a pre-reg nursing degree are usually five GCSEs (including mathematics, English language and at least one science subject) at Grade C or above, along with three A-Level subjects (preferably but not essentially science-based) at Grade C or above, although the majority of universities will seek higher grades due to the competition for places. Key Skills courses are generally no-longer accepted as an alternative to GCSEs, however science or healthcare-based BTEC Level 3 Extended Diplomas and Access courses are most oftem accepted in lieu of A-Level qualifications.
If successful following interview, the student will study a "core" first year, learning basic nursing competencies essential to all four of the above fields. It is then from second year and onwards that the degree will begin to focus on the student's chosen field. Following completion of the degree, the applicant will be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) as a Registered Nurse in their field of practice, using the post-nominal RNA, RNC, RNMH or RNLD as appropriate to their degree qualification.
Among nurse educators, arguments continue about the ideal balance of practical preparation and the need to educate the future practitioner to manage healthcare and to have a broader view of the practice. To meet both requirements, nurse education aims to develop a lifelong learner who can adapt effectively to changes in both the theory and practice of nursing.
Czech nursing students 2006.
The American student nurse Miss Lydia Monroe of Ringgold, Louisiana, in 1942.