How to Become a Nurse

Photo of a Nursing Professor

Kathryn Bowles has been a professor of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania since 1996, although she has been in the nursing field since 1978.

She earned a Bachelor of Science in nursing from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, a Master of Science in nursing from Villanova University, and a PhD in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania.

Why did you decide to enter the nursing field?

I was very interested in science in high school. When I was 12 years old I experienced the illness and eventual death of a close neighbor from cancer. I enjoyed sitting with her and helping her in any way I could. It felt good to be of help to her and to have her want my help. I became very curious to understand disease and how the body responds to it.

What is your favorite aspect of nursing?

Interacting with patients and teaching them how to improve their health. Also, I enjoy being part of team working on complex problems.

What is your least favorite aspect of nursing?

If you work in the hospital there is shift work. Also, the lack of knowledge the public has about the role of the nurse and the variety of important jobs we do is frustrating. The general public is not informed of the varied and important role of nurses. I also am disappointed at the various levels of education to become a nurse. It confuses the public and results in variation in our knowledge and skills.

Are there subfields of nursing that students might not be aware of?

There are the areas of research, sales, teaching, information technology, telehealth and law, just to name a few. You might also look at nursing in terms of the types of patients we care for: pediatric, gerontology, psychiatric, medical, surgical etc.

Is a graduate degree preferable for a career in nursing, or can someone be successful the field with a bachelor's or associate degree?

It depends on what the person wants to do. Entry-level positions at the bedside or doctor's office can be obtained with an associate degree. But if they want to be seen as a professional with expertise and ability to move into leadership positions, then they need at least a bachelor's degree. If they want to be an expert in a particular topic or be a nurse practitioner they must have a masters degree. To do research they need a PhD.

What personality traits do you think a student should have in order to be successful in a nursing program?

In order to be successful in a nursing program, a student must be strong in science and math. For their personality they are often kind, self-motivated, willing to work hard, a people person, a good team player and a good communicator. You should also have a love of learning and challenges and a grade point average of at least 3.0.

What electives would you recommend that a student in a nursing program take?

  • Writing
  • Speech
  • History
  • Spanish
  • Information technology

What study tips would you give to a student to help him or her succeed in a nursing program?

Study every night... don’t wait until two nights before a test. There is a lot of content, and often it requires memorization that takes more time.

Do you think nursing is a subject that can be studied online, or is a traditional class environment ideal?

I prefer a blend. There are some classes that are fine online, but it is so important to socialize the students to work in teams, communicate, and develop confidence in front of others. Clinical, technical skills are difficult to obtain online.

What subjects should a prospective student of nursing study before entering a nursing program?

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Advanced math

What pieces of advice, or caution, would you offer to a prospective student of nursing?

Do it full time if you can. It is best to immerse yourself, and it will all fit together better. Also, be prepared to work harder than other majors. You should also educate everyone you see about what you are learning, how rigorous it is, and how important nurses are.

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