Advice on nursing school
February 19, 2009 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Considering a career path. Nursing school or surgical tech school? All your answers would be greatly appreciated.

I'm a woman in my early forties with no college degree and need to go back to work and am thinking about the medical field. I've narrowed it down to nursing school or surgical tech training. I appreciate opinions on the positive and negatives of both professions as well as wages you are earning and how long it took you to find work after graduating. I would especially like to hear from people living in California as that's where I reside.
posted by Chele66 to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I guess it just depends where you are at in your life. Do you want to go to school for the high stress job of nursing? I guess it is better in California where there are staffing ratios, but it still is stressful. Although, the demand is high for RN and you will get great pay and lots of overtime opportunities.

The other option is to look at some of the highly skilled technical titles that there is a high demand for, and are very highly paid. There is huge demand in the cardiology fields, I would have to do more research on the topic.
posted by hazyspring at 1:50 PM on February 19, 2009

I've got several relatives who are nurses, and most of them say it is a very physically demanding job -- lifting and sometimes restraining patients, you're on your feet all day, and you're working shifts.

The training courses were also very stressful, they said -- huge volumes of memorization work, and a lot of it is exactly the same stuff that MD students take. If you haven't gone to college before, it's hard to say if you're cut out for that sort of thing. A friend of mine had her heart set on becoming a nurse and she just couldn't keep up.

But it's wonderful that you're plucking up the courage to choose a new career for yourself. You might want to think about how long you can spend in school, and how much -- a job as an X-ray technician, for example, only took my cousin 2 years instead of 4 for nursing, and you would still be helping people, but less stressful.
posted by lizbunny at 2:15 PM on February 19, 2009

Do you have dreams of ever moving to a ruralish area or even a small town away from a major metropolitan area? If so, I would guess your odds of finding employment in such an area would be much higher as a nurse than as a surgical tech. There aren't likely to be major surgical centers in places like that, but even a general practitioner's office needs nurses.
posted by vytae at 2:19 PM on February 19, 2009

I have had a lot of friends go back to school for nursing after getting a college degree in something where employment opportunities are harder to come by (communications, theater, marketing). I also went to a school with a lot of nursing majors, so I don't have first hand advice, but a lot of second hand observations.

Do you want to be a BSN (a Bachelor's in Nursing) or an RN? From what I can tell, an RN program would require fewer prerequisites, and may be able to get an RN as an associate degree. (Here's some info I found, googling RN versus BSN) My BSN friends had to take prereqs such as anatomy, physiology, statistics, chemistry, etc. And this is before they even get into the nursing program. I do not know what the prereqs would be for an associate's RN.

A lot of the people I know that are going back now for a BSN have to take all of those prereqs I mentioned above, because they typically weren't any sort of science major the first time around. My university (in the midwest, sorry) has a 1-year accelerated program, versus 5 semesters for the "regular" BSN program, so the people in the accelerated program typically have about 1 year of prereqs and then 1 year of really intensive nursing practicum and course work (I think it is 6 days per week). So you should look into the differences between an associate's degree versus a bachelor's degree in nursing. They both take the same boards at the end (NCLEX) but I am not sure about any pay differential for having a BS.

If finances are an issue, also look around for hospitals that provide substantial scholarships to nursing students. I had several friends on scholarship through local hospitals, and like the Army, you have to work for that hospital for 3-4 years after you graduate. If you plan on staying in the same area, this would be something to look into.

I know nothing about wages in CA, as I'm sure they are significantly higher than in my tiny midwestern home state. All of my friends with BSN degrees had jobs before they graduated, pending they passed the NCLEX. (I know fewer people with an associate's RN degree, but the few I know also got jobs immediately) Many of them had paid interships at the hospitals that gave them scholarships, and if you are admitted to a traditional program, this is a fantastic way to spend your summers.
posted by sararah at 2:28 PM on February 19, 2009

I was once enrolled in a 2-year Surgical Technologist program (in my 40s), I enjoyed the classroom part and did well in it, but the practicals in the hospital were rough; most of the surgeons I assisted were complete assholes (that there were surgeons who weren't complete assholes made me think it wasn't, as far as I could see, really necessary) and I didn't think I could take that on a daily basis so I dropped out of the program.
In that time I also learned that OR nurses don't like surgical technologists, STs don't get paid as well as nurses so hospitals are hiring STs instead of RNs--this was like ten years ago, things may have changed since then.
And as others have said already, it's hard work.
posted by Restless Day at 3:02 PM on February 19, 2009

I'd definitely suggest the nursing route, it's more portable in that you can basically find a job in any reasonably sized community. It's got pretty decent pay and pretty damned high job security. Further it has a much higher level of specialization in terms of what area you might work in. Some people like being ER nurses, some people like working in pediatrics, some like working in a Doctor's office. Further if you get burned out on one area you can generally shift to another specialization. I'm not sure a surgical tech has that much flexibility.

I'd suggest getting a RN instead of an LVN and a BSN is probably the best bet as it will open up more doors into higher level positions within a medical organization. However it basically depends on your desire to sit through an extended period of education.
posted by vuron at 3:14 PM on February 19, 2009

I can speak a bit to the surgical tech side of things. I graduated from a surg tech program about 8 years ago, but ultimately never accepted employment as one. My program was one year long, with a combination of classroom and practical studies. The last 6 months of the program, we spent 2 full days per week in the OR, first shadowing other surg techs and ultimately working our own cases.

An OR is an intense world unto itself. Most surgeons have strong personalities and are the captain of the ship (as they should be). If (when) things start going south during surgery, you need to be able to follow direction w/o hesitation or questioning, think on your feet, and not get easily flustered. This isn't the place for a shrinking violet.

The physical demands of a surg tech are something you should consider. While nursing is also physically demanding, there are a few differences. Nurses spend a lot of time on their feet, walking, but do have periods of time during the day when they can sit (while charting, for example). Once you are scrubbed into a case, a surg tech must be able to stand still in one place while not breaking sterile field for the length of that surgery (3-4 hours or more at a stretch is not unusual). This means no bathroom breaks either, unless it's a dire emergency. As one patient is wheeled out of the room, it's your job to help clean and prepare the room for the next case and usually by the time you are finished with that, the next case is being rolled in. Expect a 15 min break morning and afternoon and a 30 minute lunch, but to be on your feet the rest of the day.

Just as the educational period for a surg tech vs a nurse is much different, expect a much different salary. At least in my part of the world (NC), surg techs do not make anywhere near what an RN would make. At the medical center where I work now, the beginning salary for a surg tech is $16/hr. With nursing, there is the possibility of transitioning into administrative or more desk-oriented jobs, such as case management, when you reach an age where you might not want such a physically demanding job. Offhand, I know of no such possibilities for a surg tech.

Ultimately, while I loved going to school and my practical work, and received several job offers after completing the program, I decided to return to my regular career in the administrative side of medicine. Good luck with your decision!
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 3:19 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a nurse (BSN-RN) - I love it. A lot of that depends on where you end up working. You might like to look at this nursing forum for info specific to California. But I've heard good things about ST jobs too.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:01 PM on February 19, 2009

This link maybe helpful as well:
Association of Surgical Technologists.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:05 PM on February 19, 2009

« Older Gallery of Web Apps?   |   How to create a graphic of worldwide events? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.