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Meet the Major: Nursing

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UMass nursing students. Text: "Meet the Major: Nursing"

Few careers give people the ability to not only provide medical aid but bring happiness to individuals and their families, and comfort to those in need. Nurses are the backbone of the medical field and often provide unique attention to their patients that extend beyond medical care. Nursing is a highly popular and competitive major here at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for just that reason.

The mission of the UMass Amherst nursing program is to provide affordable and accessible education to enhance health and healing through nursing leadership in teaching, scholarship, practice, and service. Liv, a junior nursing major here at UMass, was drawn to the College of Nursing because it offers small classes, a sense of community, caring faculty and staff, and state-of-the-art classrooms and labs — all within a large, prestigious research university.

I talked to Liv to learn about her experience over the past three years in the nursing major at UMass Amherst. 

Why did you decide to major in nursing? 

My entire life I was going back and forth between nursing and becoming a teacher. When I was very little and people would ask me what I wanted to do, I would say I wanted to be a mom because I thought that was a job. Since it was not an actual career path, I thought about what the closest career to that was, and I thought nursing or teaching would satisfy what I loved about the nurturing qualities of mothers. I am a lot stronger in math and sciences than in English or the arts, so it made more sense for me to go into nursing. 

What did you do in high school to best prepare for your application for the nursing program?

I volunteered at a hospital. I think that this experience did give me an upper hand in discovering my love for nursing, as well as giving me a taste of what the career is like. I also had a strong GPA and did rather well on my standardized testing, which I believe is extremely important. As far as extracurriculars go, I did not have a ton that was directly related to anything medical besides my volunteer work at local hospitals. Truthfully, I do not think there was anything special about my application to UMass — but I do think that strong academics and a great college essay that conveys your passion and character go a long way in the application process.

What are nursing classes like?

Freshman year, your classes will mainly be prerequisites. It was a lot of your very basic sciences such as chemistry, psychology, nutrition, and a few others. You will also take a few nursing classes during this time such as a nursing seminar on self-care as a nurse, and Nursing 100, which covers what it is like being in the profession, especially the more technical side of being a nurse.

Sophomore year is a little more focused on nursing itself. You will take classes such as Pathophysiology/Pharmacology, Perspectives in Nursing, and Health and Physical Assessment, which greatly prepare you for your clinical work in your junior and senior year. Our nursing classes are a great mixture of both textbooks and hands-on learning, which is a great preparation for our career. It is also important to note that your four years as a nursing major are mapped out by the college, so there are very few classes that you will be taking that you directly choose to take. Truthfully, it is really nice to have the four years mapped out for you, which takes away the stress of worrying if you are going to be able to enroll in the classes you need to take. 

Do you take classes outside of the nursing program? If so, what are they and which was the most beneficial towards your career? 

Freshman and sophomore year you do, junior and senior year you do not; this is due to your clinical schedule. It is not because you are not allowed too, it is because in clinical you are either working all day Thursday or Friday, which makes it difficult to take classes outside of nursing since your schedule is so hectic. A lot of the prerequisites you will take are in psychology, kinesiology, anatomy, and many others, so you will get a nice taste of how these other disciplines factor into your nursing profession. Out of these classes, I would say that Anatomy & Physiology (KIN 270) was the most beneficial of the non-nursing classes I took. In this class, you study the structure and function of the cell, skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems in the human body, which help a lot with pathophysiology in nursing. 

What are clinicals like here at UMass?

Clinicals are where you will learn the most about nursing, something that I think most nursing students would agree with. You are working as a nurse in a hospital, and while there are a lot of things you cannot do starting out, it is a great insight as to what your career in nursing can look like. Each graduating class — mine has 65 students — will be split up into groups of 7-8 students and assigned a clinical instructor.

Basically, we go to a hospital floor at a certain time, and every group has a different floor and time assignment on either Thursday or Friday. Your clinical can be based at pretty much any local hospital, the most popular being Baystate Medical Center and Cooley Dickinson. A typical clinical day for myself is that I get up at 5 a.m. to get ready and then head to Cooley Dickinson. The day typically runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but it really depends on your clinical instructor. For example, my instructor likes us to arrive at the hospital by 6:30 a.m. My days consist of daily reports, patient assignments, documentation of vital signs, morning care, documentation of medication, answering call bells, and overall daily care and aid for my assigned patients.

Your clinical experience truly depends on what floor you are on, what nurse you are assigned to, and your instructor. There is definitely a lot of variation between clinical experiences, but overall your clinical experience here at UMass Amherst is designed to prepare each student for different functional areas of the nursing profession and craft you into the best nurse possible.  

What are your career plans after graduation? 

My career plans are really going to be dependent on my clinical experience. Going into the nursing program, I really wanted to be a maternity nurse and then go back to school and become a certified nurse-midwife. I think I still could really love that path, but I want to keep my options open. I could do my psychiatric or pediatric clinical and really love it, so I want to keep an open mind about my career path.

I think the three paths that I am the most interested in are maternity, pediatrics, and psychiatric, so I am really looking forward to experiencing more about these paths through my clinical and discovering where my true passions lie. As far as going back to school to become a nurse practitioner, it is definitely something I might want to do but it really depends on a lot of factors. I can say that I will definitely be working as a nurse long before I decide to continue my education. While some people do go straight through from their undergraduate studies, I personally would rather gain some more experience in the field before I jump back into my studies. 

What advice would you give to prospective students wanting to apply to the nursing program? 

It is important to note that the nursing major here at UMass is not something that students can transfer into once they are in the university. Since the major is designed to be able to finish in four years in addition to the limited number of seats in their clinical program, it is not possible to switch into the major if you were not initially accepted. The school of Nursing typically looks for students with a 4.1 GPA (weighted and recalculated), an average SAT score of 1360 and an average ACT score of 28. The approximate acceptance rate for Nursing applicants is 12%. While there are plenty of other health sciences here at UMass, such as KinesiologyPre-Med/Pre-Health track, Public HealthCommunications DisordersPsychology, and much more, if nursing is truly your desired career path it is important that you list it as your top major when applying to UMass Amherst.

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