What is Nursing School Like? What to Expect in an ABSN Track

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Summary: Accelerated nursing school is for people with a prior bachelor’s degree who want to earn a BSN in 16 months. The curriculum of our accelerated track consists of online coursework, in-person simulation labs and clinical rotations. This track prepares students to sit for the NCLEX and become registered nurses.

2 nursing students working in a lab setting on a manikin

When considering going to nursing school, you may be wondering, what is nursing school like? You want to know exactly what to expect in nursing school in an accelerated program. If you want to earn your BSN and start your nursing career as soon as possible, then an accelerated nursing track can get you there.

Accelerated nursing tracks are designed for those who already have a prior bachelor’s degree in another field. If you have the needed prerequisites, the track can be completed in as few as 16 months. This sets you up to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and get your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree faster than with traditional nursing programs. Then you can jump right into a rewarding nursing career. 

At the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) in San Antonio, our Second-Degree Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) track offers three start dates each year — January, May and August — which means you can get going sooner and work on a timeline that’s best for you.

Now let’s discuss how to answer your question, what is nursing school like in an accelerated nursing track? First, we’ll cover the basics about ABSN programs in general, and then we’ll get into what to expect in nursing school at the University of the Incarnate Word second-degree ABSN track.

How an ABSN Program Works

With an accelerated nursing track, students who have previous college credits or a bachelor’s degree in another area can begin this intensive nursing curriculum. In traditional four-year nursing programs, the first two years consist largely of prerequisite and general studies courses. Then the final two years contain nursing-specific classes.

In an accelerated BSN track, the focus is on the content from those final two years of nursing-specific education, condensed into a 16-month curriculum. You can still expect to receive the same rigorous and comprehensive nursing knowledge as a four-year program. It’s just compacted down to optimize your time.  

Our ABSN is a hybrid track, meaning that more than a third of it is online coursework. By moving the nursing theory portion into an online learning space, accelerated nursing tracks can accept more students and offer more starts each year — all while giving you the personalized attention you need.

Who’s Eligible for an Accelerated Nursing Track?

The accelerated nursing track at UIW is a second-degree track, meaning students who have a prior bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field are eligible to enter.

Accelerated BSN tracks are generally not designed for people who are already practicing as a nurse, such as a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse with an associates degree in nursing (ADN). For those scenarios, you’ll want to find specific programs that are designed to bridge between these degrees and a BSN, such as RN-to-BSN. 

As far as our other requirements go, you also will need to have some core prerequisites before applying to UIW’s ABSN track, including these courses foundational to nursing knowledge:

  • Anatomy and Physiology (I and II, including labs)
  • Microbiology (including lab)
  • Chemistry
  • Statistics
  • Lifespan Development
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology

Depending on your prior degree, you may already have taken some or all of these.

If you have any questions about whether your prior courses will transfer to UIW, reach out to our admissions counselors. When you contact us, we will pair you with an admissions counselor who will walk you through the entire application process and help you decide on a start date and form an ideal plan for completing any outstanding prerequisites.

What Is the Structure of Accelerated Nursing Program?

Many accelerated nursing programs combine online and in-person experiences, offering the convenience and flexibility adult learners want, along with the hands-on education needed to learn critical nursing skills. UIW’s 16-month hybrid ABSN track consists of three components — online coursework, simulation labs, and clinical rotations — that each play a vital role in your education.

Now let’s cover what to expect in nursing school, broken down by each piece of the curriculum. You’ll also see how these pieces work together to ensure UIW ABSN students graduate as practice-ready nurses.

3 nursing students practicing skills in a clinical setting

Lay the Groundwork with Online Coursework

Maybe you’re wondering, what is nursing school like with an online component? To clarify, the online portion of the curriculum includes the learning modules, and the other two components, labs and clinicals, both take place in-person.

In the online courses of our ABSN track, you’ll be able to study in a flexible environment and at a time that works best for you. We use an intuitive Canvas learning management system (LMS) as the basis for our online materials.

The online portion of your education consists of learning modules, weekly virtual sessions with your instructor, tactile and engaging exercises, and many other features that provide a more dynamic way of learning than a physical textbook. In the online coursework portion of the UIW ABSN track, you will learn about the concepts and theories foundational to the work of nurses, including:

  • Basic hygiene and safety considerations
  • Conducting health assessments
  • Disease prevention
  • Pharmacology and the safe administration of medicine
  • Psychiatric and mental health issues
  • Evidence-based care
  • Treating the needs of a diverse patient population
  • Good communication practices

On the online platform, students can also engage with interactive activities, participate in forum discussions about assigned readings, attend virtual review sessions and submit assignments.

Through the LMS, you can connect with your instructors and classmates directly via the built-in chat functions. Instructors are easy to reach, and they can also answer questions via phone, email or virtual office hours.

Develop Your Skills with Simulation Labs

Several times a week, you’ll meet with your lab or clinical instructors and classmates at our ABSN learning site, where you’ll go through skills and simulation labs. These sessions build on the concepts and theories you’re learning in your online coursework and bring real-world context to your nursing skills.

In skills lab, you’ll practice applying essential nursing skills, including:

  • Checking vital signs
  • Completing patient assessments
  • Inserting IVs and catheters
  • Treating wounds
  • Inserting nasogastric tubes

But don’t worry, you won’t need to practice these skills on real patients at first. That’s what our patient simulators and task trainers are for. By practicing these skills, critical thinking and building clinical judgment in a controlled, low-stakes environment, you can prepare for when you perform these skills in your clinical rotations.  If you need extra time practicing injections, wound care or another skill, you can also come in during open lab hours to work on it.

Simulation labs at UIW raise the bar for hands-on learning. We have high-tech medical manikins and advanced medical equipment, so the simulation lab closely mirrors the real clinical atmosphere.

Our medical manikins are controlled by a simulation instructor who is in an adjoining room. You can talk with the manikin, ask about symptoms, take vitals and more. The manikins even bleed, so you can practice placing IVs and drawing blood. In these simulations, nursing students learn how to actively manage and treat patients in a supportive environment. Then after the session, students can reflect and learn from each other during debrief sessions.  

Real-World Learning with Clinical Rotations

Clinical rotations are a rewarding and essential part of an ABSN track. Because the UIW ABSN track is an accelerated curriculum, clinical rotations start during the first semester, unlike in traditional nursing schools. This means you get to put your skills to practice early on.

Seeing firsthand what it is like to be a nurse in varying scenarios is key to cementing your skills. You will first be paired with a clinical nurse, who is a professional nurse there to guide you through real patient care.

University of the Incarnate Word ABSN student in black scrubs in clinical setting

At first, the clinical rotations will mostly consist of the simpler care situations. You will observe and assist in the management of patients. Then, as you learn and progress, you will begin to take on more and more responsibilities. You will be able to work alongside clinical staff and manage one or more patients, with your instructor supervising you and providing feedback along the way. As you move toward the end of your curriculum, you will be able to manage patients more independently.

Clinical rotations in the UIW ABSN track take place at top regional health systems, including CHRISTUS Health System and Methodist Healthcare System, among other San Antonio-area providers, so you’ll gain experience in a variety of settings.

Clinicals not only refine your nursing skills; they also can give insight into what type of nursing interests you most and which specific niche you’d like to pursue. Maybe you enjoy your OB rotation the most, or pediatrics, or surgery. Knowing this helps you decide where you want to work after graduation. Networking with the nurses at your clinical sites will help you get your foot in the door when you go to apply for a job.

How Does the NCLEX Fit into an Accelerated Track?

In order to become a practicing registered nurse, the final piece is to pass your NCLEX-RN exam. This exam is a major feat, as it compiles your nursing theory, skills and application all into one test. It’s not a test where you can start studying one week ahead of time and expect to do well.

At UIW, we want our nursing students to excel on the NCLEX, so we incorporate NCLEX-style questions into our curriculum right from the beginning. This helps acclimate you to the types of questions asked on the exam and how to best approach your test-taking strategy. Then, toward the end of the track, our students go through a rigorous NCLEX preparation course, so they know what to expect when test day comes.

With an accelerated nursing track, your success is our success, so we will set you up with all the tools you need to do well on the NCLEX.

Ready to Start Your Nursing Journey?

Now you know the answer to the question, what is nursing school like? With the comprehensive three-part structure of our accelerated nursing track, you can benefit from an innovative and well-rounded nursing curriculum. At the University of the Incarnate Word, we will help you launch into this new career field quickly so you can achieve your goal of pursuing a career in nursing.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree, and you are looking for that next step to switch into a nursing career, you’re in the right place. Contact us today to find out if our Accelerated BSN track in San Antonio is right for you.