Diploma Programs In Nursing

Widely-known as one of the most common paths to becoming a nurse until the 1970s, diploma programs are the most traditional, long-standing form of healthcare education. Generally awarded by hospital-based nursing schools in the United States, this type of certification can offer a sturdy foundation, as well as extensive clinical experience for practicing in a hospital setting. However, they provide fairly limited job opportunities since they are slowly being phased out and replaced by more recent degrees like the ADN. So how can you tell if a diploma program is right for you and your nursing career?

Who is this program for?

The diploma program has remained a popular track for becoming a nurse, but is it one that best fits your academic goals and needs? If you are an entry-level student looking to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), a nursing assistant (CNA) or a registered nurse (RN), this program is a reliable option. Moreover, if you want to gain more hands-on experience or are focused primarily on clinical work, then a nursing diploma is for you. Similarly, if you are interested in starting your practice as soon as possible (and maybe continuing your education while you are already working), this is one of the best career choices you can make because while you are involved with your studies, you will also be working with a hospital, as diploma programs are typically earned through technical schools, community schools, or are only offered at hospitals

What can a Diploma Program in Nursing do for you?

This program will teach you the basics of nursing practice, but also offer invaluable firsthand experience with a clinical setting, healthcare staff and a specialized instructor. While you study, you will also work as an assistant within the host hospital offering the training.

The vast majority of nursing students today are enrolled in degree programs. It is important to be aware of the fact that currently there is a bias against diploma programs; they are rare nowadays and not nearly as popular as they used to be nor as valuable as an Associate’s Degree in the eyes of an employer. This can consequently limit your job opportunities. With this in mind, the program is still a comprehensive, high-quality option that offers in-depth training and vast experience in direct patient care. Some of the most seasoned, dedicated and resourceful nurses you will meet most likely have a diploma and not a degree, because they began their career when these programs were extremely prevalent.

What do you need for the program?

Most diploma programs require you to have a few course prerequisites before you can apply, including a psychology and sociology course. However, most of the requirements are limited to college-level education: biology, chemistry, math, physiology and anatomy. You will be checked for a criminal background, asked to take a TB test to make sure it is negative and you may need to submit proof of immunizations. In addition, you must have a high school education or proof that you studied at least up until the tenth grade. Make sure you have your transcripts with you when you enroll, as you will be asked for your GPA. The score must be 2.0 or above and your grades should not go below C when it comes to math and science.

What will you learn?

Once you have been admitted, what exactly will your studies entail? The earliest diploma programs were taught by physicians and involved very little theory. The main focus was on hands-on experience and clinical work within the ascribed hospitals. During training, students would work up to 18 hours per day alongside the healthcare staff. Decades later, not much has changed – the emphasis is still on clinical practice. However, if you enroll in a diploma program, you will also learn in the classroom (or online) about nursing theory, biology, community health and the social aspects of patient care.

Essentially, the curriculum does not differ much from that of an Associate’s Degree program. The priceless advantage of a diploma program is that in addition to your studies, you will be working within the attached hospital. Most graduates continue their practice with these hospitals after training, which means that you can land a job immediately after completing your studies. Furthermore, you already know your work environment, the requirements, as well as the other staff members.

You will learn extensively about health, patient care, human behavior, nursing techniques and crisis management. Additionally, your clinical experience will help you master critical thinking, problem-solving, manual dexterity, stamina, work under pressure, decisio- making and ethical practice. Here are the main course outlines for a diploma program in nursing:

  • Elements of Patient Care
  • Basic Pharmacology
  • Introduction to Patient Care Specialties
  • Psychology and Public Health
  • Lifespan Nursing Concepts (from infant and family to adult and geriatric)
  • Psych Nursing
  • Nursing Informatics

How long does the program last?

Back in the 1870s, diploma programs would take as little as a few weeks to finish. Over the years, there have been some drastic changes to the structure of the training. Nowadays, it takes between 2 to 3 years to carry out a diploma program in nursing. You will study over the course of this period on a full-time basis. Generally speaking, a degree and a diploma program take about the same amount of time to complete. Depending on the type of degree, you might receive accreditation more quickly by joining a conventional ADN or BSN program. However, you would be missing out on valuable clinical practice, as well as immediate job placement and the opportunity to work while studying.

Are clinical hours needed for this program?

Yes, you will require extensive clinical work within the host hospital or healthcare setting to earn all the credits and complete the program. In fact, this type of training is centered on firsthand experience and direct patient care. The exact number of clinical hours depends on the school and hospital you choose, but you can expect to have complete 1000 hours in total. You should be prepared for 6-hour sessions of clinical practice, but bear in mind that you will also have to work alongside your instructor or other healthcare staff within your assigned hospital.

What is the difference between a Diploma and a Degree Program?

If you’re not sure what separates a diploma program from a certificate or other nursing degrees like an Associate’s or a BSN, take a look at the following differences:

A certificate is earned by taking a series of courses in a particular professional field for a specific subject and it can take about 12 months to complete. It can add to your marketability and provide you with more expertise in a certain domain, but it generally will fall short in landing you a job unless it is accompanied by an accredited degree. On the other hand, a diploma is similar to a certificate, but considered more valuable and significantly more useful in terms of experience and employment. It is available at hospitals that offer specialized training and it is widely-recognized as an alternative to a Bachelor’s or an Associate’s degree. Lastly, an academic degree takes longer to complete (between 2 to 6 years) and can open up more career opportunities as it is more intensive and resourceful.

The main difference between a degree and a diploma program lies in the credits. You earn more credits for a degree program and depending on the type, you have a more exhaustive curriculum, as well as more theoretical classes. Another difference exists in terms of prerequisites – the requirements are much higher for a degree program (even if it is just for an Associate’s degree). However, both programs typically take about 3 years to carry out. In addition, diploma students have to participate in firsthand training within a hospital or healthcare setting where you will practice hands-on patient care. The host hospital often works in conjunction with a community college or a local nursing school. As a full-time student, you would attend 5 days every week. Conversely, if you enroll in a traditional degree program, most of your clinical work will not take place in a medical facility, but rather at the college or university.

Although the curriculum of a degree program is almost identical to that of a diploma, you will not receive a degree at the end of your studies for the latter. You will most likely land a well-paying job within the hospital you trained at, as well as receive a certification and heaps of experience, but you will not obtain an accredited university degree like an ASN, BSN or MSN. Still, you can easily find a position in long-term care, community health care or acute care facilities with a nursing diploma.

Is a nursing diploma worth it anymore?

Until the 1960s, most registered nurses got their credentials by completing comprehensive, practical diploma programs. After World War II, there were over 1000 diploma schools fully operating throughout the United States. However, the last few decades have seen a dramatic decline in both the number of RNs who pursue this type of certification, as well as the number of schools that provide them. Today, only 6% of Registered Nurses reached their nursing position by completing a diploma program. Since this form of education began to die in 1970, it was no longer financed by the government. As a result, there are now as little as 100 diploma programs still functioning in the U.S.

So what can you even do with a diploma in nursing anymore? Well, despite their rapid decrease in both popularity and resources, these programs are nonetheless very sought-after by fellow nurses. In schools and hospitals where diploma programs are still up and running, all of the spots are booked with students. Moreover, when it comes to newly-qualified RNs, there is no difference in your starting salary whether you have a degree or a diploma in nursing. In fact, if you’re interested in working as soon as possible or landing a secure job, this option might work out best for you in the long run.

There are, of course, limitations to a diploma in nursing: you can easily find an entry-level job in a medical facility or hospital, but you will most likely not be able to work in specific fields like anesthesia, oncology or pediatrics. It all depends on your career goals. If you want to constantly improve financially and advance in your job positions over the years, then a degree is the right choice for you. But if you’re not a fan of climbing the ladder and are just interested in landing a stable job fast, without the hassle of overbearing studies, exams and a corporate culture, then a diploma program is the quickest way to achieve your goals.

Are there any online options?

Although not as widespread as they once were, nursing diploma programs are fairly easy to find for those who are interested. Here are just some of the most renowned universities that offer this type of certification: Liberty University, Herzing University, Watts School of Nursing in North Carolina, Penn Foster Career School, Mercy School of Nursing and Ultimate Medical Academy.

An online program would allow you to attend class from a distance and receive specialized training in nursing using a technology-based platform. This means that you will not be required to be present for classes on-campus, but you might still need to participate in on-site clinical work. Whether you are looking for something to jumpstart your career or are already an expert in nursing, an online program can benefit you in terms of expertise, marketability and future career opportunities. There are several online programs that will ensure that you have more flexibility in your schedule, as well as lower overall costs. If you’re interested in online options, here are some of the most widely-known universities or colleges that offer online diploma programs in nursing: John Hopkins School of Nursing, Kaplan University, University of Phoenix, Lewis University, Open Colleges School of Health, Drexel University and Post University. For more distance learning options and resources, you can visit Distance Learning Portal

How much will the program cost?

The tuition and fees for a diploma program in nursing are based on the number of registered credit hours, as well as the specific training you enroll in, the length of the studies and whether you are an out-of-state or in-state student. Costs generally range between $2,000 and $20,000 depending on the school, university, online platform or hospital you decide to join.

In addition, you might be asked for a non-refundable tuition deposit after your acceptance paperwork has been submitted. There will be clinical compliance expenses, including a background check ($50-$60) and immunizations which can range anywhere between $0 and $600. Your “readiness test” (NCLEX) may require a fee of up to $1,200.

What about accreditation?

You should always make sure that the diploma program of your choice is accredited, preferably by The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN). Other institutions that offer authorization are: The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE, for master’s level degrees), The American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM, for midwifery programs) and The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA, for anesthesia, master’s and doctoral programs).

There is a common misconception that a Diploma in Nursing is inferior to an Associate’s Degree and that the latter is always preferred. However, whether you are studying for a certificate, a diploma or a graduate degree, you will still be urged to strive for your Registered Nurse licensure. In fact, after you join a nursing diploma program, you will be consistently prepared for and encouraged to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in order to receive accreditation and be able to work as an RN upon completion of your studies. It is important to remember that whatever program you decide to enroll in, you are still an entry-level student and you need to pass your NCLEX-RN examination to practice.

Where can you work with a Diploma in Nursing?

Although nursing diplomas seem to be a dying breed, there are still a myriad of work opportunities for those who already own one or are currently involved in similar studies. So, what professions and job opportunities stem from obtaining a diploma in nursing?

If you earn this certification, you can work in hospitals, inpatient settings, medical facilities, assisted living centers, primary care clinics, continuing care facilities, acute care hospitals, physicians’ offices and occupational health departments. Here are some of the main job positions you can apply for with a Diploma in Nursing:

  • Nurse
  • Surgical Nursing Assistant
  • Crisis Intervention Worker
  • Intensive Care Nurse
  • Public Health Nurse
  • Critical Care Nurse
  • Private Duty Nurse
  • Crisis Intervention Nurse
  • Forensic Nurse
  • School Health Nurse
  • Infection Control Nurse
  • Acute Care Coordinator
  • Drug/Substance Abuse Counselor
  • Nursing Consultant
  • Researcher
  • Health Educator
  • Research Assistant
  • Recruiter

How much can you earn with a Diploma in Nursing?

Previously regarded as the primary method of becoming a nurse, a diploma in nursing is less favored today, but it is still profitable. If you earned a diploma and have less than 1 year of experience, you will receive an average salary of $38,400. Diploma holders can get up to $50,000 annually with 1 to 4 years under their belts and over $60,000 with over 10 years of work experience. The maximum salary you can receive is $69,403 if you have been practicing for over 20 years. You should consider that diplomas might not be as lucrative in the future.