Aspiring nurses have several pathways into the profession, beginning with a diploma to the terminal DPN or Doctor of Nursing Practice. Each level has more advanced courses in medicine, some of which will require mathematics. In this post, prospective nursing students will learn how to start the educational process to enter this healthcare field.
Certified Nursing Assistant
A CNA typically assists a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse (more on these below) in medical clinics, hospitals, long-term care, nursing homes, and private residences. Some of the responsibilities are:
- Keep patient medical records
- Sterilize equipment and rooms
- Feed patients
- Assisting the disabled
- Caring for patients hygienic needs and bathing
According to CNA Nursing, assistants might earn $35,500 in a government setting, like the Veteran’s Association, or an average of $29,000 in the private sector. The training lasts six to twelve weeks at community colleges, hospitals, online, the American Red Cross, and vocational schools (some as brief as four weeks).
The CNA might be the only nursing education that omits mathematics, as most coursework focuses on anatomy, physiology, and practical skills. However, students may encounter a class in weights and measures; an example is the CNA at the California Organization of Associate Degree Nursing. Familiarity with standard and metric weights and measures is necessary – more than a mathematical function.
CNAs must also meet their state licensing requirements, which require 80 hours of training and 37.5 hours of clinical practice in Pennsylvania, for example. Prospective CNA license applicants must also perform basic mathematics.
Texas requires 60 hours of training and 40 hours of clinical work before taking the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) – two separate tests. Texas is one of 20 states using this test that consists of written and skills demonstration portions. The written exam has 70 multiple-choice questions across three domains:
- Physical Care Skills
- Psychosocial Care Skills
- Role of the Nurse Aide
The closest the exams come to math is during the 23 potential skills demonstration when the student may have to measure urinary output.
Diploma in Practical Nursing
This credential is the minimum to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Students opting for the diploma may use it as a stepping stone to earning an associate degree before enrolling in an RN or registered nurse program.
LPNs have limited nursing duties, but they can administer injections, apply a dressing, take vital signs, perform clerical work, and maintain medical records. Some programs, for example, St. Louis College of Health Careers, afford the know-how for grads to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).
The St. Louis curriculum has only three hours of Algebra & Mathematical Functions in Semester 1. The four semesters cover anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, pharmacology, mental health nursing, and a practicum.
Centura College of Allied Health and Trades in Norfolk, Virginia, has a Practical Nursing Diploma with two hours of Mathematics for Nurses and three hours of Pharmacology and Math Calculations. Diploma programs may be available at a local community or technical college and are an inexpensive means to apply for entry-level jobs in healthcare.
The Practical Nursing Diploma at Durham Tech advertises tuition totaling $3,116, including fees. The study plan also includes three hours of Mathematical Measurement and Literacy, which teaches basic geometric concepts, statistics, ratio, and financial literacy. Therefore, even the diploma programs require mathematics. One of the Durham admission requirements is the demonstration of college-level reading and math.
If math isn’t your strong suit, can you still be a nurse? Many students who are considering nursing school wonder about this. Unless the individual stops at the CNA diploma, future nurses must develop math skills to excel academically in a nursing program. Furthermore, math is often a requirement for admission. Anyone considering a degree in this profession should take biology, chemistry, and math classes during high school.
High School Requirements
By rewinding to high school, a student interested in nursing must attain a high school diploma, so at the very least, you will need to complete any mandatory mathematics classes to graduate. Ideally, aspiring nurses should complete three or even four years of math during high school, including algebra and geometry, according to The Houston Chronicle.
Keep in mind that many science courses you take, whether in high school or college, have some math component. You will need to balance chemical equations in a chemistry class and use mathematical calculations in pharmacology.
Even for the most basic nursing programs, like Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) preparation programs, you will likely need at least basic high school math skills to pass an entrance or admissions examination. For admission into a highly competitive and selective nursing school, you will most likely need an impressive SAT examination score, which includes advanced mathematics and algebra.
The math classes required for a nursing degree program often satisfy university-wide general education mathematics requirements. Therefore math-haters might find it challenging to enter into an American college or university undergraduate program.
Dr. Marie-Claire Moreau, MA, MEd, EdD, stated in 2020 that math skills are paramount for students to have three to four years of high school math, including homeschoolers. The SAT, as mentioned, has math – even if you excel on the reading test and the writing and language part, a low math score will drag down the overall test score. However, there is hope, as over 1,795 institutions are test-optional, meaning they do not mandate the SAT/ACT for admissions. This option does not negate the math requirement; for example, Ball State University is on the list, but applicants require three years of math and three years of science for undergraduates.
Future nurses will be swimming upstream against the current without several years of high school mathematics.
To understand the Universe, you must understand the language in which it’s written, the language of Mathematics. Aristotle
Two degrees qualify students to take the NCLEX-RN state licensure after the stipulated clinical hours.
The shorter route is to earn an Associate Degree in Nursing or AND, which takes two years to complete a 60-75 credit hours program. The ADN/RN at Rasmussen University takes 18 months to complete the partial online, campus, and on-site clinical hours. Students have four hours of Algebra during the General Education Courses, after which there are no more math classes.
The ADN at South Texas College qualifies graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN, which the school attests to an 88.51% pass rate (2020) and a 95% job placement rate in 2019. The good news is that the curriculum excludes math; however, the Admission Assessment Exam includes reading, science, and basic math. The latter covers 55 items focusing on addition, subtraction, decimals, ratio and proportion, and fractions.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
The other more advanced choice on the RN educational menu is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This degree is a standard four-year 120 credit hours program; the benefit is the increased job opportunities and higher salary generated by having a baccalaureate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a BSN’s median wage was $75,330 in 2020. Job changes through 2030 could be 9%, which would create 276,800 job openings.
San Antonio’s University of the Incarnate Word offers an accelerated 16-month BSN whose format combines online learning, simulation labs at their learning site, and area clinical hours at various facilities. Students must take the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) before applying; practice test A has four sections and contributes to the total score of A as follows:
- Reading – 46.7%
- Mathematics – 56.3%
- Science – 51.1%
- English and Language Usage – 41.7%
The core courses required to earn a nursing degree most often include studies in biology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biology, chemistry, nutrition, and psychology, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Clinical experiences are a required part of any nursing program, from basic practical nursing certificate programs to graduate programs in nursing. However, mathematics is one of the key nursing school requirements across all nursing degree programs.
What can you expect from math coursework in a nursing degree program? A 100-level college math course such as algebra is the most common requirement for prospective nurses. Some nursing programs require coursework in statistics and probability, as well.
The Frances M. Maguire School of Nursing at Gwynedd Mercy University has a BSN whose General Requirements include three hours each of statistics and math fundamentals. The 64 credits of Major Requirements do not have math.
In addition to mandatory math classes, math requirements in some nursing programs include tests or exams that students must complete to move forward with their education and clinical experiences. Students may be tested on subject matter such as converting units of measurement and the math needed to administer medications and intravenous drips correctly.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
Nurses do not avoid the influence of math in a graduate program, although there is generally less emphasis on the subject. The MSN at John Hopkins School of Nursing has three hours of Biostatistics for Evidence-Based Practice in the second semester. Otherwise, the curriculum is math-free.
The MSN with a concentration in Family Nurse Practitioner at Tennessee State University (TSU) studies Research, Nursing Theory, Pathophysiology, and Primary Care in various specialties, like pediatrics and geriatrics, but no math classes. The school states that 83% complete the program within three years, and the employment rate was 100% for 2020 graduates.
The TSU nursing degree is available online, with three campus visits required; applicants need a 3.0 GPA in their BSN and an unencumbered RN license in the state of practice.
The MSN at Baker University in Kansas requires three credit hours of Math Statistics and Analysis, which offers a Nursing Education or Nursing Administration Track. Each is nine credit hours, culminating in a practicum in the respective track. The two concentrations include the same 31-33 credit hours of core classes.
A quicker route to graduation is the MSN at the Cummings School of Nursing and Health Sciences at Endicott College in Massachusetts, which has four concentrations:
- Nursing Administration
- Nursing Education
- Global Health Nursing
- Family Nurse Practitioner
Students with at least a 3.3 GPA at the end of their undergraduate junior year might graduate in 18 to 24 months. Referred to the Fifth Year program, students take one graduate-level course in their senior year of the BSN. BSN grads complete the licensure examination and then proceed into late summer coursework upon graduation. With this plan, nurses graduate with the MSN the following year.
How Nurses Use Math in Their Work
There is a practical reason why nursing degree programs include required courses in mathematics. In their daily lives, nurses use basic math skills a great deal. Equations, ratios, and fractions aren’t just abstract concepts when it comes to the field of nursing, according to The Houston Chronicle. Nurses need these skills when caring for patients to administer medications accurately, take measurements and calculate and interpret other medical data.
A nurse must know how to calculate medicine dosages and IV drip rates without making mistakes. If a nurse errs on the medication’s dose or uses the wrong measurement system in a calculation, the consequences can be severe or even fatal for the patient.
However, the above examples illustrate basic math, not algebra or calculus mastery. The former applies to computations made with letters substituted for numbers, as seen in equations.
In addition to being comfortable working with numbers, having strong communication skills and being detail-oriented are essential qualities in nurses.
As documented, students cannot avoid math in one or more of these:
- High school
- Admission tests
- Nursing programs
Yet, many students struggle with math long before college; one accusation is with the American education system. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tested 15-year-old students globally in math literacy in 2018. The average score was 489. At the top of the scoring list was China with 591, and the bottom was the Dominican Republic with 325. Here is a sample of the scores from the list of 79 countries:
- Japan 527
- Poland 516
- Canada 512
- The United Kingdom 502
- France 495
- Australia 491
- Russian Federation 488
- Hungary 481
- The United States 478
It is apparent from the statistics that students in the U.S. perform poorly in mathematics. The study showed that 27% of American students fell into the lower performers’ category – slightly higher than the 24% average of 79 countries’ education systems.