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Minors with major impact

Minoring in a subject other than nursing can open new doors

Monday November 11, 2013
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In high school, Allison Behette, RN, BSN, was torn between studying business and nursing. At Villanova University in the Philadelphia suburbs, she found she could do both thanks to a 10-week summer program that allowed her to complete a minor in business without interrupting her intensive nursing studies. It wasn’t easy, said Behette, who graduated in May and works as a staff nurse at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. “But it was definitely worth it,” she said. “In this economy, it’s a good idea to have an understanding of how the business world works.”

Though four-year nursing programs traditionally are considered too demanding to allow much time for courses outside the major curriculum and university requirements, some schools report an increase in students who are choosing a minor to complement their nursing studies. The second subject might be in a science, such as biology or psychology. It might be a language — Spanish, Chinese, American Sign Language — that could help a future nurse better communicate with patients who speak other languages or are hearing impaired. It might be preparation for a specialization, such as nutrition, health management, informatics or public health.

“I would say it’s a great idea for a student to always pursue a minor, whether they are majoring in nursing or any other subject,” said Thomas Dickson, director of student affairs at the University of Arizona College of Nursing in Tucson. Nursing advisers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Georgetown echoed his sentiments, saying the minor introduced students to ideas and influences outside their immediate field of study, gave them a fallback subject if they decided nursing was not for them and, in some cases, enhanced their chances of getting a job or enrolling in a graduate program.

New trend

“It’s sort of an ‘in’ thing right now,” said Barbra Mann Wall, RN, PhD, FAAN, associate professor of nursing at Penn, of the multicultural/global healthcare minor program she directs there. “We’re seeing more and more students come in with special interests.”

About a quarter of nursing students at the University of Arizona are minoring in another subject, Dickson said, and interest has increased in recent years. Public health, psychology and nutrition are the most popular second subjects, he said. The school also lets students customize minors in areas such as border health, which might include classes in justice, sociology, Chicano studies and public health.

At Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Spanish and psychology are the most popular subjects among nursing students who take minors, accounting for about 20% to 25% of those in the undergraduate nursing program, said Samuel J. Aronson, MA, assistant director of student academic affairs at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies. The third most popular choice is a certificate in international health, which is similar to a minor but has fewer course requirements. The certificate is attractive to students who want to study or work abroad, he said.

Penn’s multicultural/global health minor is one of four the school offers to nursing students, along with nutrition, health services management and health communication. It requires six courses, three nursing and three non-nursing, which also meet either general university or nursing curriculum requirements.

Villanova’s school of nursing doesn’t offer minors, but about 10% to 20% of nursing students take them anyway, according to Angelina Arcamone, RN, PhD, CCE, assistant dean and director of the undergraduate program at Villanova University College of Nursing. Spanish and psychology are the most popular. Many of Behette’s fellow students in Villanova’s summer business minor program were taking majors with demanding course loads, such as nursing and engineering, she said.

Popular minors

Based on interviews with college advisers and nursing school websites, these are some popular minors for nursing students:

American Sign Language

Biology

Business

Education

Fitness/wellness

Foreign languages

Global/international health

Health communication

Healthcare management

Nursing informatics/IT

Nutrition

Pharmacology

Psychology/behavioral health

Public health

Rural health/border health


Reasons for minoring

Students tell advisers they take minors because of their interest in a subject other than nursing or they believe it will help them get a job or into graduate school. But those who want a minor to enhance their chances of employment after graduation might be better off working in a healthcare setting while they are in school, said Deborah Rowe, RN, MS, PHR, CHCR, senior director of Genesis HealthCare and a past president of the National Association for Health Care Recruitment.

“The most important thing [to potential employers], more than a minor, is work experience,” Rowe said. Employers want graduates who have learned the importance of punctuality, flexibility and professionalism, she said. Employers also like to hire people they know, who already understand the organization and how it works. “It’s all about building relationships,” she said.

Some admissions directors of graduate programs said they pay more attention to GPAs and work experience than to whether a candidate has an undergraduate minor. The University of Virginia also looks at specialty certifications, involvement in professional organizations, committee work and commitment to evidence-based practice, said Clay Hysell, MA, assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at the university’s School of Nursing. “Having a minor or not would not have an effect on admission to a graduate program at the University of Virginia,” he said.

A minor does not substitute for job experience or strong grades in nursing classes, Dickson said, but it can contribute to how a graduate presents himself or herself as a candidate for a job or higher-degree program in interviews and essays, particularly if the student can relate the minor to nursing practice.

Coursework

The advising component is key from the time students enroll, nursing school advisers said. Some students and graduates who took minors said fitting in the extra coursework took a lot of planning. Others said they were able to fit in extra classes fairly easily, especially if they already had amassed college credits in high school or could use classes required for the minor to also meet general university and nursing requirements. Students without many advanced placement credits may have to take summer courses or an extra semester, which can make their education more expensive, advisers said.

But students and graduates with minors said taking the second subject contributed to their nursing work and studies, and sometimes created opportunities they would not have had in a nursing program. Brooke Finley, a nursing student at Arizona, said taking a psychology minor connected her with faculty who were leading experts in the field, led to volunteer work in a mental health clinic and gave her an understanding of mental illness that has helped her feel comfortable working with patients with mental health problems. It also sparked her interest in psychiatric nursing, she said.

Though she doesn’t know how much it helped her get a job, Behette said she was asked about her business minor in all of her interviews and people seemed impressed with her explanation of how it helped her learn teamwork and how to delegate tasks. She has not used the minor directly in her job, but she expects it will be useful in future positions or when she applies to a graduate program.

Because she had minored in Spanish at Villanova, Sarah Sheerin, RN, BSN, now a staff nurse in the neuro-cardiac ICU at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania, said she was able to help a Cuban-born patient who had received a difficult diagnosis. The woman spoke English, but when Sheerin addressed her in her native language, her face lit up, Sheerin said. “She said it made a big difference to her. I felt like she felt more comfortable with me, like she could ask all the questions she wanted to ask.”


Cathryn Domrose is a staff writer. Send comments to editor@nurse.com or post comments below.
Tips for nursing students interested in a minor

1. Check out minor programs at nursing schools.

2. Work closely with an adviser, starting at enrollment and continuing through graduation.

3. Plan in advance and be flexible. Start in high school by taking advanced placement courses and fulfilling university requirements early. Some universities strongly encourage four-year nursing students to complete any minor coursework before their junior year.

4. Double-up credits whenever possible. Certain classes required for a minor also may count toward general studies or nursing requirements.

5. Choose a minor that interests or excites you. Then determine how it will enhance your nursing skills to potential employers or graduate admissions directors.

6. If you have a lot on your plate, skip or drop the minor.

Source: Students, graduates and faculty advisers