Pharmacology for Nurses: Training and Education Requirements

Pharmacology is the study of drugs and their interactions in the human body. Understanding common medications and their safe administration is a necessary skill for licensed practical nurses (LPNs), licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) and registered nurses (RNs).

Essential Information

Most students receive training in pharmacology throughout the process of earning a 2-year diploma or associate's degree or a 4-year bachelor's degree in nursing. A minimum of a high school diploma or the equivalent is necessary for admission to a diploma or associate's degree program. While studying pharmacology and drug calculation, student nurses must complete clinical rotations and laboratory experiences. Nurse professionals must obtain licensing by passing state examinations that test their clinical skills and theoretical knowledge.

  • Program Levels in Pharmacology: Diplomas, Associate's degrees, Bachelor's degrees
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED for the diploma and associate's programs; high school diploma or GED and a criminal background check for the bachelor's program
  • Program Length: 2 years for the diploma and associate's programs; 4 years for the bachelor's program

Diploma in Practical Nursing

Licensed practical nurses provide one-on-one patient care under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians. Many students interested in beginning a career as a nurse enroll in a diploma program for practical nursing. In general, these programs last two years and provide a fundamental education in biological science and practical skills in tending to patients. Most schools require applicants to hold high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) examination to apply.

In addition to practical skills, monitoring vital signs and medical terminology, students rotate through various nursing sub-specialties and learn how to interact with patients in a variety of circumstances or settings. A student's curriculum may often include the following course topics:

  • Pharmacology and drug calculation
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology
  • Medical ethics

Associate's Degree in Nursing

This 2-year degree program prepares a student for an entry-level career as a registered nurse (RN). These programs focus on teaching biological sciences and professional skills, as well as expose students to first-hand clinical experience. Typically, students are expected to complete a high school diploma or GED prior to applying to this program.

Courses focus on the scientific skills and clinical experience, as well as include classes in the humanities. Pharmacology is often featured as a topic in many of the following courses commonly found in a student's curriculum.

  • Human anatomy
  • Adult nursing
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Psychosocial nursing
  • Microbiology

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

A 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) provides students with a broad liberal arts education, in addition to scientific, practical and professional skills. Students are trained to take vital signs such as blood pressure or temperature, perform preliminary assessments and educate patients on preventative or home care; some states allow nurses to prescribe medication. Applicants must complete a high school diploma or GED to qualify for acceptance into most BSN programs. In addition, most programs require a criminal background check.

Classes combine laboratory experience, classroom teaching and clinical rotations under the supervision of licensed nurses and physicians. Students also receive training in business and management skills, in addition to a general overview of the liberal arts. A student's curriculum includes at least one or two classes in exclusively pharmacology, as well as the following:

  • Nutrition
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Adolescent care

Popular Career Options

Graduates must take their state licensing exam, in addition to the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), in order to practice as an RN. Licensed RNs qualify for entry-level positions as staff nurse in several industries, including the following:

  • Long-term care facilities
  • Home caretaking
  • Birthing centers

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses with a bachelor's degree or higher were expected to have better job prospects than those without. The BLS also reported that employment of registered nurses was expected to increase 19% between 2012 and 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Registered nurses were reported to receive an annual median salary of $66,640 as of May 2014, according to the BLS.

The BLS reported that employment of LPNs and licensed vocational nurses was expected to increase 25% between 2012 and 2022, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Many of these jobs were expected to be in hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient facilities. The BLS also reported that as of May 2014, the median annual salary of a licensed practical nurse or vocational nurse was $42,490.

Continuing Education

All LPNs must be licensed by their state of residence and state requirements for exams often vary. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) provides the National Council Licensing Examination for Practical Nursing (NCLEX-PN). Exams usually last several hours and are administered via computer.

Nurses often choose to continue their studies at the graduate level, culminating in a Master of Science in Nursing. Programs are available for nurses to specialize in clinical nursing, nursing midwifery, nursing anesthetics and nurse practitioner. All nurses must be licensed by their state of residence and pass the NCLEX-RN examination in order to practice medicine.

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