Is Nursing a STEM Major?

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Written by Marie Hasty, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A group of nursing students discuss the question, Is nursing a STEM major?

Nurses bring expertise in human biology, clinical technology, systems thinking, and an analytical mindset to patient care. The job requires technical skills as well as patience, compassion, and communication. To prepare nurses for this role, nursing school equips students with courses on anatomy, pathophysiology, and more. But is nursing a STEM major? It depends on whom you ask.

What Is a STEM Major?

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. First designated by the National Science Foundation, STEM majors are college degrees known for preparing students for highly technical fields. They’re associated with higher earnings after graduation, and many believe they’re more prestigious than other degrees.

Real-world problem-solving, complex thinking, and continuous learning are all hallmarks of STEM majors, which include:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • Computer science
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Science
  • Data science
  • Statistics

Interestingly, nursing prerequisites include classes in many, if not all, of the above subjects. Nurses solve problems every day and work within complex healthcare systems to give patients the best outcomes possible. They also experience a stable job market and opportunities for career growth and advancement.

So, is nursing a STEM major? Believe it or not, many organizations do not see nursing as a STEM major, and there’s no single designation or list defining what’s STEM and what isn’t.

The topic is up for debate among many organizations, including:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which lists healthcare occupations (including nursing) as science-and engineering-related domains.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which identifies certain health professionals as STEM, but does not list nursing.
  • The Department of Homeland Security, which does not designate nursing as STEM.
  • Individual universities, which differ in their STEM major designations.

Let’s dig into the degree requirements for nurses and the different perspectives on this issue.

Nursing Degree Requirements: Do They Fit The STEM Mold?

Degree requirements differ by school, but you can expect a nursing program to cover these core classes:

Many of these classes fit the STEM mold, including lab time for practice. In addition, medication calculation exams are a requirement in many nursing schools. Nurses complete real-world clinical rotations in many specialty areas and use technology-assisted tools such as IV pumps, telemetry devices, and electronic medical records.

One Perspective: Why Is Nursing NOT a STEM Major?

Some argue that nursing isn’t a STEM major because it focuses more on caring for people than on biology or physical sciences. While nursing students engage with scientific principles, some argue that the overarching focus on human connection could align nursing with the humanities, rather than STEM disciplines.

STEM tends to be associated with technological innovation, forward thinking, and terms like “industry disruption.” While professional nurses can embody all of these themes, nursing is more commonly perceived as a practical degree. Nurses serve real patients and provide essential care. Some say that STEM majors are more focused on abstract innovation for the sake of economic gain rather than caring for others.

Is Nursing STEM or Humanities?

Nurses cultivate both the technical skills of STEM and interpersonal skills of the humanities. While nursing incorporates scientific principles and technological advancements, a holistic approach is essential. STEM components are evident in coursework like anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology, but some schools of thought feel that the core of nursing education is in the cultivation of empathy, effective communication, and ethical decision-making.

Another Perspective: Why Nursing IS a STEM Major

Nursing degrees require rigorous coursework in science and mathematics, and mastery of both of these areas is a requirement for practice. Nurses apply critical thinking to essential problems both large and small — from caring for individual patients to leading hospitals as executives. They work at the bedside, as well as in technology start-ups, medical records companies, medical device organizations, and more.

Yet despite these facts, gender bias and societal stereotypes associate nursing primarily with women and caregiving. There’s a lingering misconception that nursing is more about comfort than the rigorous application of scientific knowledge. Born from historical biases, these perceptions hinder the acknowledgment of nursing as an integral part of the STEM landscape.

Why STEM Classification Matters to Nurses

Perhaps you’re wondering why the STEM distinction should matter for the average clinician. Once you’re a practicing nurse, who cares about how your major is categorized? Yet the question does have implications for the status of nurses.

If nursing was considered a STEM major across the board, nurses might be more valued in culture. We might see more nursing students and more men entering the field at a time when they’re very needed.

At its core, this question asks what nurses are. Are they skilled clinicians who bring a scientific approach? Are they empathetic caregivers who focus on compassionate care?

Just a few decades ago, nursing was a vocational role that served to assist physicians and help patients with basic needs. Today, nurses are independent clinicians in their own right, who bring unique expertise to medicine. Whether it’s a STEM major or not, studying nursing is an admirable pursuit.

Use Your Nursing Skills in a New Role

So, is nursing a STEM major? We’ll let you decide, but it’s undisputed that nurses are highly valuable patient-care experts. If you’re looking for a new opportunity to use your skills, start getting personalized job notifications from IntelyCare