3 Nursing School Options for Those Just Starting Out

Whether you’re a high school senior wondering what your next steps will be, or you’re a second-career starter, jumping into the nursing field is something that you can do with your eyes wide open… and little to no experience! Thanks to the many entry-level, educational routes right here in Connecticut, you can become a Licensed Practical Nurse, a Certified Nursing Assistant (which has many other names, you’ll soon find out), or a Registered Nurse. Each of these paths can get you practicing in the healthcare field in a matter of months, and no more than two years’ time, depending on the type of certificate or degree you’re trying to obtain. There are a few key differences between the nursing programs required to land each of these roles. We’ve outlined the various entry-level nursing program (and related) options below.

Certified Nursing Assistant/Aide (CNA) and Patient Care Specialist (PCS) Programs

Certified Nursing Assistants and Patient Care Specialists, while not practical nurses per say, are great launching points into the larger healthcare field. Why? Often because the getting there is quick! A CNA program typically offers a few months of in-person classroom time, partnered with clinical training, in order to grant you basic nursing experience and an entry-level job. Programs like these can be part or full-time, allowing for flexibility. The duties associated with a CNA career are often in long-term care facilities, and involve bathing, feeding, and dressing patients, documenting and filing paperwork, and helping patients stay mobile. You’re not a full-fledged nurse at this level, but it’s a great way to gain valuable basic experience from working alongside nurses, and to “test the waters” in the field.

Program Goals: If you enroll in this entry-level nursing program, you want to obtain education and clinical practice, in order to sit for the certification exam. In fact, CT-approved programs require 100 hours of such experience. That’s another important point: you’ll want to make sure that your top choice programs are officially approved by the CT Department of Health. You’ll learn from RNs with experience in long-term care, and upon completion, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Certified Nursing Aide or Prometric Nurse Aide exam.

Testing: The exam is a two-part affair. Part 1: CNA skills. You’ll demonstrate a grasp of the basic clinical functions that you’ll be using on a daily basis on the job, on “actors”. Part 2: CNA knowledge. This multiple choice test is administered by computer. There are plenty of free or affordable resources such as practice tests available, to make sure that you’re fully prepared for exam day.

Job Options: What’s that? So you passed? That’s awesome! What’s next? Armed with your certification, you’re now eligible for the following job titles: Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA), Registered Nursing Assistant (RNA), Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA). Other jobs that you’ll be eligible for are in less fancy terms, such as care assistant, home assistant, personal care assistant, or direct care workers. CNAs earn an average of $16.30 an hour in the state of CT, which translates to $33,904.

Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) Diploma

Ready to step it up a notch? Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse is the front-of-line individual who assesses patient needs and conditions upon entry into the healthcare facility. They have a range of essential job duties, which you can read about here, most of which involve direct patient care. Given this important position, there’s a little more training is involved.

Program Requirements: LPN programs typically take around a year to eighteen months, offering training that allows LPNs to become the support system used by RNs and Doctors in a huge array of settings. Most programs offer full or part-time options, and some even offer a combination of online learning. You’ll find clinical experience blended with classroom coursework. LPN programs can still be considered entry level, because there are no prerequisite requirements. Importantly, LPNs build a deep knowledge of the Nursing Practice Act, and promote patient safety. They are highly trained to utilize the nursing process and critical reasoning skills. These come into play on exam day.

Testing: In order to become an LPN officially, you’ll need to sit for the NCLEX-PN Exam. This is a five hour test, with two breaks built in, all done in a Computerized Adaptive Testing environment (meaning that every test is unique). The exam ensures that each new nurse can practice safely. In 2018, more than 86% of first-time LPN test-takers nation-wide passed, which is a pretty reassuring rate!

Job Options: Where can you work as an LPN? Long-term care, home care, rehabilitation centers, or hospice, are just a few common options. LPNs are the nurse that patients will see most often throughout their stay at one of these facilities. They are the vital point of contact between Doctors or RNs and patients, and very hands-on. LPNs are responsible for physical assessment: they might be recording vital signs, assisting with documentation, delegating patient care, implementing therapeutic nursing, dressing wounds, and otherwise closely monitoring patients. The compensation is favorable for LPNs. The CT department of labor pinpoints the mean hourly wage of LPNs at $27.94, which translates to $58,115 annually.

Rather spend more time in nursing school first, before entering the workforce? Earning an Associate Degree in Nursing towards becoming a Registered Nurse will have you spending two years in school (versus the shorter pathways above), however, it is another entry-level route into nursing. Becoming an RN does increase your earning potential and responsibility level in the healthcare field, and allows you to think further into the future towards a BSN or MSN eventually, and even beyond.

Efficient, flexible, and fulfilling CNA and LPN programs are both offered at Stone Academy, located conveniently across three campuses in East Hartford, West Haven, and Waterbury. Ready to learn more? Contact us today! Our Admissions team would be happy to set up a campus tour and personal interview with you to discuss your entry-level nursing program options right here in CT.