Alaska has one approved practical nursing program (http://commerce.alaska.gov/BoardofNursing/Education.aspx). It is physically located in Anchorage, but provides living accommodations for nurses from other parts of the state.
Here are some things to consider as you decide whether it will work for you – and what your other options may be.
The first question is whether practical nursing is the right level for you. Practical nursing (LPN) is entry-level nursing; it is the lowest step on the nursing career ladder, but not necessarily the lowest step on the healthcare career ladder.
Practical nursing requires less education than professional nursing (RN). It requires more training, however, than certified nursing assistant.
An individual can begin their nursing career at the LPN or RN level. In Alaska, there are fewer locations offering LPN training than RN.
The practical nursing program at AVTECH requires previous training/ certification as a CNA. This training is brief and may be gained at AVTECH or at another school – it isn’t necessary to be physically present in Alaska at this stage.
Applicants will also need to take a few academic courses beforehand. These include anatomy and physiology, microbiology, human development, nutrition, and composition.
Candidates will also need to score at an acceptable level on the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE).
Room and board are available for students who need to relocate for the program. AVTECH offers both traditional dormitories and family housing. Housing requires a separate application. A student may pay for all meals or purchase a limited number of meal tickets.
It is possible that an eligible applicant will be waitlisted. AVTECH notes that there may be a waitlist of up to one year – interested individuals will want to contact the program director to find out the current situation.
AVTECH graduates will be awarded a full year of credit should they decide to articulate into the professional nursing program at the University of Alaska. This is not necessarily the case with all schools.
Tuition at AVTECH (as of January 2014) is $5,000; total fees run a little over $6,000 (http://www.avtec.edu/Cost.htm).Students who relocate for the program will need to figure in the cost of dormitory or family housing.
The following financial aid is available to qualifying students: Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and Alaska Supplemental Education Loans. Alaska Native students may be eligible for additional financial support, depending on region of the state (http://www.healthcareersinalaska.info/financial_aid/info/ahtna/).
Some students may receive healthcare scholarships; Health Careers in Alaska has compiled a list (http://www.healthcareersinalaska.info/financial_aid/info/health-care-funding).
What do practical nurses ultimately earn? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an average salary of $52,480 for Alaska LPNs --- this is the third highest salary in the nation. A new graduate usually starts below the mean.
A nursing student who chooses an out-of-state program should make sure that they are getting a comparable education. A program that is accredited by the Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) should be fine. Prospective students may want to ask about clinical training hours.
NCLEX scores are another consideration. LPNs around the nation take this licensing examination, and passing rates are often taken as an indicator of program quality. Most state boards publish first time pass rates.
Retention rates may also be considered. Some schools offer more support than others in helping their students overcome challenges and stay in school. Low faculty-student ratio and low turnover are sometimes associated with positive outcomes.
A student will want to consider what, if any, waitlist is associated with the program. Johnson & Johnson provides a search function for nursing programs without waitlists, though not all programs nationwide appear on the list (www.discovernursing.com/schools).
Of course there’s the cost issue. Students do sometimes pay more for convenience
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