In order to become a registered nurse in Iowa, you must graduate from an approved professional nursing program. A list of approved Iowa programs is available on the Board site (http://www.state.ia.us/nursing/nursing_ed/nursing_ed.html). There are a number of them – here is a guide to selection.
A student who does not have prior nursing training will usually look for a program labeled "basic BSN' or "associate degree nursing". A nursing student who has a prior degree in another field may opt for a pre-licensure master's degree program. Iowa has a statewide articulation plan, which means that there are policies governing transfer of credits between many nursing schools within the state (http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/articulation-agreements).
Attending an accrediting program can make it easier to articulate later, even if one chooses to attend school in another state. There are two nationally recognized nursing accrediting agencies, CCNE and ACEN. Iowa currently has 15 CCNE-accredited BSN programs There are four ACEN-accredited ADN programs. Click here to view them.
Demand exceeds available spots. Students should be aware that there are waiting lists at some Iowa nursing schools. The Board has provided information about waiting lists (http://www.state.ia.us/nursing/images/pdf/program_statistics/enrollmentdata.pdf). In 2012, there was more wait listing at the associate's level than the bachelor's level.
Applicants should also be aware that some schools have just one admission period a year and that some programs have special requirements. Applicants may, for example, need prior education as nursing assistants (CNAs).
Prospective nursing students may want to ask about the depth and breadth of clinical rotations. They may ask about the total number of hours, the number of different placements, and the supervisor's qualifications.
The NCLEX-RN is a national examination that assesses competent entry-level practice. Pass rates are one indication of program quality. The Board has made four years of NCLEX pass rates available (http://www.state.ia.us/nursing/images/pdf/program_statistics/NCLEXprogramdata_rn.pdf).
Some schools offer flexible scheduling. There may be evening and/or weekend classes. Courses may be offered online or in a hybrid format.
Out-of-state programs are acceptable. The Iowa Board notes that since some state nursing boards do not regulate or approve the nursing programs operating within their borders, a prospective student should identify what agency is responsible for approving or accrediting. One stipulation for those wishing to take the licensing examination in Iowa is that the program be in good standing with its regulating agency. While Iowa does not currently place restrictions on online or hybrid programs, prospective students should be aware that some states do. (http://www.state.ia.us/nursing/faq/education.html)
Programs that have been accredited by either of the two national nursing accrediting agencies, the ACEN or CCNE, are generally regarded as having met high standards. A student who is enrolled in an out-of-state nursing program but doing their clinical rotations in Iowa should make sure that the program is in compliance with Iowa law. (http://www.state.ia.us/nursing/nursing_ed/Criteria%20for%20Out%20of%20State%20Programs.html).
Financial aid opportunities, as well as fees, will vary somewhat from program to program. Federal grants and loans are generally an option for financially needy students. BSN programs often offer merit-based scholarships. Some RNs accept loan scholarships through the HRSA.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Iowa RNs averaged $52,540 in 2012 (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm). This figure includes nurses with advanced education and those with expertise and/ or certification in specialty areas. A new nurse will generally start at a lower wage.
Students may want to study job placement rates and other gainful employment data. The Board notes that RNs who have not found positions at the professional level are allowed to take positions at the lower LPN level but are not allowed to call themselves LPNs (http://ibn.idaho.gov/IBNPortal/IBON/FAQS/RN%20FAQ%202011-2013.pdf).
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