Choosing an LPN Program in Washington
Washington boasts 23 practical nursing programs. Most are part of the state’s community or technical college systems.
Approval and Accreditation
Nursing students should know the status of their program. Washington LPN programs must be approved by the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission (NCQAC); a list of programs is available on the website (http://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/669080.pdf). Occasionally a program is approved but not in good status. Such programs are denoted on the approval list.
National accreditation by the ACEN is not necessarily an expectation at the LPN level. However, it is an extra validation of program quality.
The Nursing Career Ladder
Washington has mandated that LPN programs have agreements with registered nursing programs so that nursing students who want to continue their education do not face unnecessary hurdles. Many schools have a step program where students can do a practical nursing program and a registered nursing program at the same school. According to the Washington Center for Nursing, a workforce site, 20 schools offer both LPN and associate level RN programs. This compares to just three schools that offer only LPN programs. (http://www.wacenterfornursing.org/nursing-education/nursing-education-in-washington/)
In some cases, students apply to the RN program, but may take the PN level licensing examination at a certain stage of the program.
Programs must maintain an 80% first time pass rate on the NCLEX licensing examination in order to stay in good status with the Board. Some stay far above this minimum.
The Washington Board has provided five years of pass rate data (http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/NursingCommission/NursingPrograms.aspx). Read across those rows, and you will find a few schools boasting 100% rates year after year!
Be aware that pass rates reflect admission and retention policies as well as instruction, and that they aren’t the single or most important indication of program quality. Some Washington schools, though, are very knowledgeable about what it takes to pass.
A practical nursing student can expect to spend time out in the field getting clinical experience. Clinical experiences vary in depth and breadth. Unfortunately, many Washington programs struggle to find clinical placements and end up reducing the number of hours. Students may inquire about the total number of clinical hours and about the hours they can expect in particular areas of nursing like maternal-child nursing.
The Admission Process
The shortage of placement sites is one reason that nursing schools may be unable to accept all qualified students. The selection process varies. There may be a point system based on factors like grade point average and completion of support courses. Students may be given additional points if they are nursing assistants or if they applied in a previous cycle but there was not a seat available.
Some schools institute a waiting list for qualified candidates. In rare instances, it may even be necessary for a nursing school to suspend acceptance of new applications for a period of time.
Practical nursing students are often eligible for general, need-based financial aid through the federal government (https://fafsa.ed.gov/). Some may be eligible for funding through the Workforce Initiative Act.
Washington Career Bridge provides information about many Washington LPN programs. This includes gainful employment data as well as program cost. A student will also find general financial aid information on the site (http://www.careerbridge.wa.gov/Page.aspx?nid=PayForSchool).
Successful Washington LPNs eventually earn an average $47,140 (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292061.htm).
There are also issues of convenience. The number of quarters varies from program to program. Some are four, others seven.
Out-of-State Nursing Programs
Washington has approved a few out-of-state LPN programs to do clinical training at Washington healthcare facilities (http://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/669338.pdf). From time to time, new programs may be authorized.
Nursing schools routinely hold information sessions for prospective students. The Washington Center for Nursing has prepared a list of questions that students may want to ask before applying.
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