Choosing an RN Program in Arkansas
As a prospective Arkansas registered nurse, you must graduate from an accredited or approved program. Doing so qualifies you to take the board examination and become licensed.
Within that perimeter, there are a lot of options. The following is a guide for selection.
Program Level and Articulation Options
Students may select an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN), or a hospital-based diploma program.
Some nurses opt for an ADN program first and complete a BSN later. If this is you, you may want to consider articulation agreements. If your school is part of the Arkansas Nursing Articulation Model and is NLNAC accredited, you will be granted at least 33 semester hours of nursing credit and required to complete no more than 38 units of nursing coursework at the bachelor’s level (http://www.arsbn.org/nursing-programs). Non-nursing (or general education) credits may be transferred if the school itself is regionally accredited; however, this is subject to the school’s individual policies.
The Application Process
Programs receive more applications from qualified individuals than they have spots for. The Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports that although 818 Arkansas students graduated from programs at the BSN level or higher in 2012, 578 were turned away (http://www.aacn.nche.edu/government-affairs/resources/Arkansas1.pdf). Demand can mean heightened admission standards, even at the community college level. Meeting minimum standards does not necessarily guarantee a spot.
Currently, there are a lot of programs without waitlists. Should waitlists become an issue, Johnson and Johnson provides a starting place to search for schools without them (http://www.discovernursing.com/schools#no-filters).
Test Scores and Other Quality Considerations
One important consideration is passing the NCLEX. The Arkansas State Board of Nursing has posted pass rates for five years (http://www.arsbn.org/nusing-programs-nclex-pass-rates-arkansas). Arkansas pass rates are a couple points above the national average, but there is some variability. Test scores can be seen as one quality indicator, but candidates should also take into account the total number of individuals taking the examination.
The Arkansas Board does allow RN candidates who do not pass the NCLEX on a first attempt to retake the exam or opt for the NCLEX-PN and become licensed as practical nurses. Nursing graduates who opt for LPN by equivalency post very high NCLEX pass rates (http://www.arsbn.arkansas.gov/education/Documents/PracticalNCLEX.2013.pdf).
Retention rates and job placement rates are also worth considering. Candidates may also consider the facilities and program format.
Cost varies by a number of factors, including whether the school is public or private, proprietary or not-for-profit. Nursing school can be a significant investment.
In Arkansas, one potential source of funding is the Board of Nursing itself. The Faith A. Fields Nursing Scholarship Loan may be worth up to $5,000 a semester for a total of up to $20,000 (http://www.arsbn.org/loans-scholarships). In order for the moneys to be scholarship, the graduate will need to pass the NCLEX, receive a license, and work in Arkansas at least one year for each year of assistance. Otherwise, the scholarship will revert to a loan with interest due.
The federal government also offers similar programs; the requirement is that graduates work in an area of critical need in a Health Service Professional Shortage Area (https://www.hrsa.gov/loan-scholarships/scholarships/index.html).
Individual schools are also a source of scholarships. Such awards do not necessarily entail a work commitment.
The investment can mean significant earnings later. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists $55,360 as the average salary for an Arkansas RN (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm). Before one can climb the ranks and earn that salary, there is one big hurdle: landing the first job. Prospective students may want to consider the school’s job placement services.
Arkansas State Board of Nursing http://www.arsbn.org/
Arkansas Nurses Association http://www.arna.org/
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