I recently graduated from an LPN-RN bridge program and thought about all the things I wish I knew before I even started prerequisites. I often get questions from other LPN's about which programs are best, if it's easier to get through nursing school as an LPN, and tips for success. These are my top 6 steps that I think every LPN entering their bridge program may find helpful.
STEP 1: Choosing A School
This is one subject you're bound to have heard multiple opinions on as every potential nursing student has. I researched several popular for profit and local community colleges before I settled on a school.
This is what I found:
EVERY school will have faults, there is no escaping that.
It IS important to review cost of the degree vs. what you will be making over your career. There are no bankruptcies for student loans so make sure you're not going to be broke after you graduate.
For-profit vs. Nonprofit is a heated argument in the nursing community. I eventually settled into a nonprofit community college because it was worked best for my schedule. The negative for me on the for-profit college front was a few things 1) the expense was far more than community college 2) it was full time from day one and I needed to work 3) The online options for for-profit schools was limited compared to the community college because it was so accelerated and required in-person attendance 4) In my area the for-profit schools have trouble finding clinical sites in the hospital because there are so many nonprofits with contracts.
The community college offered me more flexibility in terms of prerequisite scheduling. I took all of my non-science classes online which is a life saver if you have a full-time job, kids, a husband, etc.
STEP 2: Tuition Reimbursement
If you're an LPN, you most likely have a job and most companies now offer tuition reimbursement in exchange for time served. I ultimately decided not to take tuition reimbursement from my LPN job in a major medical network for a few reasons:
The amount reimbursed was not enough that I was willing to limit my job opportunities after graduation
I knew at some point I may have to drop to PRN status in the actual nursing program and that wasn't an option if I took tuition from the company
I was not positive I wanted to work for the company after I graduated
These are all points you should consider before committing yourself to a company after you get your RN. This can be a valuable monetary source but it can also hold you back if you have a hard time finding an RN job in the network or need to work less while in school.
STEP 3: Prerequisites
Vocational schooling for an LPN is often so structured and scheduled for you, prerequisites for college is a completely different experience. There are a few things to be aware before you starting choosing classes:
DO your research. Have a plan, determine how many hours you can devote to classes that semester before you go all in. Repeating classes over and over again because you did not plan for what time that class would take is a time and money WASTER.
DON'T take all of your hard classes together. If you know you're going to struggle in a particular subject, for example, chemistry was my school beast, please do not take that class with something like A+P 2 that will also need a lot of time devoted to it. Take it with a psychology class, a general prerequisite, something other than another hard/ time-consuming subject for you
DO take as many bachelor prerequisites as possible in an ADN program. My program encouraged your associate prerequisites also be your BSN prerequisites. Yes, this means your prerequisites will be harder, for example, I took statistics for my ADN programs math requirement instead of the easier class you could take, but it also means you could have all of your bachelors prerequisites done when you graduate with your ADN.
DON'T take your guidance counselor's word for it. College academic advisors look after multiple students in multiple programs. Yes, get their opinion on whether or not to take this class or that class but follow up on their suggestions by researching your college website to make sure you're getting the correct information.
DO know you will have to study. It's time intensive, it's exhausting, and it gets old but you will be successful in the nursing program if you put time into the foundation of it. Also, figuring how you learn best needs to be figured out in pre-requisites NOT in the actual nursing program.
DON'T take semesters off. I know things happen but the # 1 nursing school killer is that many students that take a break ultimately do not graduate with a degree. Barring any life-altering circumstances, attend school consecutively, even if you're taking one class at a time. When you take a break, you get out of rhythm, you lose focus, and you come up with a million excuses why you can't go back right now.
STEP 4: Working while in school
This is one of the top 2 questions I have gotten, whether you should work or not while in school. The answer is that it depends on multiple factors. I worked full time through my pre-requisites and then worked PRN during the nursing program because mine was only 12 months and accelerated after the pre-requisites were completed. It will depend on your support at home or if you have children, the intensity of your program, time management skills, and job flexibility. Most of the students in my bridge program worked full time and did graduate. I took 3 years to do prerequisites, I have 3 kids with one of those being born in the middle of a fall semester, but I planned for that going into it so it worked out fine.
STEP 5: The Nursing Program
You have finally made it into the program after the blood, sweat, and tears of pre-requisite courses. Your exhausted and over it but the hard part is just beginning:
Get organized. Get a planner because it's essential if you want to succeed. Schedule the whole program out to pinning day if possible. This allows you to see ahead for any possible scheduling complications preventing any missed school or clinical days.
Expect the unexpected. Nursing programs, no matter where you go, are notorious for last minute changes and general disarray. I am a person who likes to know what is going on ahead of time so this was hard for me but you need to learn to be flexible and roll with it.
It will be easier if you devoted time to pre-requisites. I studied half the time of what some of my fellow students did in the actual program because I studied double what they did in pre-requisites. Save your pre-requisite notes, especially A+P classes, you will be glad you have them so you don't have to go back through your books.
Don't get wrapped up in the drama. Nursing school is stressful, you're bound to have a few encounters with other students or professors that are tense. Please remember, you're an adult, stuff happens, you don't have to like/love every professor or student to have a good nursing school experience.
DO NOT answer test questions like an LPN. I struggled with this in the beginning, I had 7 years LPN experience by the time I entered the program, test questions, modeled after NCLEX, boggled my mind at first because "THAT'S NOT WE DO IT IN THE REAL WORLD." NCLEX is a fantasy nursing world, everyone has appropriate staffing, enough resources, and the patients have expected disease progressions and outcomes. Use your valuable LPN experience in clinical, not in the classroom. Also, test questions are based on the assumption you're an RN, not an LPN. The test question answer that may have been correct in LPN school most likely will not be correct in RN school when it comes to things like delegation, assessment, etc.
STEP 6: Clinical Experience
While this is not the #1 question I get, this is the #1 subject I think LPNs need to think about before RN clinical rotations:
DO utilize your LPN experience. We have basic nursing skills like wound care and PO medication administration down pat, utilize this to help the nurse you are training with to free up her time in order to learn things we may not know like IV medications and blood administration. (Disclaimer: this will depend on your school, we could give PO medications once checked off without our professor present but nothing that was out of our LPN scope of practice was to be done without our instructor. Reading your student handbook on these matters is essential).
DON'T say you won't do "CNA work." I loathe this statement but understand the assumption when most of us come from LTC backgrounds. In LTC, we must depend on our CNAs for ADL care because we have so many patients. In the hospital, YOU as the RN are most times going to be doing all of that for your patient. Whether you work in LTC or not, separating yourself from "CNA work" puts a wall up between you and your co-workers. Remember, the CNAs in LTC and the techs in hospitals are not our subordinates, they are our co-workers, treat them as such. On one of my clinical days, the floor was so hectic, I did patient care all day. The nurses were so appreciative that next day I was there they grabbed me for every IV med, IV insertion, and anything else I wanted to get my hands on.
DO hustle and make a good clinical experience for yourself. Your instructor can't be with you every minute of the day, don't stand around, find a tech or a phlebotomist, someone to help and observe! If my assigned nurse was busy, I would go find a PCA to help because I had never been in the hospital setting. I learned a lot from the PCAs and they were more than happy to fill me in on how things work once they saw I was willing to get my hands dirty.
DON'T think yourself as an LPN in clinical (besides utilizing your skills), think of yourself as a student because you are. So many of fellow students got wrapped up in not being referred to as a nurse. We all experienced as LPNs the "so your not really a nurse" thing at least once in our careers. You need to move past that, it is what it is, don't get in a funk in clinical because you are referred to as a student nurse because that is what you are.
DO treat the staff at clinical rotations with utmost appreciation. We as LPNs know how hard it is to train new nurses and do your job at the same time. The RN at the hospital is going through the same thing, use this to your advantage. One of our clinical rotations loved when they knew LPNs were coming for a clinical day because they knew we got what they were going through and didn't expect to be catered too at clinical.
LPN programs are generally a year in length, going for your ADN/BSN is not. It's a marathon vs. a race and it's better to prepare yourself for the amount of time you will be in school than to try to rush through it. While I said not to take semesters off, DO give yourself days off. You need it for your mental health to stay in this long game
Being an LPN while in RN school can be SO valuable but it also can be a big hindrance if you let. Use your experience but remember you are still there to learn.