Carthaginian General Hannibal once remarked, “We will either find a way or make one.”
Vivian Mitchell enjoyed her days as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) working in the Labor and Delivery department of Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center. One day in 2014 she read a story about the RxTN grant and a new degree program at Northeast State Community College that helped LPNs become registered nurses (RN) in only three semesters after completing pre- courses. The idea piqued her interest, but finding a way to get there proved challenging.
“Everyone kept urging me to go on and get my RN,” said Mitchell. “I thought I was too old.”
But she was not “too old” and made her own way to becoming a registered nurse. Mitchell enrolled at in the LPN to RN Nursing Option at Northeast State in summer of 2015 and graduated as the second class of license practical nurses to earn an associate of applied science in Nursing degree.
This new program was created via the federal RxTN grant. The grant was awarded to the Northeast State Division of Nursing in October of 2012 through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant. The grant’s funding created a program to provide licensed practical nurses a pathway for completion of an associate of applied science in nursing degree, thus qualifying the graduates to sit for licensing exam to become an RN. The first LPN-to-RN class of students took to the classrooms in summer of 2014.
“You have to be strong, you have to be determined, and you have to support you can give them,” said Mitchell, who continued working full-time while raising her children. “I’d tell any LPN entering this program to be prepared to study more than you can imagine.”
Mitchell decided to become a nurse after graduating high school. She received her LPN certificate and began her career. She spent the past 12 years working in the Delivery/Labor unit at Holston Valley Medical Center. She also noted how changes in the regional health care network structure and uncertainties about that structure’s future workforce motivated her to return to college.
“It is a tough program that gets you ready for the kinds of experiences that are going to happen,” said Mitchell. “This is not an easy program at all.”
Like many nursing students with families, Mitchell continued working full-time while attending classes. The grueling schedule took its toll physically and mentally. Mitchell and 18 fellow students started the LPN to RN program in summer term of 2015. Of those 19 students who began the class, 14 graduated in May 2016.
“The toughest challenge we have with the LPN to RN students is they want to work full time while they are enrolled,” said Laura Jones, LPN-to-RN Program coordinator for Northeast State Nursing. “We recognize that because they have to care of their families.”
The RxTN Program created a consortium of the Tennessee Board of Regents’ 13 community colleges and 27 technology centers that received funding. The RxTN program placed a big emphasis on retention and graduation of participating students.
Although, the federal grant’s funding cycle ended on March 30, 2016, the College is continuing to fund the LPN to RN option. Jones said the summer 2016 term accepted 30 new students who started on May 23, 2016.
“To enter the program an applicant must have current LPN license,” said Jones. “We had a 100 percent pass rate for the NCLEX-RN exam for the first LPN to RN class of 2015; we were very proud of that.”
Prior learning assessment (PLA) provides academic credit to license practical nurses with a current LPN license. The PLA credit allows these students to complete the program in three semesters after completing pre- courses. Upon completion the program’s participants earn an applied associate of science degree in Nursing.
Mitchell and her classmates did clinical work in care specialties including obstetrics-gynecology, pediatrics, mental health, and geriatric care. Students also study comprehensive care management and leadership. She is scheduled to take the NCLEX-RN exam in June.
For Mitchell and her colleagues being a nurse does not qualify as merely a job. While the life places many demands on its professionals, she said nurses were motivated by stronger goals than money or position.
“Nursing is truly a calling,” said Mitchell. “You have to have that desire, heart, and empathy to be able to take care of people.”