What is a Certificate Program in Nursing?
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) work under registered nurses (RNs) in a variety of healthcare settings to provide basic medical care to patients. In order to become an LPN, students must complete an LPN program, which is typically offered as a Certificate of Applied Science (CAS) or a diploma program. These programs help train students in the necessary skills to observe patients, administer medications and treatments, and perform procedures safely and in accordance with current ethical guidelines. These certificate and diploma programs are also designed to prepare students to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for practical nursing (NCLEX-PN), which is required by all states to work as an LPN. Students in LPN programs typically take nursing-focused courses and complete various hands-on learning experiences, such as labs and practicum experiences, to gain the necessary skills and experience for the field. There are a few LPN programs available in online formats, but due to the hands-on nature of the field, most programs are offered on-campus. Get details for these programs here.
What is the Difference Between a Certificate and a Degree in Nursing?
Some of the main differences between a certificate or diploma program in nursing and an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing is the length of the program and the career outcomes. Certificate and diploma programs are usually much shorter than degree programs, which means they require fewer credit hours and can be finished in less time. Since degree programs in nursing are longer, they are also more detailed and advanced than certificate and diploma programs. Most associate and bachelor's degree programs in nursing are designed to prepare students to take the NCLEX-RN exam to become an RN. RNs take on more responsibilities and duties than an LPN. Some degree programs in nursing also carry nursing-related accreditation from groups like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which can stand out to employers.
Should I Get a Certificate in Nursing?
Many students decide to pursue a program in nursing because they want to help people feel better when they are injured or sick. Students interested in nursing need to be empathetic, have strong organizational skills and attention to detail, and be prepared to work hard in stressful situations. Students may decide to earn a certificate or diploma in nursing to get an introduction to the field and start their career right away after taking the NCLEX-PN exam. The shorter design of these programs typically saves students time and money and allows them to start their careers faster, which can then help them pay for further education. These programs are often a great stepping stone to pursuing an undergraduate degree in nursing to further advance one's career. The job outlook for LPNs is positive, which means that the demand for LPNs is growing, so finding a job in the field should be fairly easy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for LPNs and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) is 9% from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than the national average.
Career Options After Completing a Certificate Program in Nursing
Unlike other careers, such as licensed professional clinical counselors that require advanced education to obtain licensure, students with only a certificate or diploma in nursing can become an LPN. Some states may call these nurses licensed vocational nurses (LVNs). LPNs can work in a wide range of healthcare-related settings, such as doctor's offices, hospitals, residential care facilities, and more. While most students go on to become LPNs after earning their certificate or diploma in the field, there are other entry-level healthcare-related career options also available. All of these jobs utilize some of the basic nursing skills and knowledge that these certificate programs instill in students. Some possible career options include:
Licensed Practical Nurse
As mentioned, LPNs typically need to complete a 1-year certificate or diploma program in the field and pass the NCLEX-PN to obtain licensure. They also commonly need to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). These nurses are supervised by RNs and doctors as they observe patients' health, change bandages, listen to patients' concerns, organize patient records, and provide other basic care.
Nursing Assistant or Orderly
Nursing assistants usually need to complete a state-approved education program and pass an exam, while orderlies only need a high school diploma. Some nursing assistants need to earn certification as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). Both positions (nursing assistants and orderlies) require students to complete on-the-job training to learn specific job duties. Nursing assistants are qualified to take vital signs of their patients, serve meals to patients, transfer patients to different locations, and perform other daily activities for their patients, such as dressing and bathing. Orderlies help maintain the cleanliness of facilities by cleaning equipment and may help move patients as needed.
Home Health and Personal Care Aide
Home health and personal care aides commonly have a high school diploma, but depending on the employer, it may not be required. Some employers may also require formal training and have the aides pass an exam. On-the-job training is typically required. and aides may need to meet additional licensure or certification requirements for their state. Home health and personal care aides help their clients with daily activities, such as giving them medication, performing household chores, and maintaining schedules.
Continued Education After a Nursing Certificate Program
Students who earn a certificate or diploma in nursing and want to advance their career and knowledge in the field of nursing have several additional education options available to them. Likely, students will decide to pursue their RN license. In order to do this, students can choose from several programs that are specifically designed to help LPNs earn the additional education needed to take the NCLEX-RN. Students can pursue programs such as an LPN to RN program, LPN to ASN (Associate of Science in Nursing) program, or an LPN to BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) program. These programs allow students to count some of the credits, courses, and training from their LPN program towards the degree, which can allow students to finish slightly faster than traditional students in the program.
Courses for a Certificate Program in Nursing
Certificate and diploma programs for aspiring LPNs usually require between 41 and 57 credits of LPN courses. These courses train students in the basic nursing skills needed to diagnose and treat various types of illnesses and injuries. LPN classes may even include topics in specific areas of nursing, such as maternity nursing, medical-surgical nursing, and gerontology and community nursing, depending on the program. Most of these programs include laboratory courses, clinical experiences, and/or practicum experiences to provide students with much-needed hands-on, practical experience in the field. Some programs may conclude with a final capstone course in professional nursing to help prepare students for their future careers. Other common courses for these programs include:
Students typically take at least one or more courses in pharmacology that aim to further develop their critical-thinking skills and knowledge of different types of medications. Students learn how medications interact with the human body and may also study the various calculations needed to determine different amounts of medications needed. These courses also examine how different medications interact and the potential side effects for patients.
Adult Health Nursing
Students commonly take one or more courses in adult health nursing that provides an overview of nursing skills needed to care for adults. Some of these courses focus on aging adults or working with adults in acute care settings. Students also discuss health promotion and various adult-related health topics, such as end-of-life care, nutrition, and therapies. Usually, these courses include a clinical component.
How Long Does a Certificate Program in Nursing Take?
Most LPN certificate and diploma programs can be completed in 1 year or less. Students may be able to finish in as little as 48 weeks. Depending on the set-up of the school's calendar, this could be completed in 3 semesters or 4 different 12-week terms. Typically, this time to completion includes any clinical or practicum requirements. This is significantly less time than degree programs in nursing, as associate degree programs usually take 2 years to complete and bachelor's degree programs take around 4 years to complete. Most students complete these programs in a full-time format, which can also help them finish their certificate or diploma on time.
How to Choose a Certificate Program in Nursing
When trying to become a LPN, students may first decide what type of program they want to pursue. For instance, a certificate for LPN may be slightly shorter in length than a diploma program, but either kind of program still qualifies students for the NCLEX-PN. Depending on a student's personal interests, they will likely want to compare the curriculum for different LPN programs. For example, these programs commonly include courses in different areas of nursing, such as maternity nursing, nursing leadership, and adult nursing, but these courses vary across programs. Students may also want to ensure that their program of interest includes hands-on experiences that fit their preferences, such as practicums.
Other factors to consider when choosing an LPN program may have to do with the format of the program or other school features. While there are some online LPN programs available, students need to weigh whether they want additional hands-on experiences and in-person instruction that on-campus programs offer. Students who want to attend on-campus programs need to consider the location of their school and make sure it fits with their housing and/or work needs. The cost of a program can also limit which options students on a budget may choose from, but the availability of financial aid can also adjust these options.
How to Get into Nursing Certificate Programs
Admission requirements to LPN programs are generally detailed and unique to different schools. Students may be required to apply to both the institution and the LPN program. Applicants usually need to be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma, and some schools require standardized and/or placement test scores, such as the SAT, ACT, or Compass. Some programs may also require students to meet a specific score on the National League for Nursing (NLN) Pre-licensure Examination. Other requirements may include CPR certification, up-to-date immunizations, a drug screening, and a background check. It is also common for LPN programs to require prerequisite coursework in areas such as biology, math, English, and psychology. Usually, students need to have at least a 'C' or above in these courses, as well as their LPN courses to stay in the program. Some students could be required to complete a pre-admission conference to learn about the program.
Cost of a Nursing Certificate Program
There are many different components that must be added together to determine the total cost of a LPN program. Primarily, this cost is composed of tuition. Tuition rates vary amongst schools and can also differ across student classification, such as in-state vs. out-of-state students. Typically, tuition is determined per credit hour, and specifically for LPN programs, students should investigate what all tuition includes. For example, some LPN programs include background check costs, testing packages, and other LPN-related requirements within tuition costs. Another big portion of the total cost of a program is fees. Different schools charge different fees for their programs. For example, students could have to pay registration, activity, facility, printing, and technology fees, depending on the program. LPN programs may also have some additional nursing-related costs, such as the price of required shoes, a watch (with a second hand to monitor vitals), and additional immunizations.
In addition to the cost of the LPN program and fees, students also need to consider their living situation and any other costs. Students who live on-campus will likely pay more to live in student housing than students who live at home. However, off-campus students could have additional costs, such as transportation and parking costs. Students also need to consider meal plans and other living expenses. Although it is not technically part of the LPN program, LPN students may want to factor in the cost of the NCLEX-PN exam.
Financial Aid and Scholarship Resources for Nursing Certificate Programs
Many postsecondary institutions and other outside organizations realize that the cost of earning a certificate or diploma can be high, so they provide various forms of financial aid to help. The federal and state governments also assist students through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which checks students' qualifications for available loans and grants. Scholarships and grants are usually preferable over loans because they do not have to be repaid. There is also a range of other financial aid options available to students, depending on the school. Some schools offer work-study programs, veteran and military service member discounts, and job training programs.
Scholarships and grants are some of the most common forms of financial aid and are often available from colleges or universities, as well as outside organizations, like professional organizations and businesses. These awards can be given for any number of reasons, including academic merit, interests, talents, financial need, demographics, and more. Many schools offer general scholarships, such as academic scholarships, performance grants (such as athletic awards), diversity scholarships, and church-related scholarships for schools with a tie to faith. Specifically for nursing students, a variety of states and nursing-related organizations provide scholarships to promote and support those in the field. For instance, the Kentucky Board of Nursing offers a Nursing Incentive Scholarship Fund that awards up to $3,000 a year for LPN, ADN, BSN, or graduate nursing students.