Online LPN Programs and Schools Flexible Learning for Aspiring Practical Nurses

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With the nation facing a shortage of qualified nurses, schools are rolling out new and creative ways to attract more individuals to the nursing field. One example is the increased availability of online LPN programs. These programs combine quality nursing education with flexible and convenient learning to prepare the next generation of practical and vocational nurses. This guide provides detailed information for prospective distance learners, from what to look for in a program to prerequisites, and applying to coursework. Prospective students can also find information on perhaps the most important question – how do students fulfill clinical requirements in an online environment? Read on to learn all about online LPN programs and schools.

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Advantages of Online LPN Programs

Online LPN programs are on par with campus-based programs in terms of quality. One of the best benefits of online practical nursing degrees is that they are low risk. A 2012 study published by the National League for Nursing found no significant difference in grades and NCLEX-PN pass rates between students enrolled in a traditional nursing certificate program and those in a program incorporating online learning. There was, however, a difference in satisfaction and attrition – rates of student satisfaction and retention were higher for online learners.

Most online LPN programs offer rolling start dates. Another advantage of online LPN programs is that most have multiple start dates throughout the year, which means admitted students can enroll fairly quickly after applying, even if they applied after traditional academic start dates. This is particularly helpful for individuals who are already working as nurses and want to build on their existing education and skills without quitting their job.

Online LPN Program Breakdown

Online learning is a great option for many students, but learners need to know the specifics of the program before they apply. The following section outlines prerequisites, costs and coursework specifically for online LPN programs.

Prerequisites: Before You Apply

Prerequisites will vary from school to school, but keep in mind that the following examples of requirements may be necessary:

Certified Nursing Assistant

Some schools require aspiring practical nurses to complete a CNA program before they can begin an LPN program. Regardless of whether they use the CNA designation, incoming LPN students often need to show proof of completing foundational coursework covered in a CNA program.

Coursework and minimum GPA

Incoming LPN students need general education credits in math, English, biology, and other sciences. There may also be a GPA requirement – often a C+/B- or better – as well as a minimum grade allowed for each course. Because students are expected to come in with a certain amount of knowledge, such courses must have been taken within the last five to 10 years. However, students who haven’t completed such coursework should not worry as they can take them through the school before beginning an LPN program.

Entrance exam

Most LPN programs use entrance exams to evaluate candidates and measure their skills in reading, English, math and science proficiencies. The most popular are the TEAS, or Test of Essential Academic Skills, and the HESI A2. Potential students should contact prospective schools for score requirements.

Requirements: Before You Begin

Due to multiple start dates in the academic calendar for online programs, many if not all schools allow rolling admissions. Applicants who graduated from high school, hold the necessary prerequisites, have a current CPR certification, and have successfully completed the entrance exam can apply at any time. To apply, most online schools require applicants to do the following:

1
Attend an information session, which will cover the application and application process, and other important student information.
Submit the application, all required documents, test scores, and fees.
2
3
Wait for the school to review applications and analyze test scores. Applicants will be notified if they are placed on a waiting list and those who are accepted immediately will be given a start date.

Once accepted, online students must ensure they have a few things in order prior to starting. Because learning will be done virtually, the following technology is typically required:

  • Computer with up-to-date operating system
  • Camera and audio capabilities
  • Current software, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, Adobe Flash Player, Java, and Microsoft Office (the school may specify other required programs)
  • High speed Internet connection

Online LPN Program Costs

Though online programs compete with traditional LPN programs on flexibility, costs may end up being higher or lower than traditional programs – and some costs are the same no matter the format of the education. Online LPN students should factor in the following costs when budgeting:

Tuition

Tuition is often on a sliding scale, so students should look at the per-credit rate and budget based on their expected course load.

Fees

Although online students can bypass parking passes and athletic fees, they still typically pay a technology fee as well as student life fees on a per-credit basis.

Books

Just because the class is on the computer doesn’t necessarily mean the readings are. Students will need to buy or rent books if they are not freely available and should keep in mind that some science textbooks can be expensive.

Immunizations

All healthcare staff must be immunized according to local health codes. CNAs will likely have already met the immunization requirements, but it is still recommended that students check with prospective schools for a list of all required immunizations to get an idea of how much they will cost.

Licensure

Applying to take the NCLEX-PN after graduation costs $200, which stands in addition to state-specific licensure application fees.

Background check

Background checks are common for both clinical placements and licensure. States may require fingerprinting and/or criminal record checks, and these costs must be covered by the applicant.

Drug screening

Drug screening is common in the nursing profession and may be a precondition of placement for clinical experiences.

Transportation

Students need to be able to get to practical sites on their own. In some online LPN programs, students are also required to visit campus for a concentrated period of time.

Uniform

During onsite practicums, students are expected to wear a nurse’s uniform and proper shoes. They may also need their own stethoscope.

Curriculum in Detail

Much like their traditional counterparts, online LPN programs require a lot of science and math coursework. By graduation, nurses should be comfortable with medical terminology so they can communicate with doctors and RNs, be well-versed in biological concepts so they can interact with patients, and be able to perform the math needed to accurately and safely administer drugs. Most of these skills can be learned in the online classroom.

LPNs are trained to work under doctors and RNs, but they also spend a lot of time on their own with patients, many of whom are experiencing health problems that require urgent attention. Students must not only learn how to provide practical care, but also how to think critically about the types of care individual patients need. Critical thinking skills can be developed through online coursework but must be nurtured in hands-on clinical learning.

Below are some courses students are likely to encounter in their studies:

Course title Description
Medical Terminology Latin is a dead language, but its roots live on in medical terminology. As a prerequisite for much of what will follow, a class in medical terminology will get nurses speaking a similar language.
Nursing Concepts This introductory course is meant to impress upon aspiring LPNs their roles and their place in a healthcare ecosystem.
Human Anatomy & Physiology It’s about more than just knowing that the leg bone connects to the hip bone, and this class gives students an overview of all systems in the body. Ranging from the endocrine to the musculoskeletal systems, students will use what they learned in Medical Terminology to memorize terms and internalize knowledge about how these systems work together.
Pharmacology Though LPNs lack prescriptive authority and have limited responsibilities for administration of certain drugs, they still must be able to determine dosages and recognize side effects to keep patients safe. This class instills knowledge about the basics of drug administration.
Pediatric Nursing Although not all LPN students work specifically with children — they may work with the elderly or pregnant women instead, for instance — healthcare employers and certifying associations look for specialization within a population area. Students in this class learn how to promote good health and communicate with this specific age bracket.

Clinical Experience & the Online LPN Program

An essential component of practical nursing programs is clinical experience, and these hands-on skills can’t be learned behind a keyboard. Online LPN programs typically offer clinical experience via the following three options:

Option #1: On-campus clinical

Students come to campus for a concentrated clinical experience supervised by program instructors. This method has the advantage of allowing students to quickly complete clinical requirements by visiting campus for a week or two every quarter.

PROS

It is unwise to only apply to one and expect to receive the award. Due to the high level of competition for scholarships, students should apply to as many as they can to increase their chances of securing an award.

CONS

The cost of travel can be a disadvantage, especially for students who are not near campus.

Option #2: Remote clinical

Remote clinical options typically take place at hospitals or nursing homes in the area, with students undertaking four to five rotations throughout the degree program.

PROS

Two clear advantages exist within this system, including students having the opportunity to explore healthcare in varied settings and with different populations, and being given increasingly more responsibilities. Throughout the course of this type of clinical experience, students may work their way up from handling a single patient in their first clinical to handling multiple patients by their fourth.

CONS

One potential disadvantage to this system is that students may be required to secure clinical locations themselves. Given the nursing shortages in most locales, this should not be too difficult, but it does require some advanced planning and effort.

Option #3: On-campus labs combined with remote clinical

This option typically requires students to visit campus for concentrated lab sessions in conjunction with specific online courses. Students then complete separate clinical rotations in area hospitals and healthcare settings.

PROS

Students can gain the varied experience offered through remote clinicals while also working closely with professors, educators, and peers during on-campus labs.

CONS

Students may need to find remote clinical locations on their own and will have to pay out-of-pocket to travel to and from campus for lab sessions.

Vetting Online Programs for LPNs

An online program can be a great option for working nurses and others who need the flexibility that the virtual classroom offers. However, before enrolling in any online LPN program, it is important to make sure the school not only offers the education and training needed for employment, but also meets state and licensure requirements. When reviewing academic options, aspiring LPNs should look for these top five attributes before signing the dotted line:

Accreditation

Graduating from an accredited program is mandatory for any nurse applying for licensure and licensure is required to legally practice. Aspiring LPNs can see if their degree will be recognized for licensure by going to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing website and making sure the school has a program code.

Credits that transfer

Though not all LPNs become RNs, many do. LPN students should make sure ahead of time that schools will accept their LPN program coursework so they don’t have to start from scratch. Community colleges, which are part of public school systems, have mechanisms for this process, but private schools may not. Ask if the school has an articulation agreement with another school to accept credits.

High NCLEX-PN pass rates

The point of an LPN program is to convey information and skills needed for students to pass the practical nursing licensure exam and become licensed nurses. A school with high NCLEX-PN pass rates typically reflects program quality. Since nursing schools are required to provide state nursing boards with their pass rates, scores can be found by searching on the boards’ websites. In 2015, 82 percent of first-time test takers who were educated in the United States passed the examination. Students should avoid online LPN schools far below that average.

Clinical and job placement assistance

Though there are incentives for schools to help students find clinical sites and assist graduates in meeting potential employers, some online LPN schools may lack the resources to do this effectively. This may be especially true for students who don’t live near campus. Potential students should always check to see what networks the school has in place so they know ahead of time how much they’ll need to do on their own.

Distance

Although one of the benefits of online learning is the idea that distance doesn’t matter, for online LPN programs it still does. While students might save a thousand dollars in tuition going to an online school out of state, they’ll probably use those savings for required onsite lab work or clinical requirements. If all other things are equal, try to look for the best nursing school within driving distance, even if you plan to learn at home.

Online Bridge Programs for LPNs

Many aspiring LPNs already have an eye on becoming a registered nurse. Online bridge programs make this goal easily attainable by streamlining the process and reducing redundant coursework. There are three types of LPN to RN bridge programs offered by nursing schools:

LPN to RN

Graduates of LPN to RN bridge programs receive either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Both options prepare grads to fit for the NCLEX-RN.

ADN Programs

With one to two years of further study, LPNs who previously completed a certificate program receive an associate degree that prepares them to pass the NCLEX-RN and become a registered nurse in most states. Students in these programs undertake more nursing coursework and further general education classes.

LPN to BSN

With an additional three to four years of study, LPNs can earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This increasingly popular option is attractive to hospitals and healthcare facilities as they increase nurses’ responsibilities and adjust minimum education expectations accordingly.