Redefining the Path to Nursing Excellence

For many people disenchanted with their careers, the missing ingredient is often the lack of doing something they feel makes a difference. Those who have already completed a non-nursing degree program may find going back to school to become a nurse can be a fast-track way to a more fulfilling career.

A male and female going through an archway signifying the future.

Since 2003, the LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing has offered that route via the Career Alternative RN Education (CARE) program of study. The program is designed for individuals who have earned bachelor’s degrees in other fields and who would like to become nurses. Successful completion culminates in a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree.

Realizing the Benefits of a Nontraditional Start

Before pursuing a degree at the School of Nursing, CARE graduate Vanessa Shields (BSN ’18) lived and worked in Washington, D.C., as an intelligence analyst. After earning a master’s degree in international politics and security, 10 years of government service and some time spent living abroad, Shields realized that “working toward social justice was integral to my values.” That realization set her on a path to becoming a nurse practitioner.

“The CARE program was rigorous and gave me a solid base to move forward with my career in nursing and health advocacy.”

Vanessa Shields (BSN ’18)

“The accelerated BSN program at the School of Nursing was the beginning of that journey,” says Shields. “The CARE program was rigorous and gave me a solid base to move forward with my career in nursing and health advocacy. While a student, I advocated for integrating LGBTQ health content into undergraduate nursing curriculum to help address health disparities often experienced by this community. The School of Nursing was very receptive and even opened LSU’s first gender-inclusive bathroom on the Health Sciences Campus during my last semester, showing real leadership.”

Shields now lives and works in rural coastal Maine, where she is finishing a Master of Science program to become a family nurse practitioner. She currently practices as a forensic nurse at three rural hospitals, conducting exams and providing care for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. She also serves on the board of Maine’s LGBTQ youth advocacy agency, OUT Maine, where, as the only health sector board member, she advocates for comprehensive, respectful and empowering health care access for LGBTQ youth.

“My experience in the CARE program provided me with leadership opportunities and lifelong mentors, helping set the stage for my fulfilling career as a nurse leader,” Shields says.

CARE students build on their previous knowledge and have impacted the profession in a variety of ways, says Stephanie Pierce, PhD, MN, RN, CNE, Associate Professor of Clinical Nursing, who has served as CARE’s program director since 2005. “It has been amazing to see students from various backgrounds, science and non-science, contributing and continuing to make a difference in health care delivery.”

A Common Curriculum, Condensed

The CARE program follows the same curriculum as the school’s traditional three-year BSN program, but its pace is accelerated. The first and last blocks of the program are traditional 15-week semesters, while the theory portions of the middle three blocks’ courses are accelerated.

CARE students have the same amount and types of clinical and simulation training as traditional students, including 900 hours of hands-on practicum.

“CARE students learn to adapt, problem-solve and develop clinical reasoning at a very fast progression. Their academic and life experiences contribute to this.”

Stephanie Pierce, PhD, MN, RN, CNE

“CARE and traditional students share many courses, and CARE students are also required to participate in Team Up, which is our interprofessional initiative for all schools here at the Health Sciences Center,” Dr. Pierce explains.

One of the things Dr. Pierce is most proud of is CARE graduates’ approximately 98% pass rate for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Another of her points of pride is their readiness to take on the nursing profession’s challenges.

“CARE students learn to adapt, problem-solve and develop clinical reasoning at a very fast progression,” she says. “Their academic and life experiences contribute to this.”

Bolstering the Pipeline with Well-Prepared Providers

In preparation for a projected 2030 nursing shortage driven by retirements of RNs in the Baby Boomer generation, the School of Nursing’s clinical partners have requested initiatives that will increase the number of academically prepared nurses in the profession’s pipeline. In response, the School of Nursing’s CARE program increased the number of students accepted, from 45 three years ago to 70 in the current year.

“We use a comprehensive admission process, not just GPA and hard metrics.”

Stephanie Pierce, PhD, MN, RN, CNE

“We have always had more applicants than spots available,” Dr. Pierce says. “All three of our undergraduate BSN programs – including CARE – are focused on attracting diversely experienced students, so we use a comprehensive admission process, not just GPA and hard metrics.”

That process includes in-depth interviews and a proctored essay at the School of Nursing. Prior to admission, all students must complete 43 hours of required prerequisite coursework, including biology lecture and lab, microbiology, physical science and developmental psychology, with a grade of B or better in each.

“Students understand that these prerequisites will build a stronger foundation for successful progression through our program, and many have willingly gone back to retake some prerequisites due to the competitive nature of our application process,”
Dr. Pierce says.

The CARE program admits students each fall. The application deadline is January 15. Details of the application process can be found at

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