Nursing at CNCC

Health Care Jobs in Focus: Nursing at CNCC


Few careers are as versatile or rewarding as a career in nursing. In Colorado, and around the nation, there is a growing demand for this health care career. Nationwide, nursing is expected to grow at a rate of 12% through 2028, which is much higher than the average job outlook. In Colorado, these numbers are expected to be even higher as many current nurses are nearing retirement age.

Colorado Northwestern Community College’s (CNCC) nursing programs are helping fill this health care demand by preparing students to become nursing professionals, ready to deliver the full spectrum of nursing care to diverse populations in an ever-changing health care environment. Erica Yantzer, the director of Nursing at CNCC, is responsible for making sure the programs run smoothly to help all of their students succeed. Yantzer says one reason nursing is such a great career is its versatility. “You can pick any sort of profession and there's probably a nursing component that would fit in somewhere,” Yantzer says. “Even Hollywood has pediatric nurses on sets!”


The Role of Nurses


If you have ever been a patient in almost any kind of health care setting, one thing quickly becomes clear: Nurses are some of the most engaged health care professionals when it comes to patient care.

“I think that we are the glue that holds it all together because we're the ones on the front line taking care of the patients, and it's up to us to communicate and relay what's going on with our patients to all of the various departments,” says Yantzer.

Nursing also offers flexibility in choosing which specialty or patient group to work with, either at the start of your career or in finding a new opportunity later.

“Your degree already enables you to be in a variety of settings. You can choose to do pretty much anything under the sun,” says Yantzer. “And you’re not stuck. If you get bored in one area, you can switch. And I've done that; I've worked in public health, pediatrics, obstetrics, medical-surgical, long-term care, and education. Now, I'm a director.”

Historically, nursing has been a female-dominated profession. In recent years, though, that picture of the profession has been evolving. As of 2018, males make up 13% of nurses in the U.S., up from just 2% in 1960. Yantzer says she isn’t sure why this trend started, but she’s happy to see it. “Men seem to be more into the emergency side of nursing; at least from what I've witnessed, they tend to gravitate toward the adrenaline-filled positions. But I think overall, the diversity is a wonderful change for the profession,” she says.

Like many people, Yantzer’s journey to choosing her career took a few detours. She always had an interest in the medical field, but when she was younger, her heart was set on becoming a veterinarian. But practical experience would eventually shift her focus.

“I worked for a vet for a while and did not enjoy some of the procedures that we had to do on animals. I realized that was probably not for me,” she says. But she recalled volunteering at a nursing home when she was a kid. “I loved it. And so I decided maybe nursing was where I wanted to go.”

Yantzer also considered becoming a pediatrician but then realized that doctors don’t spend as much time with patients. And in that respect, nursing definitely held an edge. “I didn't want to be sitting in an office doing a lot of documentation and having a whole lot more liability than a nurse does,” she says. “I wanted to be at the bedside with my patients all of the time. So I opted to go with nursing and I was in CNCC’s first nursing class.”


Nursing Program Options at CNCC

Nursing Courses

Yantzer explains that starting your nursing education at a community college like CNCC offers many advantages over a larger university. For one thing, at CNCC, students don’t get lost in the crowd. “In my opinion, we offer a lot more one-on-one support. You're not just a number. We get to know our students, we know what their life circumstances are, and we can give them individualized support and accommodate them a little better,” says Yantzer. There is also a significant cost advantage to consider: CNCC students receive a very high-quality nursing education — at much more affordable community college tuition rates.

CNCC offers students a wide variety of options when it comes to pursuing a nursing career. You can enroll in the Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AAS - RN) program, the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program, the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program, or even pursue a dual degree by enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at a partner university while working toward your AAS degree.

Each program prepares students for a different type of nursing career, and they vary in length from a few weeks to two years. The two-year AAS program gives students a strong medical foundation. Yantzer says students will learn about medical-surgical and the fundamentals of nursing, and even get a bit of an introduction to obstetrics.

“Then, in their second year, they build on all of that. Students can take more advanced classes or they can spend more time learning from nursing professionals in a clinical setting. There, they can develop more practical nursing capability so that when they are out on their own professionally, they have a good basis to start with,” explains Yantzer. After completing the AAS program, graduates can take the National Council of State Board of Nursing Licensure Examination to become licensed as a registered nurse (RN). One clear advantage of the nursing program at CNCC is that flexibility is built-in to accommodate a student’s personal career goals.

“Students also have the option of exiting out after their first year in the program. If they take a bridge course they can do an LPN exit option and become a licensed practical nurse,” adds Yantzer. This practical nursing exit point is open to students who have completed their first two semesters of the AAS program and a Transition to Practical Nursing course offered during the summer semester. Graduates are then eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nursing and begin working as an LPN. Alternately, students who are certified already as LPNs can take a transition course and enter the second year of the AAS program and continue on to earn their degree to become registered nurses.

Still another option is CNCC’s CNA program, where you can complete Nurse Aide Training courses to learn the fundamentals of becoming a nurse aide. Courses cover basic nursing skills, restorative services, personal care skills, as well as safety and emergency care. After completing this five-credit program, students are eligible to take the Nurse Aide Training and Competency Evaluation Program certification exam.


From AAS to BSN: The Dual Degree Option

CNCC also offers a dual degree option that gives you the opportunity to earn both an AAS and a BSN degree. The associate program is more focused on practical application, so it offers students more  time in a hands-on clinical setting. The BSN also involves practical skills, but because it’s a more advanced degree, students will spend more time in the classroom and receive a broader education in health sciences and nursing theory. “I think it's good to start with the practical applied skills and then round out with the theory that you still need to know to become a more specialized nurse,” explains Yantzer.

The dual BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree option is earned through CNCC’s partnerships with nearby universities. Yantzer explains that through this program, students have the option to complete their AAS nursing and BSN degrees concurrently. After completing a BSN, graduates are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nursing to become certified.

This dual degree approach gives students all of the advantages of the community college support system while allowing them to pursue a higher degree.

“At CNCC, you have that one-on-one support which means more help building your foundation to become a good nurse,” she says.


Clinical Experience at CNCC


CNCC’s programs ensure that students also get hands-on experience. By the time they graduate, they’ll have at least 750 hours of clinical time

“Their rotations take them through long-term care, two local hospitals, school nurse experiences, obstetrics, emergency medicine, advanced medical-surgical nursing, and mental health,” says Yantzer.“They also work at the VA hospital in Grand Junction, and sometimes they get a taste of home health.” in a variety of medical settings and specialties.

While clinical rotations are designed to fulfill national standards, students also have the opportunity to choose rotations based on their interests. Yantzer explains, “Toward the end of their program, students have a senior capstone or a senior practicum. That's when they can explore their area of interest. They can request an emergency room setting, obstetrics, medical-surgical, or even substance abuse. We try our best to accommodate their choices.”

Yantzer adds that exposure to different specialties during rotations also helps students figure out what type of positions they’d like to pursue after graduation. “We try to give them a taste of everything when they're in nursing school. Some students have very definite ideas of what they want when they come in, and we're here to support that. But others really aren't sure. They just know they want to help people and they want to be in the medical field, but they're not sure where,” says Yantzer.

Yantzer strongly advises any prospective student who is unsure which program is the best fit to meet with someone from the nursing department to explore the many options available. “We help them every step of the way. Whether it’s helping them increase their chances of admission or making sure that this is something they really want to do,” she says.


Nursing Careers

Employment opportunities in Colorado for CNAs, RNs, and LPNs are expected to grow by as much as 37%, which is good news for nursing students in all programs.

Each nursing program prepares students for different health care jobs. For example, Yantzer says while some medical offices hire LPNs, professionals with this certification tend to work in long-term care settings, such as a nursing home. Every level of nursing education offers a degree of versatility.

“CNAs can pretty much work in any long-term care facility or hospital. And as a registered nurse, you can work anywhere, really,” she says. Students interested in working in a specialty area or at a larger hospital often complete a BSN, as bachelor’s degrees are often preferred in those settings.

CNCC also helps its students find work after graduation. “We have a pretty good reputation in our communities, and many local facilities tend to seek out our students,” says Yantzer. “Our local hospital, Memorial Regional Health, really likes to support our graduates. They tend to hire several of our new grads every year. UCHealth in Steamboat has also hired several of our new graduates.”

Yantzer adds that professionals from a local nursing home visit the school to speak with students about their work in general, as well as sometimes offer career opportunities.


Finding Your Fit At CNCC

Finding your fit

Today, CNCC’s program attracts students from all walks of life, and each student has a different motivation for choosing a nursing career. For some, it’s financial. For others, it’s been a life-long calling. “And some of them are career changers who realized that health care was more along the lines of what they want,” explains Yantzer.

No matter a student’s reasons for attending nursing school, Yantzer says that drive and dedication are a must because study skills play a huge role in a nursing program. She adds that CNCC provides plenty of support.

“Our instructors genuinely care about our students, and we try everything in our power to make all of them successful. We invest our hearts and souls into our students. It's not just a job for us, it's a passion,” she says.“I think the college, as a whole, is very supportive of its students, from prerequisite to graduation. This is just an outstanding community of people.”

If you would like to learn more about CNCC’s nursing programs, visit the program page where you can also download our Nursing Student Handbook.

Published April 20, 2020

About CNCC

Colorado Northwestern is one college in two Colorado communities. Depending on what you want to study, CNCC has the perfect surroundings and facilities to meet your needs. Founded in 1962 as “Rangely College,” CNCC now serves nearly 1,600 students on two campuses, two service centers and online. Our two campuses are located in Craig and Rangely and are 90 miles apart in the mountains and canyons of Northwestern Colorado.