Practical Nursing Graduates Excel

May 6, 2016

There’s a reason GCC’s 10-month Practical Nursing (PN) program draws students from Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and across western Massachusetts each year. Actually, there are many reasons.

Miriam Velardo, 37, of Chicopee Falls, is a student in the PN program because she’s wanted to be a nurse since she was young. She had worked as a CNA, completed an associate’s degree related to medical records, and now it was time to live her dream of being a nurse. She said, “It’s hard, but it is worth it. I love it. It takes a lot of mental effort, but I love helping people. It feels so real. I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve learned in a short time. Help is always available from my classmates and the faculty. Now, I’m excited and want to learn even more.” In the future, Miriam hopes to work toward an RN degree.

Miriam had her reasons for choosing GCC’s PN Program. Here are more reasons why the Practical Nursing Program is so popular:

1) In 10 months of full-time study in classroom and clinical settings, students develop the knowledge and skills needed to take the national exam that licenses Practical Nurses.

2) Each year, a high percentage of GCC PN students pass the NCLEX licensing exam required to practice as a Licensed Practical Nurse. In 2015, 96.55% of GCC PN graduates passed the exam and were licensed. All of those who wanted to work got jobs.

3) Area employers seek out GCC PN graduates. Virginia Wahl, Coordinator of GCC’s Practical Nursing Program, said nursing agencies are calling her now, wanting to meet with students who will graduate in June. Those agencies hope to hire those new GCC graduates. A 2015 graduate of GCC’s PN program went to an interview for a job for which she didn’t have as much experience as the employer wanted. The interviewer told her that they would hire her without the experience because she’s a GCC graduate and they know how well GCC educates its students. GCC’s Licensed Practical Nurses find work in their home communities in skilled nursing facilities, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation programs, physician’s offices, and community nursing settings.

4) Each year’s group of 32 Practical Nursing students and the strong, long-term faculty and staff become a cohesive, diverse community that supports each student to excel in the program. Students help each other, and peer tutoring and extra 1-on-1 help are available. Students range in age from their late teens to their 60s, with most students in their late 20s to early 30s. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Many have worked as Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs).

5) The admission process to the PN Program is clear and fair. If you meet the criteria for eligibility in the program (course prerequisites and grades), you’re accepted into the program. If there is room in that year’s class, you’re in. If there isn’t room, you’re placed on a waiting list. Students have told Wahl that they see this admissions process as being very encouraging and fair in contrast to admissions processes that are competitive. Wahl thinks the admissions process is part of why the PN program tends to have a very diverse student body in terms of age, education, race, ethnicity, etc.

6) GCC is affordable and a ten-month program is doable for people who have families and work and can’t take the time and expense to do a longer educational program.

7) Ten months of study can lead directly to work. And, it can be a stepping stone to further nursing education. Graduates of GCC’s Practical Nursing Program who maintained a B average and complete other prerequisites can apply for admission to GCC’s Associate Degree Nursing Program. If admitted, they can apply their Practical Nursing course and clinical work toward their ADN degree. About 50% of GCC’s Practical Nursing graduates go on to study toward and become Registered Nurses.

8) Everything about GCC’s Practical Nursing Program is focused on student success. Mary Ellen Fydenkevez, GCC’s Dean of Engineering, Math, Nursing, and Science, said, “This is a great program that fully prepares students to take the exam and work in the field. The college’s commitment to meeting student’s needs shows in everything we do, from the admissions process to providing support and peer tutoring and everything an individual needs.”

9) “This is a fabulous opportunity for the person who wants to have a career with a future,” said Wahl. “It is doable in one year. It opens the door.”

For information about GCC’s Practical Nursing Program, visit or contact Virginia Wahl at (413) 727-8673 or

By Mary McClintock, ’82

# # #