For Elissa Piascik, RN, a mother of three with a full-time job, nursing school was always a dream that was just out of reach.

Everything changed thanks to CVMC.

Elissa Piascik, a registered nurse at UVM Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center.

Last month, Piascik attended her second graduation ceremony in two years, becoming the first employee to complete Central Vermont Medical Center’s new Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Registered Nurse (RN) Pathway Programs in succession.

Both are part of the hospital’s strategic efforts to invest in its people, grow its workforce from within and help remove common barriers individuals may face when balancing life, work and continuing their education.

The national workforce shortage continues to acutely impact health care organizations large and small. Our region, along with the rest of the country, needs nurses. In 2017, Central Vermont Medical Center recognized this need and began developing a series of nursing career pathway programs for its nursing staff in partnership with Community College of Vermont (CCV) and Vermont Technical College (VTC).

Each program allows full-time employees to “earn while they learn.” Enrolled students continue to work at the hospital while receiving academic instruction at a local college and acquiring practical skills on site.

In the fall of 2019, Piascik joined the inaugural cohort of the LPN Pathway Program. At the time, she had been working the night shift for eight years as a licensed nursing assistant (LNA) at Woodridge Rehabilitation & Nursing, a nursing home located on Central Vermont Medical Center’s main campus in Berlin.

I had always hoped to go to nursing school one day. But with three small children at home, the financial burdens and time constraints of being a full-time nursing student made it unattainable for me.

Elissa Piascik

The LPN Pathway Program is specifically designed to address Piascik’s dilemma. By allowing employees to continue receiving full-time pay and benefits while working part-time hours, the program opens up a block of time during the workweek for study. In the first year, employees take prerequisite courses at CCV, paid for by the hospital. In the second year, they move on to VTC’s curriculum, learning the principles and practices of nursing through a series of classes and hands-on clinical instruction.

In June 2021, Piascik and 12 of her colleagues were the first to graduate from the LPN program. Soon after receiving her LPN certificate, Piascik joined the first cohort of the RN Pathway Program, which follows a similar format and leads to an Associate of Science in Nursing degree. Both the LPN and RN programs offer tuition reimbursement for employees who continue working at the hospital.

The 2022 graduating class of the LPN and RN Pathway Programs at Central Vermont Medical Center.

Piascik was able to go from being a nursing assistant to being a registered nurse in three years, all while earning a full-time salary, and with the opportunity to have all of her tuition expenses reimbursed over time. As employees continue to register for upcoming cohorts at Central Vermont Medical Center, the UVM Health Network is looking to build on these initial successes by implementing similar programs across their affiliate hospitals.

The amount of pride that you get from doing something like this – you feel like you’re 10 feet tall. It’s not easy and it’s not for the faint-of-heart, much like nursing itself. But it’s amazing to know that not only did I do this, I am ready for that next step in my nursing career.

Elissa Piascik in a 2021 video celebrating the first cohort’s graduation.

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