Advanced Nursing Program At AACC Propels Students Into Local Workforce


You don’t have to hold a bachelor's degree to work in a hospital. That’s part of Elizabeth Appel’s ongoing message to the community. “People don’t realize that you can become a registered nurse at a community college; they think you have to go to a four-year (college),” said Appel, who has served as the dean of the School of Health Sciences at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) since 2016.

The school’s health sciences program encompasses 15 areas of study ranging from radiologic technology to massage therapy to paramedic training. Over 200 students graduate each year with an Associate of Science degree from AACC’s popular 70-credit registered nursing (RN) program.

Ranked the number-one best Maryland associate’s degree in nursing by Nursing Schools Almanac, AACC’s RN program is known for its state-of-the-art equipment used to prepare students for one of the country’s fastest-growing career fields.

The school’s Health and Life Sciences Building, which opened in 2021, houses a simulation center designed to mirror a real hospital. Beyond the center’s nurse charge station and medication dispensary are numerous hospital rooms outfitted with the same type of beds and equipment found at local hospitals. In those rooms, faculty conduct simulated learning experiences for students to develop the skills necessary to respond to real life-threatening situations.

Students practice primarily on technologically advanced mannequins, though at times humans act as simulated patients as well. Appel said AACC uses hundreds of mannequins for various programs, some of which are incredibly lifelike. A $120,000 African American male mannequin they acquired through a grant is able to sweat, bleed and urinate. His pulse points work, his pupils change with light, and instructors can speak and cough through him. His skin even looks and feels real. The school’s birthing mom mannequin delivers twins and can simulate a breech birth.

The simulation center also has exam rooms like those found in doctor offices where students can learn to check blood pressure and administer vaccines. More mannequins are found in two energized rooms where students take real X-rays, and in the school’s surgical tech suite, which resembles an operating room.

Popular among the health sciences degrees, AACC’s paramedic program educates firefighters from Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, as well as civilians. Students use mannequins to learn to render aid in critical situations in a variety of settings ranging from bathrooms to bars, and students become familiar with responding to emergencies in the school’s two fully equipped simulation ambulances.

The School of Health Sciences comprises 85 faculty and staff, including 29 nursing faculty. Denise Lyons, academic chair of nursing, highlighted that many of the faculty graduated from the school’s nursing program – including herself in 1991.

She explained that in addition to their robust simulated experiences, registered nursing students gain valuable clinical experience through different rotations in the field. During their first three semesters, students learn to provide care for geriatric, medical/surgical, obstetric and pediatric patients. The final rotation involves taking care of multiple patients at a time in preparation for graduation.

Appel shared that AACC’s nursing students are often offered employment before they graduate. “What we hear from our providers – Baltimore Washington Medical Center, which is now the University of Maryland system, and Anne Arundel Medical Center, which is now Luminis – they want our graduates because they are the best-prepared that they get,” Appel said, noting that AACC is continuously looking for innovative ways to partner with the two hospitals and meet their workforce needs.

Appel also praised AACC’s nursing students for having excellent pass rates for their license exam. “We’re always in the top three of national exam pass rates,” Appel said. “When they graduate, they have to sit for their license exam before they can be practicing as a nurse, and we have very high rates for completion and success for passing – in comparison to four-year schools as well."

In contrast to many four-year schools, AACC’s nursing program is more affordable at a total cost of about $20,000. AACC offers numerous scholarship opportunities as well. For those who do want to attend a four-year institution, AACC also offers a nursing transfer degree.

“The word is out there that this is the place to get your education to become a registered nurse,” Appel said.

To learn more about AACC’s registered nursing program, or any area of study, go to


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