Scholarships Help Nursing Assistants Move Ahead in Their Careers

West Mecklenburg High School grad Brittany Lawrence became a certified nursing assistant, then got a scholarship that allowed her to finish nursing school and become a registered nurse for Novant Health.

As she faced her final semester of nursing school last fall, Brittany Lawrence worried she might not be able to finish.

For two years, she’d been working three 12-hour shifts a week as a certified nursing assistant at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. CNAs are involved in the daily care of patients, such as taking vital signs, feeding, bathing, documenting health issues and much more.

At the same time, she was attending classes on two other days at

Central Piedmont Community College. She was preparing to make the big career jump to registered nurse (RN), and the finish line was in sight.

By all accounts, the fourth and final semester would be more taxing than earlier ones. Lawrence doubted she could handle the classes and clinical work while working full-time. But if she cut back to part-time, she’d have difficulty paying her bills and might lose her health insurance.

“I can’t live without insurance,” said Lawrence, 28.

Then she learned about a scholarship that seemed designed just for her. She applied, and then held her breath.

One day on her unit, a happy commotion broke out: “They brought a cake and announced it,” Lawrence said. “I cried. I always cry,” she said with a smile.

The award allowed her to work only one day a week but get paid as if she was working three.

The program is sponsored by Novant Health and Atrium Health, as part of ONE Charlotte Health Alliance. Its goal is to provide economic advancement for certified nursing assistants who want to become registered nurses.


The two systems created the program as an upward mobility initiative for employees, particularly those living in neighborhoods identified as priorities by the Charlotte Opportunity Task Force. Charlotte ranks last out of the top 50 American cities studied for social mobility.

The program addresses two obstacles to advancement frequently cited by CNAs – money for school and work flexibility. Lawrence was one of the first five scholarship recipients from Novant Health. Atrium Health also named five winners in the inaugural year. This year, Novant Health awarded the scholarship to 20 team members.

Scholarships can cover up to two years of full tuition and fees for nursing school. One scholarship typically amounts to $16,000 per year, but Lawrence needed only one semester. The program also provided a laptop computer, and she kept her health benefits.

“Nursing school is a ton of work, extremely taxing, and this program offers an extra layer of support,” Lawrence said. “It’s a sweet deal.”

‘I love her resiliency’

As part of the program, Lawrence was paired with a mentor, Katrina King, vice president of nursing and chief nursing officer at Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center.

“She’s been a nurse for a long time,” Lawrence said. “What has rubbed off on me is just her positivity.”

King says the same about Lawrence:. “I love her resiliency. Her dedication is admirable.”

Novant Health also plans to grow the program over time, King said.


Watching nurses as a child

Lawrence began to think about a nursing career because of personal experience with the medical system. When she was young, her mother was diagnosed with lupus, which led to chronic kidney disease.

“I was in and out of hospitals (with her) for almost my entire life,” Lawrence said. “You see the doctor, but it’s for like five to 10 minutes … In my experience, it was always the nurses who were the most hands-on and spent the most time with the patients. That really stuck out to me.”

Lawrence had graduated from West Mecklenburg High School in 2008 and was attending Davidson College.


A philosophy major, Lawrence was doing well until the fall of her senior year, when she began missing classes. She was eventually diagnosed with a chronic illness and had to leave school just one semester short of graduation.

As she navigated the medical system, Lawrence noticed that some nurses are better than others at helping patients.


Once Lawrence’s health became stable, she enrolled in CPCC’s two-year associate degree nursing program. She first had to obtain CNA certification.

She worked as a CNA at Presbyterian Medical Center for a few months before starting at CPCC in 2017. Lawrence graduated in December 2018, passed her National Council Licensure Examination earlier this year and is now a full-time nurse in the Huntersville Medical Center ER. She continues to call on her personal experience as a guide for taking care of others.

“It’s easier to care for a patient when you’ve kind of been in their shoes as a patient,” Lawrence said.     “I model myself after nurses who take the time to treat the whole patient.”

Content sponsored by Novant Health.