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Wednesday, January 26, 2022  

Could LPNs be the Answer?Published 4/7/2003

There are waiting lists around the country for nursing programs: LPN licensure programs, 2-year, and 4-year nursing degrees. Colleges are blaming hospitals for the lack of clinical site rotations, hospitals are blaming colleges for a lack in flexibility in when to offer clinical rotations, and the community is blaming everyone for a lack of nurses in the hospitals. We know this problem will get much worse before it gets better. We continue to read and hear about the shortages, the projected financial impact, and the negative affect on our quality of care. Legislators have proposed shortening nursing programs by six months to community editorials condemning hospitals and nursing programs for failing to provide appropriate and safe numbers of nurses, without truly understanding the magnitude of the problem.

We have a nursing shortage. We also have a nurse educator shortage. Not only do we not have enough nurses to take care of our patients, we don’t have educators to teach in these programs. We have traveling nurses floating to our hospitals to help ease the shortage, but travelers are not able to take on students. So we have no nurses, no educators, travelers covering the floors and unable to supervise students. What is the answer? I may not have the answers but I do have some questions for us to ponder:

1. Have we explored increasing LPN’s on the floors?

2. What is the required RN to LPN ratio?

3. Can we provide the LPN with additional certification to increase her responsibilities on the floor? We already provide I.V. certification, what else can we provide?

4. What is the impact of this nursing shortage on our long-term care facilities?

5. How are LPN’s being utilized in long-term care facilities?

According to the Colorado State Board of Nursing, we currently have 51,282 actively registered nurses and 10,264 actively registered LPN’s. However, those numbers do not reflect how many nurses are currently working as nurses. I am actively registered, but I do not practice clinically, my role is now in education. Many colleges offer ladder programs whereby, after the first year the student may sit for the LPN exam. Upon successful completion of the LPN exam the student is licensed and can practice. How many of those students drop out of the second year of their nursing program to practice as an LPN? These nursing programs would then be suffering from attrition issues and those "empty-seats" are therefore not filled.

Nursing programs are one of the most expensive programs to administer. The State of Colorado has a tremendous financial short fall and institutions of higher education are being targeted for major cutbacks. How do we operate high cost programs when there are no monies to support those programs?

Is there an answer to the shortage? Seems to me there are just more questions right now.

Are you an LPN who dropped out of the second year of your nursing program to practice? Do you regret that decision? Email your story to Linda Rener c/o the Nursing Star or Nursing times.

Linda Rener, MPH, MSN, RN is the director of the Health Career Programs at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, Colorado.  She is also the author of Medical Terminology:  A Student Workbook (1999) and Memories of my Sister:  Dealing with Sudden Death (2001.)

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