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Are Hospitals Phasing Out LPNs?

Myth or reality? Are healthcare employers actually phasing out the role of LPNs?

Written by Raymond on September 12th, 2011

LPN’s (Licensed Practical Nurses) have been serving the critically ill and injured ever since the 1940’s when there was a nurse shortage due to the war. While RNs were being sent overseas, a need for trained nurses in the United States developed rapidly. Responding to this emergency, the medical community found a way to shorten the amount of learning needed to provide health care, and combined this with the basic mandatory training for nurses. This teaching program offered women an alternate pathway into the nursing profession as a practical nurse, with lower pay and quicker training than an RN while performing similar duties. During a sluggish economy this provided new careers for women and also saved hospitals a large sum of money. LPNs still provide a significant portion of direct and personal care to patients that rivals RNs (registered nurses) and CNAs ( certified nursing assistants) to this day.

LPNs may work under the direct supervision of RNs, but their responsibilities are very similar. For example, the LPN is well trained in taking vitals, such as blood pressure, temperature and pulse and recording pertinent health information either from the patient or their family. They are also well taught on how to prepare medications for injections and administer them as well, assist and teach patients how to perform personal hygiene, take lab samples and other types of laboratory testing, feed newborns in the nursery and assist new mothers in the art of breast feeding or giving nutritional formula, teach patients how to maintain sanitary health habits, and direct nurse aides on specific job duties.

In addition to the important role LPNs play in hospitals and assisted living centers, they also find employment in schools as school nurses. There is currently an on-going debate regarding whether or not LPNs are being “phased out” by hospitals. This is a debate that has been in circulation for several years. Those who are in favor of eliminating LPN positions claim that this is a necessary part of downsizing and that perhaps if an LPN wishes to keep their position they can either bump up to an RN or bump down to a CNA. This solution would eliminate the middle ground position of the practical nurse in many healthcare settings. The concern with this option is the cost for education, which has increased dramatically, and many LPNs who are already in their 40’s and 50’s will not work long enough to realize the benefits of a costly RN education. Some of the younger LPNs have families to care for and cannot afford to take the time out of their usual long work hours to attend classes. The value of an LPN is clear; they provide critical care to patients on a daily basis and possess skills and experience beyond that of a CNA. They are valuable members of many healthcare teams and cannot simply be dropped from the equation without consequences.

Another benefit of LPNs is that they cost hospitals much less to employ than RNs do. Since they have much more experience with direct care than nursing assistants they offer a good value. Critical care hospitals understand the need for LPNs, so instead of phasing them out, it is more probable that LPNs will be encouraged to climb the career ladder. An LPN earns an average wage of $18 to $24 per hour. There are currently thousands of LPN job openings including offers managerial positions that attract LPNs specifically. According to the United States Department of Labor, demand for LPNs is expected to increase by 20% until 2014. Fortunately, because LPNs must have a caring nature, professional attitude, good communication skills and a strong nursing knowledge base, they have become a necessary part of any healthcare system.

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Written by Nurses Link