Understanding the Struggles of an LPN

If you talk to almost any LPN or LVN, almost all of them became a nurse with intentions of eventually becoming a registered nurse. The problem is a simple equation of (debt - income * need to stay employed = no time to go back to school). Most find themselves working at either understaffed nursing homes, or late shifts of home healthcare situations. In any case, LPNs seem to get caught in a never-ending cycle of working long hours, just to make ends meet, and not having free time to spare for family and continued education.

Full time status hours change, depending on various facilities. But, most LPNs are considered full time at somewhere between 30-40 hours per week. Sounds reasonable, right? Yes it does, but most LPNs find themselves working at more than one facility or they work extra shifts to cover understaffing. In general, many LPNs feel overworked and underpaid. They feel like they are stuck in their current job, with no ability to move forward. They dream of someday being a registered nurse at a prestigious hospital, and specializing in their field of choice. Some want to work in pediatrics or cardiac care. Others want to work as an emergency room nurse, or in an intensive care unit. When asked, very few considered the fact that working at an extended care facility might be their only option. This does not mean that meaningful care in our nursing homes isn’t needed. It’s merely reflecting the fact that most people that enter the medical field have goals in mind and an idea of the type of care they prefer to be involved in. Not all of them wanted to stay in a career of geriatric medicine.

During a recent Q&A with several LPNs, they were asked to describe the status of their current career. Only one nurse stated they were doing exactly what they wanted to do, and planned to continue the same for the foreseeable future. The others used words like, stalled, stagnant, stuck, routine, and boxed in. Nearly all of them were seeking ways to continue to make ends meet, but still be able to finish their training and become a registered nurse. Most described situations that seemed like they were just one raise away from being able to drop work hours in exchange for school hours. Or, they were working towards a position that might allow them to work and train at the same time. A couple of them were contemplating taking a big plunge and just quitting their jobs, so they could go to school. However, that would mean their family would suffer. A spouse would be left holding the sole responsibility of financial burden.

So, what does this all mean for an LPN?

LPNs are a valuable part of our medical system. They possess the training needed to work as liaisons between patients and registered nurses. With the current nursing shortage in the U.S., this provides facilities the ability to utilize an LPN in in place of an RN for many situations. In nursing homes, LPNs are a vital part of patient care. At many facilities, only a single RN might be on duty during a given shift, while several LPNs may be on duty to fill the gaps. The caveat needs to be: we continue to utilize LPNs to fill these voids, but we must figure out ways to allow them the time and financial abilities to continue their education. The result won’t just be the loss of an LPN. It will actually be the advantage of gaining another registered nurse into an already stressed healthcare system.

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