LPNs sharpening skills to address RN shortage in Pa.

February 09, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Teresa Napier is just days away from marking her 20th year as a licensed practical nurse at Chambersburg Hospital, but plans to spend the rest of her career as a registered nurse through a program offered by Summit Health.

Napier and 17 other men and women make up the first class in the LPN to RN Program to address a shortage of registered nurses that is expected to grow as the population ages. The application for the second class in the 12-month program runs from Feb. 12 to March 30 with classes beginning in the fall.

Summit Health formed a committee in January 2007 to address the RN shortage through a variety of recruiting and retention strategies, including recruiting nurses from overseas, said Ellen Rice, an education resource specialist. One source of new registered nurses, she said, was the approximately 100 LPNs already employed at Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals.


"Most of those LPNs have been working anywhere from 10 to 15 years ... and they are ready to take their skills to the next level," Rice said.

"I entered the program because this is something I always wanted to do," Napier said. Without the program, which allows her to receive pay and benefits while studying full-time, it would have been more difficult.

"Between being a mom and raising a family and really enjoying my job, I didn't have that push," Napier said.

"It's difficult to work and go to school at the same time," said Debbie Coombs, an LPN for the past five years at Washington County Hospital. "I was trying that, going to college a little bit at a time," said the married mother of two.

Coombs and Napier said they both liked the idea of having the expanded responsibilities of a registered nurse.

"The registered nurse really manages the care of the patient," working with physicians, therapists, LPNs and other caregivers, said Lynne Beeson, the director of Education, Training and Organization Development for Summit Health.

A 2006 American Hospital Association study put the shortage at 118,000. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Web site quotes a 2007 article of Health Affairs that estimates the shortage of registered nurses will reach 340,000 by 2020. That number is lower than earlier projections.

An aging population and an aging corps of registered nurses are two reasons the shortage is expected to grow, according to studies cited on the AACN Web site.

Added responsibility means higher compensation. Licensed practical nurses are paid $17 to $20 an hour while registered nurses start at about $23 an hour, according to Summit Health figures. Between the two hospitals, there are more than 500 registered nurses.

Rice said the program is modeled on the College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, and is offered in cooperation with Excelsior College, an accredited online university. The LPNs study subjects such as anatomy and physiology, English composition and maternal child nursing, and are then tested.

Depending on the amount of course work a nurse has already completed, the LPN to RN Program can take six to 12 months, Rice said.

"After they complete the program, they'll get a temporary graduate nurse license from the state" and enter the hospital's 18-month residency program, Beeson said.

"If this program had not come along, I would have been an LPN until I retired," Napier said.

"Every hospital should do this," Coombs said.

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