Over the past few years, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) have been assuming a renewed role within hospital nursing teams after decades spent working primarily in outpatient settings. Forward-thinking nurse executives have been integrating LPNs into staffing models to allow RNs to practice at the top of their licenses.
Below, we will explore the staffing challenges hospital nursing leaders face today and why LPNs offer solutions to help address these challenges:
Current Staffing Challenges Hospital Nursing Leaders Face
Today’s hospital nursing leaders grapple with more complex challenges than ever before when it comes to staffing:
- Nursing Shortages – Industry-wide shortfalls of RNs pose recruitment and retention obstacles for adequate staffing coverage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects over 200,000 new RN openings annually over the next decade.
- High Patient Acuity – With shortened inpatient stays, the patient population in hospitals tends to be sicker, requiring more intensive nursing care.
- Work Overload – Patient loads and administrative duties piled onto bedside nurses leads to high burnout, further exacerbating staffing difficulties through turnover.
- Tight Margins – Hospitals balance staffing costs against declining reimbursements and limited budgets, complicating matters.
Why LPNs Offer a Solution
Licensed practical nurses are emerging as a valuable care member hospitals can leverage for optimizing their nursing workforce:
- Specialized in Fundamentals – LPN training focuses on fundamentals like medication administration, checking vitals, wound care, placement of catheters, and supervision of certified nursing assistants.
- Strong Clinical Base – With around one year of college-level nursing education, LPNs possess a strong clinical grounding for basic bedside care tasks that are staples of hospital work.
- Complementary Skill Sets – While RNs handle highly complex medical and trauma cases, LPNs are well-suited for more standard inpatient care, allowing appropriate alignment of competencies.
- Clinical Team Players – Integrating LPNs through deliberate nurse staffing models fosters an expanded care team supplementing RN responsibilities.
- Pipeline of Nurses – There are currently close to 700,000 LPNs nationally, representing an underutilized talent pool hospitals can access to buttress nurse staffing volumes.
- Cost-Efficiency – With lower hourly wages than RNs, expanding LPN staff offsets shortages in a budget-conscious manner to control personnel spend.
Ongoing LPN Integration into Hospital Staff Mixes
In response to the above realities, prominent hospitals and health systems are proactively welcoming LPNs into their acute-care nursing ranks after years of focus on outpatient and long-term care settings. This represents a reversal of a yearslong trend.
As nurses face ever-growing demands, LPNs present a sensible way for hospitals to share the workload. Their specialized skillsets in fundamental aspects of nursing care let RNs concentrate their advanced knowledge and judgement on higher-acuity patients. This also grants patients more consistent attention at the bedside.
Early adoption of mixed RN-LPN nursing teams shows positive impacts:
- Better patient outcomes
- Increased patient satisfaction
- Reduced nurse turnover
- Higher nurse productivity
- Improved care continuity
Continued Growth Expected for LPNs in Hospitals
Moving forward, industry analysts predict steady growth in the use of LPNs throughout inpatient settings to optimize nurse staffing. Hospitals that proactively integrate LPNs into care delivery models stand to see amplifying benefits from their contributions. Along with boosting nurse workforce numbers, LPNs bring complementary capabilities that allow RNs to operate at their highest level. This bodes well for the future of hospital nursing care and patient experiences.
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