Wanted: More practical nurses

LPN Josie Ohly, left, works with RCTC nursing student Jadyn Shumaker in the Obstetrics Department on Friday at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
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Driven by an escalating need for nurses, Rochester Community and Technical College says it is ramping up its licensed practical nurse program to triple the number of graduates by 2021.

The program expansion is estimated to introduce potentially 100 more licensed practical nurses into the area workforce by 2021. That comes on top of a 25 percent hike that began in the fall of 2017 when the RCTC program was expanded to 50 students from 40.

"The need is really great," said Susan Jansen, RCTC’s associate dean of nursing. "Mayo Clinic has a great need for LPNs in all of their clinics. And of course, nursing homes are in great need of LPNs. And home health care needs LPNs. Everybody needs LPNs."

RCTC runs one 10-month cohort program in the fall. The expansion will include a 50-student cohort in January in 2019 and another 50-student group in 2021, bringing the potential increase to 100 nurses.

Mayo Clinic is currently advertising openings for LPNs with a starting salary between $33,000 and $42,000.


Nursing students are aware they are entering a sizzling job market.

Katelynn Strupp, an RCTC nursing student, says both Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center representatives have talked up the benefits of working at their health care facilities in classroom appeals. The Mayo person even brought doughnuts. At a job fair recently, nursing home reps scrambled to push their pay and benefits packages.

"They are basically like buttering us up, so we will work for them," Strupp said.

The hot market for nurses is being turbocharged not only by an aging population, but by the fact that people are living longer and being treated for more chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart problems.

As the influx of aging patients grows, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for LPNs to grow by 16 percent between now and 2024, compared to average job growth rate of 7 percent. Jansen cited a recent study released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that predicted a national LPN nurse shortage upwards of 151,000 by 2030.

The intensity of demand also stems from the fact that the number of graduates from practical nursing programs has been declining. The Minnesota Board of Nursing reported 600 fewer nurses graduating in 2016 than in 2010.

RCTC officials don’t expect any difficulty filling up the new slots created from the program expansion. When enrollment for last fall’s program opened, Jansen said, 180 qualified people applied for one of the 50 slots.

The program is also demanding. Two months removed from graduation, Strupp estimated her class of 50 students has dwindled to 30.


"It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done," Strupp said. "It is a very, very good program. I mean, everyone who is going to graduate from that program, I would want them as my nurse. I basically feel I know as much as a doctor should know."

Lori Windhorst has been an LPN for Olmsted Medical Center for the past 33 years, 26 of them with Olmsted Medical Center. The demand for more nurses doesn’t come as a surprise to her because "there’s always a demand for nurses." When she worked in a nursing home three decades ago, there was always a "huge need" because turnover was high.

"There’s always generally a big turnover in nursing homes, because it’s hard work," Windhorst said.

Windhorst said the LPN’s role has evolved over time — "there’s more responsibilities — but the core responsibilities remain the same. LPNs generally provide direct patient care and gather information on patients but can’t perform assessments, which are the province of RNs.

Windhorst said she has often been asked why she didn’t take the next step and train to become an RN. She said that while she has considered it and the better pay that would result, "I"m happy with the position that I’ve had all these years."

Newly minted practical nurses are getting snapped up by hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes nearly as soon as they graduate — and sometimes before they graduate, Jansen said.

"This is a career that might interest a young person thinking about going into the health care field, but who may not be able to or willing to pursue a four-year nursing degree, or someone who would like to switch careers," said Kelley Luckstein, a Mayo Clinic communications specialist.

RCTC’s practical nursing program has a pass rate of nearly 97 percent for those who complete it, Jansen said. An estimated 70 percent complete it. Those who don’t often do so for personal reasons rather than academic ones, she said.


"We have a lot of support services for students," Jansen said. "We do have tutoring and mentoring for students to help them through the program, but it is ten months of hard work."

Jansen said practical nurses can easily segue into the college’s two-year registered nurse (RN) program "if they want to continue on." LPNs can finish the RN program in three semesters instead of four, because their LPN’s license allows them to bypass their first semester.

Related Topics: MAYO CLINIC
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