Practical Nursing in Pennsylvania

There are approximately 50,000 Licensed Practical Nurses in Pennsylvania. That’s a lot — or so it would seem. Stakeholders continue to concern themselves with whether there will be enough in the years to come. As the population ages, the need for LPNs goes up: partly because the need for healthcare as a whole goes up and partly because of LPN staffing patterns. LPNs are found in higher concentrations in settings that serve older adults.

Elderly, disabled, and chronically ill residents rely on practical nurses. Another population that has reason to be very grateful for LPNs: citizens living in rural areas. Relative to population, Pennsylvania’s direct care LPNs are found in rural areas in greater numbers. This is a very different pattern than that found in some other health professions!

Pennsylvania, like many states, monitors its nursing population to ensure adequacy in meeting population health needs. The Department of Health released a workforce report in January of 2016 aptly titled “The Pulse of Pennsylvania’s Licensed Practical Nurse Workforce” (http://www.health.pa.gov/Your-Department-of-Health/Offices%20and%20Bureaus/Health%20Planning/Pages/Health-Care-Workforce-Reports.aspx#.WqnYkmrwZdg); the report was based on data that was collected in conjunction with 2014 license renewal.

A Portrait of the Pennsylvania LPN Workforce

The Pennsylvania Board does not limit practice to specific settings, but some are more likely to hire LPNs than others.

Nursing homes are the most common employer of practical nurses nationwide, and Pennsylvania is no exception. Nursing homes accounted for 38% of primary work settings in 2014.

There have been changes in nursing home populations in recent times. There is now a greater focus on short-term rehabilitation and a higher percentage of residents with dementia. Pennsylvania has a very active nursing home culture change group, Voice of Inspired Change for Elders, or VOICE, working to re-design the nursing home experience (http://paculturechangecoalition.org/).

Many elders receive care in other settings. Pennsylvania also boasts a high percentage of LPNs employed in home health: 16% in 2014. Assisted living facilities, meanwhile, employed 8%.

Other relatively common work settings included ambulatory care (5%), community health (4%), school health services (3%), and correctional facilities (2%). 9% of Pennsylvania’s practical nurses reported that the hospital was their primary place of employment. However, prospective nurses should be aware that staffing patterns are changing nationwide. A current job search will not necessarily turn up job percentages in the same proportions that they are reported by the current workforce. Some facilities have even transitioned existing LPNs.

Reported specialty more or less corresponds with work setting – 10% cited home health and 3% school health – but there are some new categories introduced. While 40% reported geriatrics or gerontology, 4% considered their specialty to be rehabilitation. Adult health or family health were reported by 8%; this is a specialty that may be practiced in ambulatory/ clinic settings. Medical-surgical accounted for 4%; this is a common hospital specialty. 6% reported pediatrics or neonatal; this could reflect any of multiple settings.

LPNs employed in clinic settings may serve particular populations. The Pittsburg Post Gazette recently profiled one such nurse: a VA nurse, one of 12 LPNs at his clinic, a team leader – and a finalist for a prestigious national award (https://www.newsday.com/lifestyle/retirement/va-nurse-finalist-caregiving-award-1.14617722).

86% of Pennsylvania LPNs provide direct patient care, according to the most recent workforce report. Of those who provide indirect care, 5% are in administration or management. Just 1% each are employed in case management, medical records, informatics/ health information, or patient/ staff education. 5% reported other indirect care roles.

Many direct care LPNs report using technology to exchange patient information — and most say technology helps!

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Beginning a Nursing Career at the LPN Level

Completion of practical nursing education is typically the shortest path to a nursing career (LPN programs in Pennsylvania). Pennsylvania LPN programs may be as short as 1,500 hours; they can be completed in as little as 12 months. Credentialing is dependent on passing the NCLEX-PN examination.

LPN training includes theory and clinical training applicable to long-term and short-term care. Among the more technical topics covered are venipuncture, skin testing, and IVs. LPNs have a lesser scope of practice than RNs. Some technical duties are expressly prohibited. Moreover, LPNs are not expected to take the same level of responsibility for complex cases. They work under direction.

Nurses are not limited, though, just because they start at the practical nursing level. Employers need practical nurses, but they also need nurses with higher levels of education. The Department of Health reported in its workforce report that one out of five direct care LPNs were working on a higher nursing degree.

Career Outlook and Average LPN Salary in Pennsylvania

In 2014, the concentration of LPNs by county ranged from 91 LPNs per 100,000 residents to 1,317 per 100,000 residents. The greatest concentration was found in Montour – and by no small amount! Statewide, the average was 254.

9% LPN occupational growth has been predicted for Pennsylvania over the course of the 2014 to 2024 decade.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Pennsylvania LPNs enjoyed an average wage of $22.03 in 2016: $45,810 for a nurse who worked all 40-hour weeks.

The majority of LPNs employed in Pennsylvania in 2014 worked 31 to 40 hours per week, according to the Department of Health. LPNs in home health, assisted living, or school health were somewhat more likely to be employed part-time than in most of the other common settings, but even here, more than 60% reported full-time employment. Home health LPNs were more likely than the typical LPN to report hours that were either above or below the norm. (Notably, LPNs with more than one workplace were more likely to report 41 or more hours per week – this was the case across settings.)

More than 90% of Pennsylvania’s direct care LPNs reported being somewhat or very satisfied with their career choice. There were only small differences from one work setting to the next. The survey queried the workforce about a number of factors that influenced satisfaction. For each factor, a majority of respondents indicated they were at least somewhat satisfied, but dissatisfaction was highest in the areas of staffing (36%) and salary (32%).

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