Supply, Demand and Use of Licensed Practical Nurses

  1. i highlighted important points. karen

    national: lpn study available online

    the first national lpn study in 22 years, "supply, demand and use of licensed practical nurses," is now available online through the heath resources and services administration (hrsa).

    published in november 2004 by jean ann seago, phd, rn, and her colleagues at the center for california health workforce studies, the study compiled and analyzed data already collected by the department of labor, the census bureau and healthcare and nursing organizations across the country, and then conducted interviews with lpns and rns in four states.

    to view the results online, visit

    executive summary
    although licensed practical nurses (lpns) organized into professional groups as early as 1941, there is little in the literature about the practice, work, demand for, or efficient utilization of the licensed practical nurse. there also is little guidance about how to make effective use of these practitioners' skills to enhance patient care and augment the nurse workforce. recently there has been an increased interest in trying new care delivery models in acute care hospitals using lpns (kenney, 2001) . in the 1990s, publications explored the creative use of lpns in critical care, as advice nurses, and in intravenous therapy teams (buccini, 1994;ingersoll, 1995; intravenous nurses society, 1997 ;eriksen, 1992;roth, 1993). however, little systematic study has occurred to explore these roles.

    this study examines the demand, supply, utilization, and scope of practice of lpns in the united states. particular attention is paid to educational issues, career mobility, geographic distribution, and the ability of lpns to substitute for registered nurses. the research team analyzed data from the bureau of the census, american hospital association, national council of state boards of nursing, and centers for medicare and medicaid services to learn about lpn characteristics, education, and employment. scope of practice information was obtained and characterized to learn how practice regulations vary nationally and how they affect the demand for lpns. key informant interviews and focus groups were conducted in four states: california, iowa, louisiana, and massachusetts. the findings of the study are provided in this report.

    data from the bureau of labor statistics's current population survey to describe the demographic characteristics of lpns, was compared to registered nurses (rns) from 1984 to 2001. the data indicate the following similarities and differences between lpns and rns.


    • both workforces are aging, with lpns being slightly older than rns on average;
    • males represent a small percent of both workforces, but are slowly increasing;
    • the western region of the u.s. has the lowest numbers of lpns and rns relative to the population;
    • on average, rns and lpns work between 36 and 38 hours per week;
    • the shares of rns and lpns working in offices and clinics of physicians doubled between 1984 and 2001; and
    • the hourly pay rate of rns and lpns increased 19 percent between 1984 and 2001.

    • the rn workforce is larger than the lpn workforce, but the actual size of the lpn workforce is unclear because the available data are conflicting;
    • compared to rns, more lpns live in the south and fewer in the northeast;
    • fewer lpns are foreign-born, whereas an increasing percent of rns are immigrants;
    • rns work in hospitals in greater proportions than lpns, and the share of lpns working in hospitals declined more than rns between 1984 and 2001;
    • the percent of lpns working in nursing and personal care facilities increased between 1984 and 2001, but the percent of rns did not; and
    • by 2001, the percentage of lpns working in the private sector was greater than the percent of rns working in the private sector.
    state boards of nursing regulate the practice of lpns. most states have a single board that oversees rns and lpns. some states have separate boards for rns and lpns. the boards are responsible for developing scope of practice regulations and issuing licenses. they also have disciplinary responsibility and can revoke licenses. there are similarities in the nursing practice acts across states, but variation in how the states express the details of the work of practical nurses. most states have relatively flexible practice requirements and not very specific about the tasks that are permitted. however, some states have very restrictive practice regulations and/or specific detailing of tasks that can and cannot be done by practical nurses. these data are used in chapter 5 to examine whether the restrictiveness and specificity of the scope of practice affect demand for lpns. these data suggest that it may be possible to identify states that could reasonably increase their utilization of practical nurses, particularly in hospitals, by reducing the restrictiveness of their practice.

    since the 1990s, the number of lpn education programs has remained relatively stable but there has been a decline in the number of enrolled students and graduates. despite the drop in graduates, the total number of active licenses increased slightly through the 1990s. this suggests that lpns are remaining in the workforce at higher rates than in previous years. the number of first time us-educated graduates who are taking the lpn licensing examination has dropped, but the percentage of those passing the examination has remained relatively constant.

    lpn educational requirements vary among the states and territories. most states specify the content and number of hours of training, and some are more detailed than others. most curricula teach similar basic nursing skills, such as measuring vital signs, patient data collection, patient care and comfort measures, and oral medication administration. most states have additional training requirements for more advanced skills, such as phlebotomy, iv infusion, and iv medication administration. even though requirements vary across states, states generally license lpns that have been licensed in other states without further requirement.

    key informant interviews with leaders of state boards of nursing, lpn education programs, hospitals, and nursing homes allowed us to compare the actual practice of lpns with the written regulations. state nursing board leaders are aware of the differences in scope of practice regulations across states, and do not find these differences troublesome. they also recognize that employers establish their own internal practice guidelines, which may be more restrictive than the legal scope of practice. some hospital and education leaders think their states' scopes of practice are too restrictive. nursing home leaders agreed that lpns are essential to the provision of care in their facilities; the scope of practice of lpns is perfectly suited to the needs of their patients. hospital leaders varied in their willingness to employ lpns. most recognized that experienced, intelligent lpns could be an asset to a nursing care team, but found that the scope of practice of lpns was too limited to allow for significant employment of lpns in acute care settings.

    participants in the focus groups discussed their perceptions of their scope of practice, which occasionally differed from state regulations. most of the lpns stated an intention to return to school to become rns, but few were enrolled in rn programs. barriers such as time, the need to keep working, challenges in getting into courses, and family issues were among those that kept lpns from pursuing further education. most lpns and rns felt they have good working relationships with each other. some lpns expressed resentment about the higher wages paid to rns for what is seen by the lpns as similar work. other lpns said they did not envy rns, because rns have a greater amount of paperwork to complete and thus have less time to be with patients. some rns expressed discontent about the need to supervise lpns because supervision adds to their workload.

    based on findings in this report, we make the following recommendations:

    1. the lpn could be used to augment the workforce during rn shortages. however, the role of lpns is limited by their scope of practice. how much the lpn can be used depends on the ability of states to create a more flexible lpn scope of practice. states should assess whether there is evidence that lessening practice restrictions would negatively impact patient care before making changes to the scope of practice. careful study of the use of the lpn in various settings is necessary to determine positive or negative impact on patient outcomes. federal and state governments should support research on the effect of lpns on quality of care.
    2. employers should work to create teams, of rns and lpns to share workload appropriately in both acute and long-term care.
    3. boards of nursing must ensure that bedside rns and lpns, nurse managers, and hospital and long term care executives have a common and accurate understanding of the scopes of practice of rns and lpns. employers should clarify for their employees the differences between state scopes of practice and individual institutional policy.
    4. state boards of nursing should work toward standardization of lpn training, both at the basic education preparation level and beyond. one mechanism to achieve greater uniformity might involve the identification of national standards for entry level and advanced education of lpns.
    5. nurse educators need to facilitate articulation between lpn and rn license requirements. more efficient "laddering" of workers from lower skill to higher skill healthcare jobs benefits both workers and employees, and will ultimately decrease the total cost to educate nurses.
    6. based on data related to gender, age, marital status, and ethnicity, it appears that lpns and rns come from essentially the same pool or potential workers. therefore, the long-term rn shortage is unlikely be solved with an influx of lpns, because increased recruitment of students into lpn programs will likely offset recruitment into rn programs.
    7. employers should examine how the work of licensed nurses could be allocated safely and reasonably, so that rns are not overwhelmed and lpns can practice to their full scope of practice. although lpns cannot directly substitute for rns, many tasks traditionally completed by rns can be accomplished by lpns, with appropriate training.
    8. employers should consider providing additional compensation to lpns who complete additional training and obtain certifications beyond the basic lpn license, to provide lpns with incentives to continue their education.
    9. the bureau of health professions and state board of nursing should strive to educate the public about the lpn profession, both to give recognition to practicing lpns and to encourage more people to pursue a career in practical nursing.
    10. the bureau of the health professions, national council of state boards of nursing, or individual state boards of nursing should create a national database to track both lpns and rns to have accurate data for prediction of nurse and healthcare workforce needs.
    Last edit by NRSKarenRN on Apr 27, '05
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  3. by   Judee Smudee
    I can't tell you how much I appreciate reading this study. How is it that it took 22 years to do such a study? Is the reason perhaps related to the total lack of respect LPNs recieve accross the entire spectrum of healthcare. This inspite of the fact that LPNs are a vital component of the healthcare work force.
  4. by   pickledpepperRN
    Thank you Karen.
    I agree with Judee Smudee. Nurses are not educated in their scope of practice and that of other nurses.
    Too often LPN/LVS nurses are either underutilized or assigned to work beyond their scope of practice. Not only by management but by charge and staff RNs who just plain have a knowledge deficit.
    It is to the benefit of patients and nursing staff for each RN to be aware of the individual competence of the LVN/LPN they are working with.