Can the Use of LPNs Alleviate the Nursing Shortage?


Jean Ann Seago, Joanne Spetz, Susan A. Chapman, Wendy Dyer

Jul 2006

LPNs may be able to help fill some of the gaps caused by the nursing shortage, but little research has been conducted on the demographic characteristics of LPNs, their education and scope of practice, and the demand for their services, all of which vary from state to state. In 2002 and 2003, the authors conducted a comprehensive national study, Supply, Demand, and Use of Licensed Practical Nurses, and have summarized that study’s findings in this article. They found that RNs and LPNs are similar in age and tend to have similar numbers of children, but that racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans, and those who are single, widowed, divorced, or separated are better represented among LPNs. Expanding LPN educational programs might draw more people into nursing. Some LPNs would like to become RNs, so expanding LPN-to-RN “ladder” programs could also be beneficial. LPNs can’t replace RNs entirely, but they could perform much of the work now performed by RNs. While long-term care facilities already depend heavily on LPNs, hospitals could benefit from employing more LPNs. The authors make several specific policy recommendations to improve the education and employment of LPNs.