It’s no surprise that nurses across the nation are tired after two long years battling the COVID-19 pandemic on the front lines.
For the past two years, the pandemic strained healthcare workers in Marion County and across the nation, causing many nurses to leave the profession.
However, in Marion, Tri-Rivers Career Center's School of Nursing is seeing this as an opportunity to train the next generation of nurses.
The career center's LPN to RN program was ranked the fourth best RN program in Ohio this year according to RegisteredNursing.org out of 96 programs, and for the student cohort starting in the 2022 - 2023 academic year, Tri-Rivers staff is seeing more applicants for the program than it has the space for given its current student to instructor ratio.
Guiding students along the path to first gain licensure as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and then move on to become a Registered Nurse (RN), the Tri-Rivers program was originally launched by Dr. Emeline Kelly as a project for her master's program in 2007 when she realized no Ohio career centers offered an RN program.
Now Tri-Rivers Director of Healthcare Education & Public Safety programs, Kelly has seen the program consistently gain top rankings statewide since its official launch.
Offering two cohorts, one 45-week program to be completed in a year and another 90-week program to be completed in two, the LPN - RN program allows students the flexibility to choose to adopt the role of a "more traditional" student or opt for the 90-week cohort and be able to keep working during the week, only needing to attend classes one weekday and every-other Saturday.
Kelly said the staff realizes some of the program's students have been out of the classroom for several years and cannot afford to give up their jobs.
“A lot of our students, they’re moms, it’s not one of your ‘regular’ college students, where they can go in and spend several days going to school. They have to take care of their family – it’s designed for adults,” Kelly said.
Equipping the next generation of nurses
One faculty member who exemplifies how the nursing school trains individuals with other responsibilitiesis Nursing Instructor Darian Curren who attended Tri-Rivers' LPN school in 2010 two weeks postpartum.
"It wasn’t the most convenient timing, but life isn’t always convenient," Curren reflected.
After gaining her LPN certification from Tri-Rivers where she was class president, Curren worked for a year before pursing her RN from the University of Rio Grande. She now helps educate students in the LPN - RN program.
"I’ve never been a part of a program where they’re in it for the right reasons. You walk into a room and know they want to see you succeed," Curren said.
Beyond her goal to give back to students, Curren returned to the nursing school to invest back in the community of Marion - the same community who crowned her Ms. Marion Popcorn in 2021.
Speaking as a former student, instructor and current graduate student in the University of Cincinnati's Nurse Midwifery program, Curren said it may feel like a scary time to go into nursing for students, but because of the versatility of the field there are many options.
“You don’t have to be front lines. You don’t have to be in the ICU,” she said.
Kelly said the school is working to combat the negative stigma toward healthcare professions, inviting students to participate in the nursing school's programs in a time of great opportunity.
“How nurses are treated this way and that and they’re in the front lines – a lot of negative stuff is surfacing. But it’s not all bad and we want to promote that,” she said.
Nursing need at Marion General
In addition to her role at Tri-Rivers, Dr. Kelly is a weekend Nursing Supervisor at OhioHealth's Marion General Hospital.
She has helped her students find job placements within the hospital, helping to meet the increased need for nurses.
“I actually have four people that I was able to place them and they’re working as an LPN at the hospital and they’re almost done with their onboarding and orientation, and that will increase our manpower because we are really hurting for nurses,” Kelly said.
The nature of the LPN licensure is a dependent practice, meaning it requires that they have an RN with them. Years ago, OhioHealth reduced the number of LPNs on its staff due to this requirement but has been increasing the number of LPN hires as a result of the pandemic, Kelly explained.
"They were trying to get rid of all the LPNs. Instead of laying off all the LPNs, they gave them the chance to come to us and be done in a year or so and the last group that I worked with it was in 2012,” she said.
"So then, no more LPNs – all RNs. All of a sudden, this year, last year, LPN, LPN, LPN."
Within OhioHealth, this has resulted in a change in the way they use LPNs, according to Marion General's Senior Director of Nursing Jamie Cunningham.
"As we learned more about what that role could do, we developed a plan to collaborate with our RN model and we call it our collaborative care model," she said.
"It’s really this partnership between the LPN and the RN to do more of team-based nursing to take care of our patients and optimize each role at top of license."
Cunningham said the OhioHealth system previously had individuals with LPN licenses working as Patient Support Assistants but now this collaborative model allows them to do more, helping to increase their job satisfaction and the workforce bandwidth of the hospitals.
Opportunities opening for future nurses
In January 2023, Ohio will become a "compact state," meaning a nursing license gained in Ohio will transfer to other states.
Kelly explained that when the pandemic began, hospitals found it difficult to move people across state lines due to licensure, but this will expand opportunities for Ohio's nurses who may want to travel or move.
“It’s a passion. A lot of the students that come to us, they’ve taken care of some individual in their family that kind of gave them the idea to do this. Some, honestly, some – job security. And then for some, they know that you can be a nurse anywhere. You can go from state to state to state and be needed,” she said.
Marion General's Chief Nursing Officer Joy Bischoff said the opportunities, both within OhioHealth and beyond, have been unprecedented with the pandemic.
“Overall I would say this has been a time like no other in my career around the nursing workforce and the shifts that we’re seeing in terms of the open positions that we have, nurses shifting where they want to work and how they want to work, more remote opportunities for nurses," Bischoff said.
Amid the fear of burnout or strain after watching nurses leave the profession, Kelly said opportunity is ripe for future nurses.
"They’re in the right profession – the sky’s the limit. Don’t want to work in a hospital? There’s other places. Don’t want to work there? There’s another,” she said.
Story by: Sophia Veneziano (740) 564 - 5243 | firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Marion Star: Tri-Rivers LPN to RN nursing program equipping nursing's future