During National Nurses Week, VNHCH Adopts New Strategies to Train and Recruit Nurses

May 9, 2022

National Nurses Week takes place May 6 – 12. It’s a special time set aside to thank nurses for their tireless hard work. National Nurses Week ends on May 12, which is the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. She became well-known while taking care of wounded soldiers during the Crimean War.

Much as Florence Nighingale represented a new approach to care in her time, so do today’s nursing practices illustrate the evolution of the training of nurses across all healthcare settings. Visiting Nurse Home Care & Hospice of Carroll County and Western Maine (VNHCH) is adapting to the changing landscape in order to shepherd the next generation of nurses.

Today, it’s impossible to talk about nursing without discussing it in the context of COVID-19. The pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to all healthcare workers. Due to stress, burnout and other factors, many have retired, quit, or moved to nursing jobs not requiring direct patient care. The result is that agencies like VNHCH are pivoting to alter how care is delivered and how nurses are trained and recruited.

Kelly Peckham, RN, VNHCH’s clinical director, spoke hopefully about the return of senior clinical rotations with nursing students from White Mountain Community College (WMCC) starting in spring semester 2023. Due to COVID-19, these have not taken place since 2019. Kelly explained their value: “In the past, we would have nursing students ride along with us and be involved in the visits, doing vital signs, wound care, involved in teaching and to get some experience in what being a nurse in home care is like. It has piqued student interest. One of our current RNs, Melissa Rendleman RN works for us now, and when she was a student, she did this as part of her senior clinical.” 

Kelly also recently spoke to the senior class of RN Associates Degree students at the White Mountain Community College. “We talked about all that we do in the home. Students may not have a true realization of the technical skills that we use in home care. We discussed the interesting and advanced skills in the home, be it wound vacs or tracs, IV antibiotics, TPNs  … things that students and even current nurses don’t realize that we do in the home setting. It’s not just going out and taking blood pressure readings and cutting toenails! We do a lot more than that.”

Sarah Baillargeon, RN, registered nurse and coordinator of WMCC’s nursing program, explained, “We have to teach nurses to run towards whatever the world sends us.”

“There is a value in a home health clinical setting. Students learn nurse self-leadership. They see a different patient relationship. In critical care, the relationship is with the family as the patient is usually so sick. In home care, it’s more of a lifelong relationship. From a nurse educator’s point of view, students have that experience and get to see people in the field who have those relationships. It’s different than acute and critical care. It’s not the ‘high’ of the emergency coming through the ER door, or the patient in ICU who needs powerful drugs or a vent. The relationship is different. It’s important that students experience that.”

While RN training is critical, healthcare is increasingly turning to LPNs (licensed practical nurses) to fill the nursing ranks. Kelly continued, “As a society, we’ve drifted away from LPNs. There has been more focus on MAs (Medical Assistants) and RNs. But with the change in the workforce, there is a need for LPNs. There are many things that LPNs can do just like an RN, and the schooling is less demanding. For someone who doesn’t want to take the big challenge of 2-year nursing program on top of the prereqs, they can get into an LPN program and finish in 12 months, and still come out with exceptional skills and knowledge to help our community members. Home care agencies and healthcare facilities are now looking to fill positions with LPNs.”

VNHCH is partnering with Sarah Baillargeon and WMCC to encourage their LNAs (licensed nursing assistants) to be part of the college’s new LPN training program. Kelly shared, “We have a couple of staff members who are interested in applying to the program. Both were originally LNAs. We are open to working with our staff and adjusting their schedule so they can attend school and still work, and then have a career path within the agency once they graduate.”

Sarah stated, “There’s been a lot of legislative concern that LPNs are a dying breed of nursing. You can still get your LPN here (at WMCC), but we are an RN program. The legislature decided, if we had funding, one of the rural community colleges could offer it.” Now thanks to new satellite sites in the Lakes Region and Littleton, students in North Conway can pursue an LPN with an 8-hour class one day a week; an 8-hour clinical day; and then work the rest of the week or study. The program takes place over spring, summer and fall semesters, and then students sit for their nursing boards in December. To date, the program has a 100% pass rate for its LPN licensure test.

Sarah continued, “I see us going back to the old days when LPNs were part of the nursing practice. 35 years ago, LPNs had a huge responsibility in doctors’ offices, long-term care, and acute care settings. We as nurses changed the value and we lost those people. If we want to ‘fill the holes’ in nursing, we have to think out of the box.”

Providing these new nurses with the lifestyle and work-life balance they need is a key differentiator for home care agencies looking to recruit LPNs and RNs. Kelly explained why home care is the desired choice for many nurses today. “Home care is a good choice due to flexibility. We are not a 7am – 7pm shift like at a hospital. If you need flexibility for personal needs, if you need to get scheduled early or later in the day, we are flexible with an accommodating schedule for a work-life balance. You are able to spend more time with clients than you would in a facility, so nurses are able to form a relationship with a client. It’s a very supportive environment.”For more information on White Mountain Community College’s Nursing programs, visit them online at https://www.wmcc.edu/program/nursing/. To learn more about careers at VNHCH, visit their jobs page online: https://www.vnhch.org/about/jobs/ or call 603-356-7006.