A bridge on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus, seen on Friday, bears messages thanking health care workers. The bridge links UAA’s Engineering and Industry Building on the north side of Providence Drive with UAA’s Health Sciences Building on the south side of Providence Drive. Health care worker shortages are putting demands on the health programs at UAA and the rest of the University of Alaska system. A new licensed professional nursing program for the University of Alaska Fairbanks was approved by the university’s Board of Regents. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
A new program to educate licensed practical nurses is headed to Fairbanks, an initiative that comes in response to pleas from overburdened health care organizations.
The University of Alaska Board of Regents on Friday approved the startup of the certificate program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Community and Technical College.
Licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, are medical professionals who generally work under the supervision of doctors and more highly trained registered nurses. LPNs generally carry out routine medical-care tasks, though they do not make diagnoses or prescribe medication.
The one-year LPN program is to start in the coming fall semester, said UAF Chancellor Daniel White. Eight to 10 students are expected to enroll in the beginning of the program, and UAF will be working to gain accreditation for it, he said. Over time, the program is expected to grow and could potentially expand to UAF’s rural campuses, he said.
The University of Alaska Anchorage has a School of Nursing to educate aspiring registered nurses in various parts of the state, and UAF’s Community and Technical College already has a program to train certified nurse aides, who provide personal care to patients.
“In between those two are LPNs,” White said. “That was a missing component in opportunities for Alaskans and opportunities for the health care sector.”
Currently, Alaska’s health care providers spend a lot of money bringing itinerant nurses, including LPNs, into the state, White said. A UAF program to train LPNs at home thus provides benefits to health organizations, and potentially quick benefits, he said.
There are also opportunities to build more advanced nursing careers. In many cases, certified LPNs choose to continue their education and training and become registered nurses, just as certified nursing aides often progress to becoming nurses themselves.
“But there are a lot of certified nursing aides that are needed just as certified nurse aides, and it’s the same for LPNs,” White said.
Outside of the University of Alaska, Alaska Pacific University, a small private institution bordering the UAA campus, has the only operating LPN training program in Alaska. That program is still awaiting accreditation, according to APU’s website.
Alaska was struggling with a nursing shortage even prior to the arrival of COVID-19. But the pandemic made the shortage worse, according to University of Alaska officials.
The institution has, in response, worked to expand its established nursing programs, said University of Alaska President Pat Pitney. However, because it is new, the LPN program at UAF needed approval from the regents to get started, Pitney said.
The University of Alaska is already a big player in health care. Of the nearly 3,600 degrees awarded at the end of the spring 2022 semester, 23% were related to health, according to a new analysis by the McKinley Research Group. The health category topped all others among degrees awarded last year, according to the report, which was presented at Friday’s regents meeting. The category in second place was science, technology, engineering and math, and in third place was the category of teacher education and liberal arts degrees; each of those categories accounted for about 21% of the degrees awarded, according to the report.
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