Optimizing Success in LPN/LVN Education

Nursing is not for the faint of heart and the diverse roles and the many practice competencies associated with those roles demonstrate this. Faculty are often expert nurse clinicians with a passion for education, but the skills needed to become an effective educator take additional time and development effort. Teaching, though part of the nursing role across many settings, requires a separate set of competencies for the role of nurse faculty. With 2022 designated as the Year of the Nurse Educator by the National League for Nursing (NLN), Elsevier gives a special shout-out to those providing nursing education.  

This essay is particularly dedicated to faculty contributing to the development of Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs). While there are some similarities in teaching nursing across educational levels, the challenges faced by those in short or condensed programs are especially noteworthy. Faculty in practical nursing programs face unique challenges given the structure of LPN/LVN education, the process of nursing education itself, and the expected outcomes of quality educational programs. While the teaching challenges are noteworthy, the joys of teaching and the rewards experienced can provide deep personal satisfaction. We hope our teaching pearls learned along the way from two experienced nurse educators provide supportive strategies for success in your nurse educator journey.  

Timing and Resources

One of the biggest challenges for LPN/LVN faculty is the short duration available to help a student transition into a nurse. These programs are provided within an extremely short timeframe; most are structured within a three-semester schedule or within one year of full-time study. They are educationally rigorous, combining instructional class coursework, lab activities where nursing skills are practiced and evaluated, and clinicals where students gain experience in diverse healthcare settings. Students need to embrace a new way of learning, a new way of making decisions, and at times a new way of communicating within a professional environment. To help students transition, faculty support enhances student opportunities for success. Considering all that needs to be accomplished in a short timeframe, faculty need to curate the best learning resources while at the same time being aware of student engagement and stress management. Aim for the sweet spot between too many requirements and too few. Also, aim for integration and consistency in resources and expectations. Learn to optimize resources within one comprehensive learning platform, such as Evolve. This consistency enhances the opportunity to build knowledge while reducing the orientation time needed for students to navigate resources. 

As you work to build up students, ensure you take time to develop teaching skills. One of our most significant strategies for faculty success is to meet regularly with a mentor. Your mentor will help you to learn new role expectations, assist you with setting reasonable short and long-term goals, and introduce you to a plethora of teaching resources. Resources come from instructor materials that supplement student textbooks, fellow faculty having previously taught the material, informal and formal professional development opportunities, accrediting agencies and professional organizations, and at times from our students and patients. It is not possible or wise to use every story or reference provided to you. There is an abundance of learning sites and materials, so it is essential to discern resource quality and contribution to program and professional learning objectives. Again, we stress integrating learning resources to enhance students’ nursing knowledge and clinical judgment.  

Skill Development and Application

The educational process requires nursing students to develop critical thinking and clinical judgment skills in caring for patients across the lifespan. Because ‘thinking like a nurse’ is so challenging and the time for student development quite constrained, faculty need to use the best teaching approaches in class, lab, and clinical settings. Nursing practice scenarios introduced in instructional resources (such as Clinical Skills and Sherpath) can stimulate the development of high-level nursing skills within a safe yet challenging learning environment. Framing learning activities and assessments with Next Generation NCLEX® (NGN) items will help students prepare for the upcoming NCLEX-PN® licensing exam and initial professional employment. As much as possible, incorporate NCLEX-PN categories and NGN item types to support the connections between your course content and application of the material to different nursing care situations.

To supplement learning, ensure your students are aware of quality resources developed to assess their knowledge (such as HESI Exams) and provide focused remediation (such as Elsevier Adaptive Quizzing – EAQ) in areas as needed. Furthermore, consider offering additional developmental activities such as EAQ and case studies available during breaks between semesters.  

Beginning the educational process with the end in mind enhances a streamlined approach to achieving quality outcomes expected in nursing. While earlier strategies focused on optimizing resources for educating students, the next ones highlight resources for faculty development.  

Reflect and Connect

Understand you are not alone. Practice the stress management and health-promoting lifestyle practices you suggest for students. Take time for professional development. Learn as much as you can about teaching and practical/vocational nursing. Continue to use quality resources, especially those targeted toward teachers. Elsevier has a valuable overview highlighting teaching resources and requirements while also featuring an informative LPN/LVN occupational outlook. Contact your Elsevier rep to gain access to the resource. 

Reflection is not only a useful tool for student development, but it can also be quite illuminating for faculty as well. While a course is in session, learn to use resource analytics to identify student knowledge gaps and highlight teaching reinforcements needed. Keep a log as classes progress about what worked well and what may need changing. The end-of-semester course evaluations offered by students, peer reviews, or self-evaluation provide additional data for self-reflection on improvements warranted. These informative sources will be most useful as you engage in continuous course and instructional improvements.   

Participating in self-study processes for initial or continued accreditation broadens a faculty member’s understanding of the complexities of quality education. Accreditation is one marker of a quality program—the two national nursing accrediting bodies for LPN/LVN schools are ACEN (Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing) and NLN-CNEA (National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation). Conducting or supporting educational research also allows faculty to engage in improvement processes. Participant feedback from recent Elsevier studies demonstrates enthusiasm for applicable research faculty can use to enhance their teaching strategies and student learning outcomes.    

First-time NCLEX-PN pass rates are an indicator of quality educational outcomes. But the outcomes of completing an LPN/LVN education extend beyond program completion and successful NCLEX-PN passage. A career as a nurse can last a lifetime, or it can be used as a launching pad to other opportunities. Education is a well-known social determinant of health and employment opportunities for nurses are at an all-time high. There are so many areas where LPNs and LVNs can make significant contributions to the safe delivery of healthcare and find rewarding careers in many sectors. The more faculty know, the more faculty know there is still much to learn. And in doing so, we can truly optimize student success in practical/vocational nursing programs.