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Date: Wed, Feb 12th, 2020

Great Falls College’s LPN program approved as part-time option

Great Falls College MSU's practical nursing program has been approved to provide a part-time option so that students can take four semesters to complete the program instead of two.

GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- Critical access hospitals and other medical facilities across the state and nation face a shortage of licensed practical nurses.

One potential solution came late last month when the Montana Board of Nursing approved Great Falls College MSU to offer a part-time practical nurse track that will allow certified nursing assistants and others interested in advancing in their careers to continue working while pursuing a career in nursing.

Michael Wemple, administrator at The Living Center in Stevensville, is excited about the part-time option for employees at places like the long-term care facility he oversees in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula.

"Staff retention is the biggest challenge facing long-term care facilities in Montana and across the country," Wemple said. "The best way to recruit and retain the best staff is by giving them a career ladder opportunity so that they do not feel they are working with low advancement ceiling. The distance learning licensed practical nurse program allows us to partner with Great Falls College and the prospective nurse and provide assistance and a career while they are earning their degree. Most aspiring nurses in our area who did not join a program right out of high school simply have too many responsibilities and financial obligations and are unable to join the program without also working."

Simply put, it was much too much to ask students to work even part-time while taking a rigorous academic load that requires a commitment of about 50 to 60 hours a week for a school year.

"That is unsustainable for someone who is working more than just a few hours a week," said Lauren Swant, nursing program director at Great Falls College. "We started to notice high attrition rates after each semester and heard that many just couldn't handle the workload of a pretty tough curriculum while working, so we wanted to offer both a full-time and a part-time track."

The part-time track will allow students to take four semesters instead of two to complete the nursing program coursework. It will be available in both a distance learning option online and in the face-to-face setting at Great Falls College's campus on the south side of the Electric City.

Great Falls College already is the state's largest practical nursing program and the only one to offer acute care clinical, which is critical for those in rural areas. Nurses in the program pass their licensure exams at a 95 to 100 percent rate, which is 10 to 15 percent better than the national average, Swant said. Graduates have 100 percent employment placement.

Kendra Puckett, emergency department director and manager of immediate care and family medicine at Great Falls Clinic, also is excited about the part-time track.

"We certainly have had difficulties even getting LPN applicants, and there is a huge shortage," Puckett said. "But a lot of them are needing to still work; allowing that opportunity should give us a larger pool."
She said it especially will make it easier for those who already are working at the Clinic, such as CNAs.

"If we have them in our organization (already), we can work with them on their work schedule and see them come back to us in a licensed form, which would be great," she said.

In Stevensville, Wemple hopes he will be able to better hold on to valuable staff members as the average practical nurse makes about $20.65 an hour.

Applications become available for Great Falls College's competitive programs, such as nursing, the week of Feb. 14 at The Great Falls College Practical Nursing Program accepts 30 students every fall, to include face-to-face, distance, part-time, and full-time students.

"The unfortunate hurdle to finding people who have what it takes to succeed in (Long Term Care) is that they do not have the ability to leave their established lives in order to pursue a degree," Wemple said.

Sometimes this is a geographical issue and sometimes this is a monetary issue. More often than not it's both. This distance learning model removes that barrier and allows anyone with the right work ethic to achieve their goals and become who they were meant to be rather than who they were forced into being by life circumstances."

For more information, please contact:

Lauren Swant
Nursing Program Director
Phone: 406.771.4358

Scott Thompson
Communications and Marketing Director
Phone: 406.771.4314

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Record Number: 662