A licensed practical nurse (LPN) in Florida, Sharon Glynn serves as the director of programming for the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness. In this non-clinical role, she helps spearhead programs that educate medical professionals and the public about the dangers of eating disorders. Sharon also connects at-risk individuals with specialists and helps run support groups.
She entered the nursing field in 2004 after a long career as a paralegal. In this interview with Career Colleges, Sharon explains the versatility of LPNs and why students entering the field should think outside the box.
Q. What made you want to become a LPN?
A. I had always wanted to become a nurse as a child. I got sidetracked, because my grandparents who helped raise me had different ideas. I went into the legal profession, and I was a paralegal for 20 years.
When my husband and I decided to relocate to Florida in 2001, I found a position as a paralegal but really just felt like it wasn't what I wanted to do anymore. I talked to my husband and told him I really wanted to follow my passion. I've always loved care giving. I've always loved being that person to go to in an emergency. So I decided to go back to school, and I felt going back and getting my LPN [license] was the smartest initial move for me.
Q. What training did you receive before beginning your career?
A. I went to what is now Palm Beach State College -- it was Palm Beach Community College at the time. I didn't have to do any prerequisites because I had previous education. I just had to take entrance exams for the program. I was accepted, so I went and completed the program at Palm Beach State. I did medical surgery, pediatrics, and OB/GYN -- and went through the whole medical rotation for both clinical and classroom.
Q. What is a typical workday like?
A. I have a dual role now. I've had several different positions since I graduated from school, but this position I am in currently is really quite amazing.
I go into the schools, and I talk about the dangers of eating disorders. I talk about body image and self-esteem with middle schoolers, high schoolers and college kids. I train health care professionals -- doctors, dentists, nurses, MAs, LPNs -- on eating disorders including how to assess, how to diagnose, and where to refer these patients. I also get to do peer counseling with people who need help either getting through the day or getting through the week.
I also am able to refer people to providers in the area who are eating disorders specialists. I get to connect people with the physicians and the therapists and the nutritionists who can get them on the path to recovery.
Q. What kind of hours do you work and how are those scheduled? Also, how are weekends and holidays handled?
A. I work a typical workweek and don't come in weekends or holidays. There are a few nights during the week I am here as well because I co-facilitate two support groups. I co-facilitate a group for family and friends of those suffering with eating disorders as well as a female adolescent support group for 14- to 17-year-old high school girls.
For those who work in a clinical setting, most LPNs definitely work on the weekends and holidays. In the state of Florida, most hospitals do not hire LPNs, so LPNs are working in assisted living facilities, nursing homes, or rehab facilities - or are doing home care. In those facilities, LPNs rotate in and out of weekends, and they are doing holidays.
Q. How have you grown in your role from previous years?
A. I quickly realized I did not want to be in a nursing home or rehab facility because I wanted my weekends to myself. My initial alternate route was to do home health care which I loved because I could set my own schedule. I did that for quite some time, and then I went into a medical office setting. I ran the allergy division for a local ENT doctor, and that was just Monday through Friday.
Q. What are some tips for someone trying to find work as an LPN?
A. For the most part, it is going out and looking. It is also networking and staying involved in the community.
There are so many facets available to use your LPN [license]. Think out of the box a little. Don't think that just because it's a doctor's office, they won't hire an LPN. Many doctor offices look for LPNs because they have more certifications and a higher degree of licensing than an MA [medical assistant].
Consider working for a nonprofit -- the Red Cross, the American Heart Association, the March of Dimes -- there are positions everywhere. Work in the schools as a school nurse, and then you definitely have holidays, weekends and summers off.
There is a lot out there. It's just thinking outside that box.
Q. What have you done since qualifying to improve your skill? What certifications do you have?
A. At least at the school I was in, you didn't graduate with your phlebotomy or IV certification, so I immediately went and got those two. The phlebotomy was a one-day course. The IV certification was a weekend course -- two eight-hour days and minimal cost.
I also think it is important to keep up on the trends in your field. For example, I am working on becoming certified by an agency called the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals. It's just another thing that is going to make me the go-to person and make me more attractive to other employers. The key is to always expand your knowledge.
Q. What do you wish you knew starting out in your career that you know now?
A. I wish I had known that there are so many avenues open. Upon graduating from school, the mindset of the educators and students was to go back to the nursing home or rehab [facility] where you last did your clinical. So it was very "that's where you have to be" and "that's what LPNs do," and I found out later that's not the case.
Q. What is your favorite part about your job?
A. My favorite thing about my current job is that I get to help people who are in distress from their eating disorder. I get to talk to them to find out what their needs are and how I can help them. I get to put them in the hands of a therapist and nutritionist who are going to guide them on the path to recovery. It's pretty amazing to see someone who is on the brink of disaster come full circle a year and a half later. Knowing you've helped facilitate that is incredible.
Q. What is one thing you like least about being an LPN?
A. It would have to be the lack of respect from other health care professionals as well as some in our community. People don't understand when we talk about the scope of practice, that there is really only one main difference between us and RNs. We go through almost the same training. We are just as qualified, and we are professionals -- yet the pay scale difference is tremendous between an LPN and an RN.
Q. What is the exact difference between your job and an RN's?
A. It does vary from state to state as to what our scope of practice is, and we are bound by our scope of practice. However, in the state of Florida, the only real difference is that as an LPN I cannot put in a central line IV and an RN can.
Q. What are some benefits you enjoy at work?
A. I think anyone who goes into the profession goes into it with very altruistic values. You are not going to be a nurse if you don't want to be a care giver, and you don't want to help people. I think that's what you take out of it.
I did hospice [work] for a while. If you can sit with a family and hold everyone's hand while they are saying goodbye to their loved one and have them feel some kind of peace about it, there is nothing better than that. There is nothing better than knowing you helped somebody through the most difficult time of their life.
Q. Tell me of a difficult real-life situation you were in at work and describe how you dealt with it.
A. I was working in the allergy division for an ENT [doctor]. The doctor was a much-older female with very strong ideas of who the doctor was and who the nurse was.
A patient came into my office. She had just seen the doctor, and she had a prescription for penicillin. She wasn't feeling well, so I didn't want to do her allergy shots. I was looking at her chart and saw that she was allergic to penicillin.
I went into the doctor's office and said, "Dr. XYZ, I don't know if you might have been distracted when you wrote this, but I wanted you to see there is a sticker on this patient's chart that she is allergic to penicillin. So I brought the script back in case you want to rewrite it." That's exactly how I said it. She grabbed the script out of my hand, tore it up and said, "Oh Miss Smarty-Pants, I guess I should thank you." And I just looked at her and said, "Yeah, you should, because it wouldn't have been very pretty if that patient had taken the prescription for penicillin." And I gave my two-weeks notice that afternoon.
Q. What medical procedures have you assisted in?
A. LPNs can assist in basically anything other than central line IVs. I've done ostomy care; I've done tracheostomy care. When I was a home health nurse, I was a wound care nurse.
So there are many, many, many things you can do. When I was in the ENT office, I counseled people on their allergens and foods to avoid and environments to avoid. I prepared the allergy serums as well. There are so many things you can do as an LPN.
Q. What skills are most valuable for an LPN job?
A. Your clinical skills have to be top notch. And your people skills -- you have to be able to relate to your coworkers, and you have to be able to relate to the patients and the patients' families. So I would say clinical skills and social skills.
Q. What kind of advice would you give a new student going through an LPN/LVN program?
A. The advice I would have is to work as hard as you can. If the places where you are doing your clinicals hire LPNs or LVNs, make sure you get noticed. Make sure you find out who are the right people to talk to there. Make sure before you leave there -- perhaps not on school time -- you go in and have a conversation with their HR department. Tell them you've had a wonderful experience and are wondering if upon graduation you could come in and fill out an application.
Be proactive. You will set your own future. And again, that whole think out of the box thing. You are not plugged into just working where people think LPNs have to be. There is a lot more out there.
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