Care for patients in health care settings as a licensed practical Nurse (LPN)

Nurse

Career spotlight: Licensed practical nurse

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are nurses who have passed an accredited practical nursing program and the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-PN. An LPN works one on one with patients to keep them comfortable and collect information for registered nurses (RNs) and physicians. If you're looking for a rewarding job, consider training for a career as an LPN.

What does a licensed practical nurse do?

Responsibilities

An LPN job description will vary depending on where you work. The responsibilities for an LPN at a nursing home, for example, will prove different from the responsibilities for an LPN who provides in-home care or who works at a hospital or doctor's office. As an LPN, you might have to perform the following duties:

  • Register or admit new patients to a health care facility.
  • Take medical histories for new patients to learn about their previous health issues, any genetic predispositions, and medicines they may take.
  • Answer questions from patients and their family members about their diagnoses, tests, or procedures.
  • Help registered nurses, RNs, and other health care providers develop plans of care for patients.
  • Check patients' vital signs and record data on their health records.
  • Call or email patients to deliver test results and doctors' orders.
  • Update and audit patients' health records for accuracy and thoroughness.
  • Observe patients for reactions to medications or treatments.
  • Administer vaccinations and other injections.
  • Help patients take other types of medications.
  • Delegate tasks to non-licensed nursing professionals, such as certified nursing assistants.
  • Protect patients' rights and serve as patients' advocates.
  • Help patients understand their treatment options.
  • Educate patients on healthy lifestyle habits and encourage patients to stop unhealthy habits.
  • Explain paperwork and documentation for easy understanding.
  • Provide wound care and dressing.
  • Transfer data and information from hard copies to computer systems.

Work environment

Most LPNs work in a health care facility, such as a hospital, nursing home, assisted care facility, or doctor's office. In this type of job, you'll spend much of your day moving from one part of a facility to another, regardless of whether you're checking on patients or giving them treatments.

In a hospital, you'll likely see patients in a particular wing or department, such as pediatric, geriatric, or intensive care. Most hospitals have nursing stations where LPNs and other nurses keep their files and do administrative tasks, but you'll likely spend much of your time on your feet as you visit patients.

If you take an LPN job in a doctor's office, you'll greet patients at their appointment times, record their vital signs, and escort them to their rooms. Office environments vary widely in terms of size and layout, so some offices might demand more walking than others.

Depending on where you work, you might face high levels of stress, especially if you work with patients in emergency situations. Some patients might get angry when physicians and other health care professionals are late, and LPNs must often find creative ways to maintain the schedule.

Some LPNs work in home care, which means you'll visit patients in their homes to administer medications, perform exams, and ensure their well-being. You might face tasks that demand more physical strength and coordination, such as helping patients dress, eat, and bathe.

Schedule

At 24-hour facilities, you might work eight- or 12-hour days, depending on the facility's scheduling preferences. For example, some full-time nurses work three 12-hour days as a full schedule, while others add another four-hour shift to make sure they reach 40 hours every week. Some may also work five standard eight-hour shifts.

If you work at a 24-hour facility, you'll probably have to work swing and graveyard shifts, which involve evening and overnight hours. At a doctor's office, you'll likely enjoy more standard hours. Some employers let LPNs set their own schedules, while others take a more active role in assigning shifts to employees.

What qualifications are required to be a licensed practical nurse?

Education

To become an LPN, you must graduate from a state board-approved nursing school program. Most programs take about one year, during which time you'll learn clinical and administrative skills. When looking for schools, look for accreditation information and verify that information with your local authority to make sure you don't spend money on a school that won't allow you to pursue your career.

You can attend nursing school online or in the classroom. Some schools offer hybrid programs, which means that you complete your theoretical work online — such as learning about anatomy and terminology — but visit physical classrooms for practical instruction.

Most schools advertise their NCLEX-PN pass rates. A high pass rate could indicate high quality instruction because the school has prepared its students well for the LPN exam. You can also rate schools based on tuition costs and instruction biographies.

After you graduate from a nursing program, you'll take the NCLEX-PN exam. If you don't pass the test on the first try, you can retake the exam. Once you pass, you can apply for an LPN license or a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) license if you work in Texas or California.

Experience

Every employer, such as a hospital or doctor's office, sets its own requirements for nursing candidates. Some facilities and employers will want LPNs with more experience, while others will hire professionals for their first jobs. You don't need any previous clinical experience to gain employment.

As you gain more experience, however, you might have opportunities to increase your salary and gain supervisory roles.

Skills

LPNs need several skills to succeed in their caregiving and administrative roles, including:

Clinical skills

  • Giving injections: You must know how to administer injections and other medications, plus how to start intravenous lines.
  • Wounds: Depending on where you work, you might have to clean, medicate, and dress wounds.
  • Patient care: Your job might require you to give baths, help patients change clothes, and perform other patient care duties.
  • Catheterization: Inserting, removing, and cleaning catheter sites often are part of duties of an LPN job description.
  • CPR: You must know how to perform CPR correctly.
  • Observation: LPNs must often observe and evaluate patients both when they first arrive at a health care facility and during treatment.
  • Vital signs: As an LPN, you'll have to record patients' vital signs, including blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respiration rate.

Administrative skills

  • Communication: You'll have to communicate clearly and effectively with patients, other nursing professionals, physicians, and patients' family members.
  • Technology: In addition to learning standard office programs, such as word processing and spreadsheet manipulation, knowing how to use electronic health records (EHRs), will make LPNs more attractive to potential employers.
  • Decision-making: You'll have to make fast, responsible decisions about patient care, including decisions about when to involve another health care provider.
  • Education: Knowing how to identify learning styles and explain complex subjects clearly allows you to educate your patients about their treatment, medications, tests, and other health needs.
  • Safety: You must know infection-control procedures and other safety and security protocols to keep patients safe.
  • Data entry: Your employers might expect you to enter data from patients' charts or other sources into EHRs.

Salary expectations

If you're considering this career path, you might ask, "How much do licensed practical nurses make?" According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), LPNs earn a median salary of $43,170 per year as of 2015. Factors such as experience and place of employment can affect your salary potential.

The most experienced and in-demand LPNs can earn $59,510 or more, while entry-level professionals receive around $32,040. LPNs who work for the government or for private nursing homes often command the highest salaries.

Job outlook for licensed practical nurses

Projected growth

According to the BLS, nursing jobs for LPNs will grow 16 percent between 2014 and 2024. The aging population combined with the increase in people with health care insurance coverage will drive this career field's growth. Additionally, the BLS reports that more people suffer from chronic disease than in earlier generations, a situation which could impact health care demand.

Career trajectory

LPNs can take many career paths in the health care industry. Your advancement options depend on the environment where you choose to work. For instance, if you find employment with a large facility, such as a hospital or nursing home, you might get promoted to a supervisory position. You might direct caregiving staff, make schedules, and delegate tasks.

Fewer advancement opportunities exist in smaller facilities, but you might look for certifications that make you attractive to employers' specialties. You can also look for jobs that involve administrative and clerical duties.

LPNs and LVNs give patients a friendly face to see and expert care. If you're looking for a career opportunity or change, consider applying for nursing school so you can get your LPN or LVN credentials and start searching for a rewarding career opportunity.