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Put smiles on your patients' faces as a licensed practical nurse (LPN)

CareerBuilder | October 1, 2017

Insider Advice from a Licensed Practical Nurses

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are the unsung heroes of the health care profession. They're often the first person a patient sees when he or she enters a doctor's office or hospital. Additionally, they're responsible for helping patients through treatments, exams, diagnoses, vaccinations, and other procedures in a health care setting.

Because they have many work opportunities, LPNs can custom-fit their careers to suit their needs. Some prefer to work in clinical settings, whereas others like less rigid work environments. Angela Pierro, an LPN who works in-home care nursing, has 21 years of experience and can provide significant insight for professionals in this career.

What Is an LPN?

A licensed practical nurse, or LPN, has received a diploma from a nursing program, which takes about one year to complete. LPNs must pass state-mandated exams to receive their licenses, at which point they can start looking for jobs. If you're working as an LPN, you have already met your state's requirements, which means that you're well on your way to dominating your career path.

Because they receive less training than registered nurses, or RNs, LPNs typically have fewer responsibilities. They might work just as hard, but they don't have the training necessary to make certain kinds of health care decisions. Most report to either RNs or physicians and carry out their directives.

What does a LPN do?

What Does an LPN Do?

An LPN job description varies depending on the work environment. Pierro, for instance, works in home care, which means that she visits her patients' homes and stays with them for long periods of time to monitor their health, administer medications, and perform other duties. She says, "I have [three] different cases: two 12-hour shifts and two eight-hour shifts. I work full-time Wednesday to Saturday. I work a lot of [overtime] — at least one of my three days off."

She works with a pediatric patient as well as a patient who has ALS. For the latter, she's responsible for putting her patient on a cough assist machine, managing suctioning, and other duties. For all of her patients, she must communicate with physicians and follow doctors' orders.

How Much Does an LPN Make?

In the United States, the average LPN earns $20.75 per hour, though their income potential improves as they gain experience and prove their skills in practice. Some areas of the country offer more lucrative opportunities for LPNs than others. For instance, the average hourly wage for LPNs in New York increases to $26.50, and LPNs in Philadelphia earn an average of $25 per hour.

And you might discover that certain workplaces pay better than others. For instance, a high-end doctor's office might pay its LPNs better than a community hospital does. If you stay on top of job listings in your area, you will know when a more profitable opportunity arises.

How Can LPNs Gain Advancement Opportunities?

According to Pierro, she can't advance from her current position. She says she wants to "continue [her] education and become an RN." Though she hasn't begun that process yet, she says, "I will be enrolling in online college for pre-requisites to go on for my RN."

RN (Registered nurses) enjoy better income potential and greater autonomy in the workplace. They can perform more complicated procedures and make certain decisions without supervisor approval. If you want to make more money and gain more experience in health care, consider taking classes to get your RN credentials while you work as an LPN. Many online programs exist.

Pierro does note, however, that she has taken on supervisory roles. She says, "I have trained other nurses on specific cases. Also, I am head nurse on two of my cases." Although you can't necessarily advance beyond your LPN designation without pursuing more education, you can take on a managerial role. In fact, some LPNs double as office administrators or managers at doctors' offices.

Where Can LPNs Work?

Pierro visits her patients' homes, and she says she loves the "one-on-one" relationships. However, you can also get LPN jobs in just about any health care facility — from major hospitals to community clinics. These venues need skilled LPNs who can take medical histories, attend to basic patient care, and perform other duties.

The right environment for you depends on your personal preferences. If you prefer a workplace with fixed routines, consider working in a hospital or doctor's office. However, if you like a more dynamic work life, home care nursing might suit you as well as it does Pierro.

LPNs can also work for the military, schools, pharmacies, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and addiction clinics. Continue looking for jobs that fit your specific career goals so that you don't waste your time in a job that leaves you stressed out or unfulfilled.

What Are the Challenges and Rewards That LPNs Face?

Pierro admits that she faces a few challenges in her career. She says, "The most challenging would be that I am the only nurse in the home. At times it's challenging when transferring a patient or assessing a patient; sometimes [I] need assistance. I always try to figure out a solution by using my experience and knowledge. If I am unable to [do so], I will call my supervisor."

She also notes that "[i]t's a lot of work. Total patient care is not easy, but it's very rewarding." She says she enjoys "seeing [her] patients happy" and reassuring their loved ones that the patients have the best care possible. Though she might face daily stress, she can leave work knowing that she has made a difference in her patients' lives.

How Can LPNs Find More Fulfillment in Their Careers?

If you're struggling to find fulfillment as an LPN, Pierro advises that professionals should "keep going — don't stop until you're where you want to be." She also recommends that LPNs "always have a positive attitude."

Regardless of your career goals, you can turn your LPN credentials into a lifelong career. Alternatively, you can earn a living while you gain more education to become an RN. If you're good at your job, you'll always leave your patients with smiles on their faces.

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