What is an LPN? | Licensed Practical Nurse

An LPN or licensed practical nurse provides essential bedside care to patients requiring medical assistance and physical aid.

These healthcare specialists assist patients with injuries, illnesses, mental disorders, disabilities, and medical conditions.

They also work with specialists, including CNAs, registered nurses, and physicians, to provide adequate medical care.

As a result, LPNs are essential to the healthcare system and the organizations/institutions they serve.

What Do LPNs Do?

LPNs perform numerous duties to ensure patients receive essential medical care, aid, and companionship.

These professionals often assist those with physical stress, limited mobility, and medical complications.

LPNs will measure the patient’s vitals, record/track medical histories, and report abnormalities or adverse reactions.

They’ll also assist patients with physical activities to ensure they can handle different daily functions.

For instance, LPNS helps patients get dressed, bathe, eat, walk, and perform other challenging actions.

Aside from direct care, LPNs collect and secure test samples to gather information on the patient’s health status.

In addition, they”ll attend to patients’ infants/children and advise and educate family members on providing primary care.

LPN Occupational Duties:

  • Assist patients with various movements
  • Provide basic care
  • Help with feeding, bathing, dressing, and other activities
  • Monitor and track medical histories
  • Collect and gather samples
  • Report medical concerns, issues, and reactions
  • Support registered nurses and physicians
  • Change bandages
  • Provide medications
  • Measure vitals (height, weight, temperature, blood pressure, heart rate)

Registered Nurse vs. Licensed Practical Nurse

There are numerous differences between registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.

Firstly, it takes around one year to become an LPN, whereas registered nurses spend two to four years in nursing school.

Registered nurses must also complete numerous prerequisites to gain entrance into a nursing program, which takes 1 – 2 years.

As a result, registered nurses have a much more comprehensive nursing education than licensed practical nurses.

There are numerous duties that LPNs cannot perform compared to registered nurses due to their limited scope of practice.

For instance, LPNs can assist with essential bedside duties, collect vitals and assist patients with daily tasks.

However, they cannot perform nursing assessments, conduct diagnostic tests, perform physical exams, or educate patients and families on health conditions.

Many licensed practical nurses also operate under the supervision of a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, or physician.

They support other healthcare specialists by managing simple daily tasks, enabling them to address more complex duties.

Finally, there is a sizeable difference in income and scope of practice between LPNs and RNs.

Registered nurses may earn twice the hourly rate or more of LPNs, depending on the institution and their specialization.

In addition, registered nurses specialize in over one hundred fields, whereas LPNs have few career advancement options.

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Where Do LPNs Work?

Licensed practical nurses work in various healthcare settings providing essential care to ill, injured, and disabled people.

It includes hospitals, home healthcare services, physician offices, nursing homes, and residential care facilities.

They also work with government and military facilities.

Each institution has its medical demands and requirements, allowing LPNs to assume specific roles.

However, the fundamental aspects of LPN work remain consistent.

Occupational Settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Home healthcare services
  • Physician offices
  • Nursing homes
  • Residential care facilities

How To Become An LPN | Education

Starting a career as an LPN is a fantastic way to enter the healthcare field, gain experience, and provide essential care.

Becoming an LPN is relatively straightforward.

However, it requires academic and professional discipline, a willingness to put patients first, and months of education.

The following section explores the steps necessary to become a licensed practical nurse.

1. Earn a High School Diploma, or GED

The first step to becoming an LPN is to earn a high school diploma or GED.

Before participating in the LPN program, students must be of age and have earned their diploma or GED.

Students may also need to pass prerequisite courses to enter the program.

Prerequisites include Chemistry, Anatomy & Physiology, Developmental Psychology, Microbiology, English, and math.

Nevertheless, the prerequisite courses students must satisfy depend on the school and their previous education.

Students who’ve completed these prerequisites in high school may not need to retake them to join the LPN program.

2. Join an Accredited LPN Program

Most people looking to become LPNs can obtain their license and start working within 1 – 2 years.

Students can participate in a 1-year diploma or a 2-year associate’s program, depending on their goals. 

In addition, some academic institutions/colleges offer an LPN to RN program to help LPNs transition into RN roles.

Applicants must participate in a qualified program through an accredited college, university, or private medical institute.

It ensures they receive adequate training and education to pass the NCLEX-PN exam and work as LPNs.

During the LPN program, students learn about primary patient care and how to perform practical medical skills.

They also receive an introduction to pharmacology and related topics to ensure they understand their duties effectively.

3. Pass the NCLEX-PN Exam

Once students finish the LPN program, they must pass the NCLEX-PN.

The  NCSBN administers the National Council Licensure Exam for Practical Nurses.

This exam tests the competencies of LPNs to ensure they can provide exceptional patient care and understand the academic material sufficiently.

Passing the NCLEX-PN is also necessary to obtain state licensure and operate as a licensed practical nurse.

4. Get Hired

New licensed practical nurses can start work after completing the LPN program, passing the NCLEX, and getting licensed.

As previously mentioned, it takes roughly 1 – 2 years of education and training to operate as an LPN.

Obtaining work as a new LPN with no prior career experience can be tricky.

However, numerous job boards, recruitment sites, and online resources exist to find jobs, create a resume, and practice answering hiring questions.

It’s also beneficial to consult the LPN training school to determine whether they have job placement options or employment recommendations.

The previous education, training work experience required to get employed varies depending on the healthcare institution.

For instance, hospitals often require LPNs to have several years of experience to ensure patients receive excellent care.

As a result, starting work at a nursing home or long-term care facility may help LPNs gain vital experience.

From there, they can apply to healthcare institutions offering higher salaries, better career options, and more responsibilities.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to apply to the most desired employers.

However, new LPNs need to be practical if the employer requires experience they don’t have.

Once enough experience is acquired, update the resume, get some hiring/interviewee training, and apply for the position!

Career Opportunities

Some LPNs can advance in their career through specialization or leadership roles.

It provides them opportunities to perform higher function responsibilities and earn a higher salary.

Some LPNs specialize in IV therapy, pharmacology, hospice care, immunization, and long-term care.

Those who take leadership roles manage other LPNs, certified nurse assistants, and unlicensed healthcare professionals.

LPNs are essential in ensuring patients receive adequate, timely care and attention.

As a result, they work in various healthcare settings and positions.

It includes hospitals, home healthcare centers, urgent care departments, long-term facilities, and physician offices.

They also work positions like travel nursing, offering temporary care in understaffed locations.

Career Limitations

LPNs can pursue several career paths to earn more money and take on more responsibilities.

However, there are limitations to LPNs’ advancement opportunities depending on their work and education.

For instance, LPNs cannot pursue 100+ careers available to registered nurses.

As a result, some LPNs return to school to become registered nurses or technicians.

Some colleges and universities offer LPNs the opportunity to participate in a bridge program.

It allows them to shift into registered nursing more quickly and easily.

What It Takes To Be A Great LPN

Being a great LPN requires more than fulfilling the job responsibilities.

You must be compassionate and caring to ensure patients feel supported, safe, and comfortable.

You also have to be a good listener and manage stress effectively.

In this profession, patients frequently require medical aid with various daily tasks.

As a result, you need to have a lot of patience and often support others who cannot help themselves.

You also have to deal with the physical components of being an LPN.

LPNs spend a lot of time walking, standing on their feet, and lifting and moving patients.

During a typical day, they’ll help patients shower, get dressed, and feed patients unable to provide primary self-care.

As with other professionals, LPNs must be aware of potential hazards when handling a patient.

There are various work environments where bacteria or diseases are present.

Daily Sanitary/Safety Duties:

  • Cleaning patients
  • Manage blood and urine samples
  • Applying bandages
  • Dress wounds
  • Treating open sores
  • Clean bedpans

And manage other everyday responsibilities with the utmost care and preparation.

LPNs are consistently responsible for providing primary patient care.

As a result, they work morning, evening, and night shifts alone or with other specialists like registered nurses.

LPNs also work on weekends and holidays like other healthcare positions.

While many LPNs work 40-hour shifts, some stick to part-time schedules due to personal reasons or work conditions.

Why LPNs Are Essential Healthcare Workers

LPNs serve an essential role in the medical field.

For instance, they prevent RN and physician overload by managing low-level patient needs throughout the day.

Accordingly, LPNs enable registered nurses and physicians to manage more challenging medical duties.

Because LPNs provide 24/7 support, they can always observe, manage and report minor issues and medical emergencies.

They act as the eyes and ears for healthcare specialists and inform vital medical details registered nurses and physicians.

LPNs also take on supervisor roles by managing less advanced CNAs, LPNs, and unlicensed medical care providers.

It ensures that registered nurses and physicians spend more time on high-level responsibilities.

Without LPNs, many patients would not receive the care they need in a timely, effective manner.

Registered nurses, practitioners, and physicians must also manage minor medical tasks.

Thus, it would take vital time away from patients with more significant medical needs.

LPNs fill a critical gap that would otherwise leave patients with less care, longer wait times, and limited oversight.

How Many Hours Do LPNs Work?

LPNs typically work 40 hours per week.

However, some licensed practical nurses function part-time or overtime to earn extra money.

LPNs also work 8-hour shifts in many nursing homes and residential settings.

Sometimes, they perform 12-hour shifts in hospitals or careers requiring longer working days.

 Because LPNs are essential healthcare workers, they operate 24/7 in various healthcare facilities.

As a result, they work the day, evening, and night shifts and on weekends.

They also work on holidays and special occasions.

Can LPNs Diagnose Patients?

No, licensed practical nurses cannot diagnose their patient’s conditions.

These healthcare providers deliver primary bedside care to ensure patients receive adequate support and attention.

However, they cannot perform a diagnosis, develop treatment plans, prescribe medications, or handle complex medical tasks.

Performing a diagnosis requires extensive education, training, and analytical skills.

Most healthcare professionals who diagnose patients hold at least a master’s degree in their respective discipline.

As a result, LPNs and registered nurses cannot diagnose a patient’s condition.

Nurse practitioners, mental health professionals, physicians, and MDs diagnose patients within their scope of practice. 

Can LPNs Prescribe Medication?

LPNs cannot prescribe medications to patients.

They can only distribute oral and IV medications under a registered nurse or physician’s supervision.

Prescribing medication requires extensive education, training, and specialization.

Before a medication can be prescribed, the patient must be accurately diagnosed.

As a result, nurse practitioners and physicians prescribe medications within the limitations of their prescriptive authority.

Career Outlook

Projected job growth for LPNs is approximately 9%, According to BLS.gov.

That said, there are numerous reasons to become an LPN.

Firstly, full-time licensed practical nurses earn a good salary on average.

They also receive medical benefits and other incentives to work in their profession.

The healthcare industry is reasonably recession-proof because everyone needs medical aid and support.

As a result, LPN work is relatively stable, allowing individuals to find and maintain employment quickly.

Becoming an LPN is a fantastic way to quickly enter the field for those interested in learning more about nursing.

It enables aspiring registered nurses to gain experience and determine whether it’s the right career for them.

It’s also less expensive than spending several years in nursing school.

There are LPN to RN bridge programs for those who decide to become registered nurses.

These programs allow LPNs to transition into licensed registered nurses more quickly and effectively.

Importantly, those who become registered nurses have numerous career opportunities.

For instance, registered nurses work in hospitals, urgent care centers, physician offices, emergency departments, and government facilities.

They also operate in non-bedside care occupations that concentrate on areas outside of direct patient care.

It includes education, research, forensics, legal consulting, entrepreneurship, and informatics.