A licensed practical nurse (LPN) handles a large spectrum of direct patient care that includes the planning, implementation and assessment of nursing care. LPNs often work in hospitals and doctors' offices as part of a team of health care providers, but there are many other health care settings that need LPNs to deliver patient care as well. A few states use the term "licensed vocational nurse (LVN)," but LPN is more commonly used.
The duties a licensed practical nurse or LVN may perform are just as varied. They may be asked to measure and record vital signs or be involved in teaching healthy habits to a group of patients. Read on to discover more about the various duties and work environments available to LPNs.
Day in the Life of a Licensed Practical Nurse
On a typical day, a licensed practical nurse may perform duties such as:
- Monitoring changes in symptoms and conditions
- Administering medications and therapeutic treatments
- Reporting adverse reactions to medications or treatments
- Supporting patient rehabilitation
- Coordinating patient care and documentation with physicians and other nurses
Many LPNs work in hospitals and clinics but are also necessary in health care settings with different sets of patients, requiring varying kinds of nursing care. LPNs can be found working in:
- Public schools
- Rehabilitation facilities
- Extended care facilities
- Industrial/occupational health centers
- Employment services
- Community care facilities
- Outpatient care centers
- Home health care services
- Federal, state and local government agencies
Here are some examples of LPN work environments other than in a hospital or clinic:
An LPN in a long-term care facility provides care to elderly patients, many of whom are fragile and prone to falling, suffer from chronic medical issues and take many medications. These health care professionals tend to know their patients well. Some tasks are routine (e.g., dispensing medication, monitoring feeding tubes) but emergencies arise quickly and often.
At a rehabilitation hospital specializing in brain injury and orthopedics, an LPN does similar tasks for injured patients of various ages who move on once their rehab is complete.
Still another LPN is the director of a nurse training program at a company that trains people to become home health aides, homemakers, and certified nursing assistants and provides them with certification. This professional may also be pursuing the next level in a nursing degree. While there may no longer be direct contact with patients, this person finds working with nursing students to be rewarding.
Important Characteristics for Licensed Practical Nurses
Successful LPNs share some common characteristics. They feel natural compassion toward patients' pain and suffering. They must communicate clearly and listen carefully as they work with patients, families, doctors, and other nurses. Excellent decision-making skills and problem-solving skills are key to this job; this includes the ability to think on one's feet as a patient's medical status changes. LPNs need to take care of themselves, both physically and mentally, so they can meet the demands of their job without burning out.
Typical Steps for Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse
It is important to understand the LPN or LVN education requirements from the start. Here is how to become an LPN, step by step:
- Earn a high school diploma. Most LPN schools and training programs require a high school diploma or equivalent, although some may accept students without a diploma. Some programs are also offered as part of a high school curriculum for students who want to get a head start on their nursing careers.
- Find the right LPN school for you. Licensed practical nurses must complete a state-approved training program in practical nursing, with programs ranging from 7 to 24 months in length, and the average lasting about one year. Your state's board of nursing can provide a list of approved LPN programs. Career education is available in technical, vocational and community colleges as well as in some universities.
- Study and work hard. Nursing programs combine classroom study (to teach basic nursing concepts and patient care) with clinical practice, which is supervised patient care, usually taught in a hospital.
- Pass the NCLEX-PN exam. After graduation, LPN candidates must pass the NCLEX-PN, a computer-based exam. Testing and licensure requirements can vary by state; so before you apply to take the NCLEX-PN, be sure you have completed the appropriate LPN education requirements where you plan to practice.
- Seek advancement opportunities. Once you're a certified LPN, you can take steps to advance your career. Some hospitals offer LPNs the opportunity to work on IV teams, as treatment or special procedure nurses, and in critical care settings. Continuing education is a requirement in some states and for some employers; it will also help you stay abreast of new developments in nursing and health care.
- Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm
- Summary Report - Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2061.00