If you’ve made it this far, you’ve discovered that there are several ways to start a career as a nurse. The fact that there is a huge demand for nurses in the coming years is great news given “USA Today”—and other publications—continue to report on a worldwide nursing shortage.
And while jumping into a bachelor’s degree is a great opportunity for some, it is certainly not for everyone. So the more options that exist to get nurses into scrubs, the better.
One long-standing, popular nursing track is to become a licensed practical nurse. LPN jobs are expected to grow at 25 percent through 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s even more than the 19 percent expected for RNs and well over the national average of 11 percent.
The 12-month time-frame for a practical nursing diploma is often a deciding factor for those considering LPN careers versus the two- and four-year registered nursing degree programs. LPNs generally have a shorter career trajectory than RNs and many colleges offer LPN-to-RN bridge programs that allow practical nurses to continue their education.
Now you know the facts. LPN jobs are growing. Diplomas can be earned in about a year. The option to move on to an RN degree is readily available. That’s all great, but what does an LPN actually do and how does the work differ from other nurses?
We talked to three LPNs working in the field and found out.
Role of an LPN
LPNs provide patient care in a variety of healthcare settings. They are most often found in nursing homes, group homes, private homes or similar locations. They often work under the supervision of an RN or doctor and may be responsible for the oversight of nursing aides.
LPN job duties
LPNs are held accountable for a range of patient care and administrative tasks, including:
- Taking and recording patient vitals
- Administering medications
- Answering patient questions over the phone
- Assembling equipment such as catheters, gastrostomy (feeding) tubes and oxygen supplies
What do LPNs do in a nursing home?
Current LPN, Jenny Hester, has four years of experience working in an elderly care setting. She works with long-term care residents administering medications, taking vitals and coordinating care with families.
This can include a range of tasks from assisting patients with changing their clothes to lending an ear to someone who has a story and most prominently completing that patient’s charts. Every day is different, says Hester, and she enjoys learning new skills on the job. Most recently she learned how to drain a chest tube!
What do LPNs do in a group home?
Group home facilities typically house adults with mental illness, developmental disabilities or other factors that restrict them from living on their own. Much of a nurse’s care in this type of setting surrounds maintaining the patient’s overall treatment care plan.
Current LPN, Kate Swanson, has been working with patients in group homes for 18 months. She is responsible for reviewing psychiatric paperwork, medical information and coordinating care. She currently has 36 adults assigned to her care across multiple facilities.
Her day-to-day responsibilities may include bringing a patient to a doctor appointment, administering medication or even conducting training sessions for the staff to work with specialized diagnoses such as diabetes or epilepsy. She says the best part of her job is “getting to know the clients.” Getting to work with the patients in their own homes offers a more personal perspective, Swanson says. It’s something you don’t experience in a larger facility.
What do LPNs do in a corrections facility?
Unique nursing opportunities are not limited to RNs. Practical nurses are needed at a variety of alternative settings like corrections facilities. As you may have expected, corrections patients often have much different requirements than elderly or long-term care patients.
Current LPN, Emily Zrust, works in a maximum security prison in Minnesota. She is assigned to a “station” at the start of her day which indicates what type of work she will be doing. Stations can range anywhere from post-operative recovery to chemotherapy treatment to wound recovery.
She cares for up to 70 patients daily. Some of the most common injuries she sees include fractures from prison fights, suicide attempts and even puncture wounds from police dog bites. Her tasks in these situations include wound dressings, gastronomy tube feedings and drain care. Since the facility has many of the resources of a typical hospital, she is at times even responsible for running her own lab work on site.
Working in corrections can be challenging, Zrust says, because you always have to be on your guard. For example, if a prisoner collapses in the yard, nurses have to wait for officers to restrain him or her before moving in to perform CPR or other treatment. The prisoner may be faking an illness with the intent of causing harm to the caretakers or guards.
Because of the expanded responsibilities—Zrust completed a 3-month training course to be qualified to work in the facility. But it is well worth it to her. The opportunity to work in advanced capacities that are non-traditional for other LPNs makes for a lot of unique experiences.
To sum it up
With so many acronyms and specialties in the field of nursing, you are not the first person to wonder, what does an LPN do? They are integral components of the healthcare field. And with so many options in front of them, there are a lot of advantages to being an LPN.
Do you see yourself in a role that requires patience, attention to detail and only 12 months of training to become licensed? If these job descriptions pique your interest, visit Rasmussen College’s practical nursing program page.
If you are still on the fence about which nursing path is right for you, find out more about the differences between practical nursing and professional nursing.