What Does an LPN Do? A Closer Look at These Versatile Caregivers
The nursing shortage continues on, and you’re ready to help. You’ve known that a career in nursing would be a great fit for you, but you’re hesitant to spend the next four years in school obtaining a Bachelor’s degree when you want to be out on the floor making an impact as soon as possible.
What many people new to the field might not know is that there are actually many paths to becoming a nurse. One long-standing, popular track you may have seen is to become an LPN. So what does “LPN” mean? LPN stands for licensed practical nurse—though it should be noted in some states this role is referred to as a licensed vocational nurse or LVN.
But you need to learn more about this role before deciding if this is the right route for you. We’re here to help you understand the duties that fall under the LPN job description and what you’ll need to do to become an LPN.
Why become an LPN?
Before we dig into the details, you want to know the facts around this position and why it’s such an appealing first step for aspiring nurses. For starters, the potential 12-month time frame for acquiring a Practical Nursing Diploma is often a deciding factor for those considering LPN careers versus longer Registered Nursing (RN) degree programs.1
What’s more is the optimistic job outlook for LPNs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), LPN jobs are projected to increase 9 percent by 2028.2 That’s more than twice the national average of 4 percent.2
Now you’re inevitably wondering: How much do LPNs make? The BLS reports that the median LPN salary in 2019 was $47,480.2 Compare that to the $39,810 national average for all occupations and it’s easy to see why becoming an LPN can be an appealing choice.
In as few as 12 months, you can earn your scrubs, start earning a paycheck and gaining valuable experience. And if you choose to continue advancing your nursing education further, there are LPN-to-RN bridge programs that make it convenient to do so.
What does an LPN do?
Now that you’re intrigued about the possibility of becoming a licensed practical nurse, you’re probably curious about what the job entails. The LPN job description covers quite a bit, so let’s take a closer look.
At its most basic explanation, LPNs provide routine care for the sick or injured. They work in conjunction with RNs to adhere to a care plan for each patient. RNs typically have a wider scope of practice—such as interacting with doctors and administering medication through IVs.
What are some common LPN duties?
While an LPN’s scope of practice may be smaller than that of a registered nurse, there are still plenty of important nursing duties on their plates. The BLS notes that LPNs are responsible for a range of patient care and administrative tasks, including:2
- Monitoring basic patient health such as vital signs and overall condition
- Changing dressings or inserting catheters
- Taking patient histories and maintaining documentation
- Assisting with tests or procedures
- Providing personal care, such as helping with bathing and toileting
- Consulting with RNs on care plans
LPN duties do vary somewhat by state and employer, but you can expect to be providing hands-on patient care regardless of your location or employer.
Where can LPNs work?
LPNs provide care in a variety of healthcare settings. More and more patients are seeking care in or near their homes, which has resulted in many LPN jobs moving away from the hospital environment and into more specialized settings.
Here are a few of the most common places LPNs work and the basic duties they perform:
- Nursing homes: According to the BLS, 38 percent of all LPNs work in a nursing care facility.2 In this setting, LPNs are responsible for the day-to-day care of patients. This includes monitoring medication, assisting with personal hygiene, feeding patients and watching for changes in overall health.
- Home health care: LPNs work in home health settings under the direction of a physician or RN. They provide bedside care to sick, injured or disabled patients. This care includes monitoring vital signs, giving injections and dressing wounds.
- Hospitals: Some LPNs do work in hospitals assisting RNs. They perform basic medical procedures such as checking vital signs and passing medication, and may also supervise nursing assistants.
- Physician offices: Depending on the type of clinic, LPN duties in outpatient doctor’s offices can include everything from wound care to giving immunizations. They work with all ages and report directly to a physician.
- Military: For LPNs who want more excitement, joining the military provides the opportunity to gain experience in an extremely fast-paced setting. LPNs may enlist as medics and assist with emergency care on and off the battlefield.
- Correctional facilities: This unique setting requires LPNs to understand the sociological and psychological aspects of treating incarcerated patients. These nurses typically provide both routine illness and emergency care.
- Travel: Adventure-seeking LPNs who have more than a year of clinical experience have the option to become a travel nurse. This allows nurses to travel and work in different hospitals across the country for shorter periods of time. Travel LPN duties will be very similar to that of nurses in other settings.
- Rehabilitation centers: In this setting, LPNs work on a team to provide therapeutic care to those recovering from trauma, injury, illness and more.
Launch your LPN career
So what does an LPN do, exactly? You now know all about the critical role they play as members of a patient care team. They tend to patients in a wide variety of healthcare settings and have several specialization areas to pursue throughout their careers. So whether you are excited about the LPN job description or you want to test the nursing waters before becoming an RN, know that there are many advantages to being an LPN.
You can fulfill your dream of helping others and become a nurse in as few as 12 months, so what are you waiting for?1 If you're ready to learn more about the next steps you'll take toward a nursing career, sign up for a Nursing Information Session today!
1Time to completion is dependent on number of transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed November 2020]. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and include workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in July 2014. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.