What Does an LPN Do? A Closer Look at These Versatile Caregivers
The nursing shortage continues on, with an estimated 1.2 million open nursing positions by 2030, and you want 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 don’t know is that there are actually many paths to becoming a nurse. One long-standing, popular track is to become a licensed practical nurse, or LPN (sometimes referred to as a licensed vocational nurse). 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 (RN) degree programs.*
If this doesn’t interest you, take a look at the statistics. LPN jobs are projected to increase 16 percent by 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s just as fast as the growth for RNs and more than twice the national average of 7 percent.
Now you know the facts—LPN jobs are growing and Diplomas for these jobs can be earned in about a year.* That sounds great, but before jumping into a career, you need to know what LPNs do and where they work. We did the research and broke it down, so you can get a deeper understanding of this exciting and versatile nursing role.
What is the role of an LPN?
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. But depending on the state, LPNs can actually perform many of the same duties as RNs. However, while most RNs work in hospitals, LPNs are generally hired in smaller settings, such as nursing homes, home health environments and rehabilitation centers.
What are some common LPN duties?
LPNs are responsible for a range of patient care and administrative tasks, including:
- 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 by state, but you can expect to be providing hands-on patient care regardless of your location or facility.
Where do LPNs work?
As we mentioned before, LPNs provide care in a variety of healthcare settings. More and more patients are seeking care at 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 do:
- Nursing homes: According to the BLS, 38 percent of all LPNs work in a nursing care facility. 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: LPNs work in hospitals assisting RNs. They perform basic medical procedures such as checking vital signs and passing medication, and can also supervise nursing aides.
- Physician offices: Depending on the type of clinic, LPNs who work in outpatient doctor’s offices can do 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 provide 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. Nurses tend to both routine illness as well as provide emergency care.
- Travel: 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. LPNs who travel have many of the same tasks as 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.
What are some LPN specialties?
In addition to working in a plethora of healthcare settings, LPNs can also further their education by obtaining certifications and training in different specialties. There are more than 20 certificates that LPNs can pursue to advance their careers and practice something they love.
Some of the common certifications include:
- Advanced Cardiac Life Support
- Certified Correctional Health Professional
- Certified Hospice and Palliative Licensed Nurse
- IV Certification
- Long-Term Care
- Pediatric Advanced Life Support
- Wound Care Certification
Attaining a certification can open up doors for you as an LPN. You become more attractive to potential employers, are more likely to be placed in an area of your specialization and have more potential to advance your career.
The bottom line
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 setting and have several specialization areas to pursue throughout their careers. So whether you are passionate about the LPN field or 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 why wait?* Learn more about how to get started in our article, “How to Become an LPN: 5 Steps to Earning Your Scrubs.”
- LPN or RN: The Advantages of Being an LPN
- A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Levels of Nursing
- How to Prepare for Nursing School: 8 Strategic Things You Could Be Doing NOW
*Time to complete is dependent on accepted transfer credits and courses completed each quarter.
DISCLOSURE: Rasmussen College does not prepare student for all of the certifications listed in the article.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in July 2014. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2017.