What Does an LPN Do? A Closer Look at These Versatile Caregivers
If you’ve heard plenty about nursing shortages and are seriously considering stepping up to help fill the gap, you know you have some research to do. By now you know that a career in nursing would be a great fit for you, but you’re hesitant to spend the multiple years in school needed to become a registered nurse. You want to be out on the floor making an impact in your life—and patients’ lives—as soon as possible.
What many people new to the nursing 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. While that option has caught your interest, 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.
What does LPN stand for?
First off, let’s start with the basics. LPN stands for licensed practical nurse. This is a category of licensed nurse that differs from registered nurses. In some states, you may find this role is referred to as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN). While the labels are different, LPNs and LVNs are essentially the same.
What does an LPN do?
Now that you’ve got the name sorted out, you’re probably curious about what an LPN does in their daily work. 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 and physicians 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. While the details will depend on the setting they work in, LPNs typically care for several patients over the course of their shift and must manage their time well to ensure patient care plans stay on track.
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 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that LPNs are responsible for a range of patient care and administrative tasks, including:1
- 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 do LPNs work?
While the word “nurse” might make some immediately think of hospitals, LPNs provide care in variety of settings—even including patients’ homes!
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.1 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, 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.
Why become an LPN?
Let’s take a closer look at what makes this nursing career path an appealing option. For starters, the potential 12-month time frame for earning a Practical Nursing Diploma is often a deciding factor for those considering LPN careers versus longer Registered Nursing (RN) degree programs.2
Another appealing factor is the optimistic job outlook for LPNs. According to the BLS, employment of LPNs is projected to increase 9 percent by 2030.1 Like with many other healthcare roles, the large, aging baby boomer generation is helping to drive this demand as they age out of the workforce and into their prime years of needing additional care.
Now you’re inevitably wondering: How much do LPNs make? The BLS reports that the median LPN salary in 2020 was $48,820.1 Compare that to the $41,950 national average for all occupations, and it’s easy to see why becoming an LPN can be an appealing choice.1
While measurable things like time in school and salary are obviously a big pull, that’s just part of the picture. LPNs, particularly those who work in elder care, spend their workday helping some of the most vulnerable people in our lives and can build strong bonds with them along the way.
“Nurses working in long-term care spend an extended amount of time with their patients, allowing them to develop lasting and valuable relationships,” says Kenny Kadar, president of Coast Medical Service. “The opportunity to form long-term relationships with your patients is rare in the nursing field, making long-term care unique in this privilege.”
Becoming an LPN provides an achievable entry-point into the healthcare field—one that can span an entire career or leave room for progressing into more advanced nursing roles. For those who choose to continue advancing their nursing education, there are LPN-to-RN bridge programs that make it convenient to do so.
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 specializations 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 be prepared for a rewarding nursing career 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!
1Bureau 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.htmInformation 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.
2Time to completion is dependent on number of transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in July 2014. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.