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Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Career Guide

If you have a passion for helping others, empathy for those who are sick or injured, and exceptional verbal and written communication skills, a licensed practical nurse is a great career where you can put your skills and passions to work.  

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) work in a variety of environments, including doctors’ offices, medical offices, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Some LPNs provide in-home care. They perform a wide range of duties, depending on the position, but typical tasks include providing basic care for patients, changing bandages and dressing wounds, checking and monitoring vital signs, and keeping patient charts up to date. They work under the direction of registered nurses (RNs) and physicians. Some LPNs administer medications to patients 

LPNs must be compassionate and be comfortable working with patients who may be extremely sick, severely injured, or dying. They need to be able to handle stress well while caring for patients who are often in pain or discomfort. LPNs need lots of physical stamina as they are on their feet through much of the day and at times helping patients with physically demanding tasks, such as getting dressed, bathing, or going to the bathroom. Exceptional communication skills and empathy are required for LPNs to interact with patients, RNs, and doctors. A high level of detail is also needed to keep track of the vital signs, dietary needs, and specific needs of multiple patients at the same time.

Sample job description

The licensed practical nurse (LPN) is responsible for providing nursing care to patients in a variety of healthcare settings under the direction of a registered nurse or doctor. Duties may include taking vital signs, recording patient symptoms, administering medications and treatments, and assisting with medical procedures. We are looking for someone with a caring personality, strong work ethic, and commitment to providing quality care to our patients. The licensed practical nurse must have a diploma from an accredited nursing program, and be licensed in the state of employment. You should also take accurate temperatures, pulse, respiration, height, and weight measurements, respond to call lights promptly, change bed linens and perform various housekeeping duties, and perform treatments authorized by the doctor or RN under their direction.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Take patients’ vital signs and monitor their health
  • Provide basic care, such as changing bandages
  • Help patients bathe and get dressed
  • Discuss treatment with patients
  • Consult with doctors and other nurses
  • Update patients’ health records

Education and experience

Licensed practical nurses need to earn a high school diploma or equivalent. They also must complete an approved educational program at a technical school or community college, which usually takes about a year. LPNs also need to pass an exam and be licensed.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Strong interpersonal skills for dealing with patients, doctors and staff
  • Discretion and the ability to handle confidential information
  • Ability to multitask and prioritize workload
  • Physical stamina and emotional stability
  • Compassion and a calm, caring demeanor
  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • Keen attention to detail

Preferred qualifications

  • Must have strong observation skills
  • Be able to work independently or with a team of healthcare professionals
  • Be confident in their abilities to recognize patient needs and respond quickly

Typical work environment

The licensed practical nurse works in a variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics. They may also work in home health care or private practice. On-call is a requirement for most nursing jobs, which entails staying available by phone or pager during off-hours in case of emergency. Many LPNs work nights, weekends, and holidays as shifts vary from facility to facility. The licensed practical nurse is generally paid hourly, and must adhere to their employer’s rules regarding availability and attendance.

Typical hours

Licensed practical nurses work a variety of schedules because some health-care facilities are open early in the morning, late at night, or 24 hours a day. As a result, LPNs might work evenings, weekends or holidays. They frequently log more than 40 hours a week and often are on call, meaning they must be available to work on short notice.

Available certifications

There are multiple certifications available for LPNs, but some of the most popular are:

  • Intravenous (IV) Therapy Certification. Whether you are a new graduate, practicing nurse looking to learn new skills, or longing to specialize in vascular access, IV Therapy Certification from the Infusion Institute can help further your career.
  • NAPNES Certification in Pharmacology. For more than 30 years NAPNES Certification in Pharmacology has allowed LP/VNs to measure their knowledge against a national test and offers a national, post-licensure credential that many employers require.

Career path

The first step to becoming a licensed practical nurse is to earn a high school diploma or its equivalent. Students then need to complete an approved educational program at a technical school or community college. These programs include classes in topics such as biology and pharmacology, along with hands-on clinical experience. Graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination and get a license to work as an LPN.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 29-2061

2020 Employment688,100
Projected Employment in 2030751,900
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 9% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift63,800 increase

Some licensed practical nurses opt to become certified by professional associations in specific fields such as gerontology or IV therapy. Training in CPR and both basic and advanced life-support techniques also will enhance career opportunities.

Licensed practical nurses will be needed to help care for an aging population in the years to come. Nurses who are willing to travel and work in rural or other under-served areas will be in demand. LPNs with experience and training can advance to different health-care positions, such as registered nurse. 

The National Association of Licensed Practical Nurses produces a newsletter with industry news.