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What Do LPNS Do?

Mar 9, 2021
Portia Wofford, LPN

This is the first part of our three-part series on Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs). Start here!

  1. What Do LPNs Do? (You are here)
  2. How Much Do LPNs Make?
  3. How to Become an LPN

If you're considering becoming a nurse, a career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) is one you may want to consider. A career as an LPN offers job security, competitive pay, and a sense of fulfillment. In this guide, we will answer some frequently asked questions about LPNS:

  • What does an LPN do?
  • What is the difference between LPN and LVN?
  • What's the difference between LPN and RN?

What Does an LPN Do?

A common question is, "Are LPNs really nurses?" The answer is YES! LPNs are licensed nurses who work under the supervision of a registered nurse or physician. LPNs are an essential part of the healthcare system and nursing industry and provide competent patient care. 

Each state has a different scope of practice, and depending on the state and facility, as an LPN, your job duties include:

  • Performing wound care
  • Monitoring and taking vital signs 
  • Administering oral, subcutaneous, intramuscular, or intravenous medication
  • Receiving and transcribing orders from providers
  • Documenting and charting
  • Communicating with patients, caregivers, and other healthcare providers
  • Providing education to patients and their caregiver
  • Managing certified nursing assistants or med techs
  • Collecting specimens such as blood or urine
  • Inserting, removing, and caring for urinary catheters
  • Caring for patients with ventilators and tracheostomies
  • Giving feedings through nasogastric (NG) or gastrostomy tubes
  • Collaborating on patient care with physicians and other members of the patient's healthcare team

Although there is a stigma that LPNs are limited in what roles they can work, there is room for LPNs to work outside of the traditional roles. LPNs can have careers in administration or management as well. 

Soft Skills LPNs Need

1. Communication

LPNs need strong communication skills. You will communicate on a daily basis with patients, caregivers, and other healthcare professionals.

2. Time-management

Because you will care for multiple patients with different illnesses and co-morbidities, it's essential that you have good time management skills. LPNs who work in nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities can have anywhere from 15- 60+ patients at one time.

3. Decision-Making

Patients' lives are in your hands. You must be quick to think and understand how to make decisions as part of your patient's healthcare team. Ultimately, because LPNs spend most of their careers utilizing hands-on skills, LPN is a great stepping stone to becoming a registered nurse or advanced practice nurse. 

What Is the Difference Between LPN and LVN?

As we mentioned earlier, LPN stands for licensed practical nurse. LVN, on the other hand, stands for licensed vocational nurse. LVNs and LPNs are basically the same. The main difference is that in California and Texas, these nurses are called LVNs. 

Note: If you live in or plan to move to one of those states for work or nursing school, look for LVN jobs and nursing programs (rather than “LPN” ones). 

Both titles' roles and responsibilities are similar and depend on the nurse's scope of practice in their state and the facility. Both require the nurse to obtain a practical or vocational nursing certificate, diploma, or degree and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN).

What's the Difference Between LPN and RN?

While LPNs and RNs are both nurses, the scope of education, work environments, and scopes of practice differ. 

Education

RNs obtain their education in one of four ways:

  1. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) from a two-year nursing program. 
  2. Hospital-based diploma programs. These programs are usually one to three years. 
  3. Bachelor of Science of Nursing (BSN) is an undergraduate level degree from a college or university. These degree programs typically take four years to complete.
  4. Accelerated Bachelor of Science of Nursing (A-BSN) programs that are designed for non-nursing undergraduate-degree holders who want to make a career shift and begin working as a registered nurse.

LPN education is usually a one-year certificate or diploma nursing program. Some LPN programs are two-year degree programs, and their graduates earn an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree. LPN programs are usually found at community colleges.

Work Settings

LPNs work in a variety of healthcare settings, including:

Although some hospitals hire LPNs, because more hospitals are aiming for magnet status, the positions and roles for LPNs are limited.

male nurse standing in front of door holding stethoscope what do LPNs do

Roles LPNs Can Have

  • Charge nurse
  • Assistant director of nursing
  • Director of nursing service (assisted living facilities)
  • Infection prevention and control nurse
  • Quality assurance nurse
  • Wound care nurse
  • Staff development coordinator or director
  • Medication nurse

So yes, LPNs can work in other specialties besides long term care or nursing homes!

RN vs. LPN Scope of Practice

The Nurse Practice Act is the law governing nursing practice in each state. Each states' Nurse Practice Act is different and outlines different scopes of practice for the LPNs and RNs practicing in its state. The RN's scope of practice is more autonomous than the LPN's. LPNs work under the supervision of an RN or doctor.

The scope of practice of an LPN is a bit more limited than that of an RN. Depending on the state, it's not within an LPN's scope of practice to:

  • Hang blood or blood products
  • Give certain medications intravenously (IV)
  • Pronounce time of death
  • Access a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line or central lines
  • Administer insulin or cardiac drips 
  • Administer specific types of cardiac medication
  • Give chemotherapy medications

This list is not all-inclusive or exhaustive. Each nurse should research their state's Nurse Practice Act and guidelines to get a clear and accurate picture of their scope of practice.

Are LPNs Going "Extinct?"

Some nurses choose to remain LPNs for the entirety of their careers. LPNs are not going anywhere, at least not anytime soon. There are currently 920,655 licensed practical nurses in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Outlook Handbook, the LPNs' job growth outlook is 9% — much faster than the US average. 

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