It takes a team of medical professionals to treat patients. However, licensed practical nurses play a particularly important role: As providers of day-to-day care and monitoring, LPNs typically have the most hands-on experience with patients. Those opportunities to work with patients should increase as baby boomers grow older. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 22 percent job growth in the field from 2010 to 2020, compared with 14 percent for all occupations.
Basic bedside medical care is the primary responsibility of most LPNs. They treat bedsores, apply dressings, give injections, administer enemas, check on catheters and apply ice packs or hot water bottles to relieve pain. For patients who need lab tests, LPNs collect blood and tissue samples. In emergencies or critical cases, they handle treatment therapies and lifesaving procedures, including pre- and postoperative care, CPR, catheterization and cast care. In some states, laws allow LPNs to administer prescribed medicines or start treatments with intravenous fluids.
LPNs track patient conditions. They take temperatures and check blood pressure, pulse, weight and other vital statistics. They also watch patients for reactions to medications or treatments. During patient examinations, LPNs write down information and results. Alongside supervising registered nurses, LPNs evaluate patient conditions and help write and implement a nursing plan of care.
LPNs focus on personal care and comfort of medical patients. They help them with hygiene, including bathing and dressing. They also assist patients with standing and walking to handle the tasks of daily living. Plus, they feed patients and take notes on nutritional intake. Another key part of the job involves providing emotional support and guidance to patients and their families.
An LPN’s daily responsibilities change slightly depending on the patients she sees. Nurses who work inside nursing homes provide routine bedside care, develop care plans and manage certified nursing assistants. At medical offices, they handle more clerical duties, such as scheduling appointments and keeping records. Home-care LPNs typically focus on personal tasks, such as meal preparation and teaching family members basic care. Some LPNs concentrate on delivery, care and feeding of babies, while others specifically treat mentally disabled patients.
As of 2010, nursing homes employed the biggest share of LPNs, at 39 percent, according to numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 15 percent worked for hospitals, while 12 percent worked inside medical offices. Home health agencies employed 9 percent. Regardless of work environment, LPNs need strength and stamina: They are on their feet most of the day and have to help lift patients who have trouble standing or walking. Most LPNs work full time, and many put in hours on evenings, weekends and holidays.
- Gurnick Academy of Medical Arts: LPNs at Work
- Lorain County Community College: Licensed Practical Nursing
- Ozarks Technical Community College: Practical Nursing FAQ
- Camden County College: LPN
- John A. Logan College: Practical Nursing Program
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Work Environment
- Prism Career Institute: Practical Nursing
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Job Outlook
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