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What is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?

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If you’ve ever searched for nursing jobs online, you know that the nursing field is vast, with positions ranging from a registered nurse to an advanced practice nurse. Before you qualify for any nursing position, you must first acquire your licensed practical nurse (LPN) accreditation. 

A licensed practical nurse works under the supervision of senior nursing staff. As frontline workers, LPNs provide consistent and compassionate care. Some of the most common duties of a licensed practical nurse include,

  • Administering primary nursing care, like changing bandages, applying cold compresses and fetching blankets.
  • Helping patients with self-care tasks, like bathing, dressing and eating.
  • Preparing patients for medical procedures.
  • Checking patient vital signs, blood pressure and temperature, and recording vital signs for a registered nurse or doctor.
  • Collecting patient samples to be used in a lab test.
  • Assisting your senior colleagues with patient exams or patient care.
  • Administering scheduled medications under the supervision of a registered nurse or a doctor.
  • Cleaning and sterilizing medical equipment.
  • Educating your patients (or their families) about their care regimens.

Licensed practical nurses can also insert catheters and IVs if they have received the proper training. Additionally, you may be required to perform clerical and basic administrative tasks such as ordering medical supplies.

A licensed practical nurse can be a high-stress, high-intensity job, but also a rewarding one. When you’re directly assisting patients and making a difference in their lives, it can make the long hours and challenges worth it. Also, working as an LPN can be a stepping stone to more advanced nursing positions. If you’re thinking about becoming a licensed practical nurse, here is a list of the credentials you’ll need first. 

How to become a licensed practical nurse

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To get that nursing position, there are several steps you’ll need to take:

  1. Have a high school diploma: No surprise here, but it’s important to have baseline mathematical and reading skills when working in the nursing field. 
  2. Enroll in an accredited LPN training program: Once you graduate from high school, you’ll need to attend nursing school. You can find a list of accredited LPN programs, including community colleges, through the National League of Nursing Accrediting Agency.
  3. Pass the NCLEX-PN exam: You’ll take the NCLEX-PN exam at the end of your nursing program, and you’ll need to successfully pass this exam to graduate and pursue a career in nursing. Once you pass your exam, you’ll receive your nursing license by mail. Now you can start working as an LPN.

Most people take a year or two to complete this program, although there are ways to speed up the process. When applying to an LPN training program, keep in mind the soft skills you have (or those you can cultivate) to make your job easier.

Those soft skills include,

  • Time management skills.
  • Critical thinking skills.
  • Communication skills.
  • A desire to serve your community.

Where can licensed practical nurses work? 

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Once you earn that coveted nursing license and you’re officially an LPN, there are many places to find work. The demand for nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing assistants is at an all-time high right now, making it the perfect time to become a nurse! 

Here are some healthcare facilities that can offer the best nursing positions.  

Hospitals

Busy and high-stress but high-reward, a hospital will help you gain plenty of frontline experience. You’ll find yourself performing a lot of patient-focused tasks, like dressing bandages, administering medication, keeping patients comfortable and monitoring vital signs and providing general assistance. In hospital settings, expect a dress code, where you might need to wear color-coded women’s scrubs or men’s scrubs.

Nursing homes

This is where the bulk of licensed practical nurses work. In long-term care facilities such as these, you’ll be helping people with their daily tasks, like dressing and bathing. You’ll also help dispense medication while generally making patients feel comfortable and safe.

Home healthcare

Sometimes, LPNs provide care to patients off-site on a daily or weekly basis. The care they give their patients is the same sort they would provide in a residential home or a nursing home, only in this case, they’ll be providing that care at the patient’s residence.

Licensed practical nurse vs registered nurse

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Lastly, you may be wondering about the significant differences between licensed practical nursing and registered nursing and how these positions compare to one another. They’re different but exactly how different? If you want to start your career in nursing, do you need to immediately make a decision between becoming an LPN or RN? Don’t worry; we have the answers! 

Educational requirements

Again, LPN hopefuls must earn a high school diploma before beginning a nursing program, after which they must successfully pass their NCLEX-PN exam, too. A registered nurse will complete the LPN program but will also be required to undergo additional training for further RN accreditation.

Career outlook

With the demand for LPNs and RNs at an all-time high, both of these nursing positions have professional staying power. Working as an LPN can provide opportunities for further specializations, as well as a higher pay grade. As an RN, earning your Master’s in Nursing (MSN) could also give you access to upper-level nursing positions.

Salary

Due to the high nursing demand, salary expectations for both LPNs and RNs remain healthy. While the average salary for LPNs is $48,820 per year, wages fluctuate from state to state. On top of your essential accreditation, specialized skills or training will also help boost your pay grade, which means you can quickly spring for a brand new pair of high-quality scrubs.

Due to their advanced and additional training, a registered nurse’s average salary is $75,330 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you’re looking for more information on obtaining a nursing degree or finding your first LPN job, check out our article on the most common nursing interview questions to help prepare you for your next dream job.

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