Licensed Practical Nurse

LPN Job Description

Licensed practical nurse talking to patient in hospital bed
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A licensed practical nurse cares for sick, injured, convalescing, or disabled patients. He or she works under the direction of registered nurses. A licensed practical nurse is commonly called an LPN. An alternative job title for this occupation is licensed vocational nurse, often abbreviated as LVN.

Quick Facts

  • Licensed practical nurses earn a median annual salary of $45,030 (2017).
  • 724,500 people are employed in this occupation (2016).
  • Most work in nursing and residential care facilities and hospitals.
  • Jobs are usually full-time, but about 20 percent of LPNs work part-time.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an excellent job outlook for this occupation. The government agency gives it the "Bright Outlook" designation which it reserves for professions with the best prospects for the future. Employment is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

A Day In a Licensed Practical Nurse's Life

Job announcements on revealed that LPNs have the following job duties:

  • "Perform technical patient care and related clerical functions in the urgent care setting by coordinating all elements of the patient visit."
  • "Work collaboratively with an interdisciplinary team to ensure the needs of each resident are met."
  • "Obtain and document patient histories."
  • "Observe the resident for change in physical, social, or mental status and document signs and symptoms and status of residents and related matters through written/oral reports to RN/RN Manager/ Supervisor/ Designee/ Medical Staff and Family as indicated."
  • "Assure proper procedures are followed at all times."
  • "Assist and oversee distribution of food trays."

Education and Licensing Requirements

The first step toward fulfilling the educational requirements for aspiring LPNs is the completion of a state-approved, year-long, training program in nursing. These programs are usually offered by technical and vocational schools or community and junior colleges. Some high schools, four-year colleges and universities, and hospitals also provide training for aspiring LPNs. Formal training consists of a combination of classroom study and supervised clinical practice.

After finishing school, you will have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-PN. The NCLEX-PN is a computer-based exam that is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

What Soft Skills Do You Need?

In addition to formal education and technical skills, specific soft skills, abilities with which you were either born or developed through life experience, will allow you to succeed in this field.

  • Interpersonal: You must be able to establish a rapport with your patients.
  • Compassion: It is essential that you care about your patients' well-being and can demonstrate this through your actions.
  • Communication: Excellent speaking and listening skills are imperative.
  • Problem Solving: You will need the ability to recognize problems and come up with solutions to rectify them.
  • Attention to Detail: Since small mistakes can have dire consequences, it is essential to pay careful attention to even the smallest details.

The Difference Between an LPN and RN

Both licensed practical nurses and registered nurses provide direct patient care for patients in healthcare facilities, but they have different job duties and education, training, and licensing requirements. 

Their jobs include providing basic care and monitoring patients' health. LPNs have restrictions regarding some specific duties, depending on the state in which they work. In some states, they are allowed to provide more advanced care like administering medication and setting up intravenous drips, while in others they are permitted to perform these tasks only under an RN's supervision.

RNs and LPNs both need formal training but registered nurses must earn a bachelor's of science degree, associate degree, or a diploma in nursing. This usually means spending between two and four years in school.

More rigorous training and greater responsibilities mean a higher salary for registered nurses than for LPNs. They earn a median annual salary of $70,000 (2017).

How LPNs Can Advance

Experienced licensed practical nurses sometimes supervise nursing assistants and aides. Some LPNs become credentialed in specialty areas such as IV therapy, gerontology, long-term care, and pharmacology. Licensed practical nurses can also enroll in LPN-to-RN training programs to become registered nurses.

What Employers Will Expect From You

Job announcements on listed the following requirements in addition to training and experience:

  • "Maintain a professional attitude and dress at all times"
  • "Familiarity with medical terminology"
  • "Computer literacy a must"
  • "Capacity to assist/lift individuals with physical disabilities and/or limited mobility"
  • "Ability to stand for extended periods"
  • "Ability to elicit and discuss personal information in a non-judgmental manner"

Is This Career a Good Fit for You?

For a career to be suitable, it should match your interestspersonality type, and work-related values. Do a self assessment to find out if you have the following traits:

Take This Quiz: Should You Become a Licensed Practical Nurse?

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Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited August 10, 2018).