An overview of LPNs
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) provide general health care while under the supervision of a doctor or registered nurse. LPNs are licensed by the state they are employed in and all states require LPNs to be licensed. In order to be licensed, students need to have taken and completed an approved nursing program, which only provides a nondegree certificate, and have passed the NCLEX-PN (the National Council Licensure Examination for Licensed Practical Nurses). The National Council of State Boards of Nursing offers the exam. Passing the exam displays the competencies needed to perform the tasks of an entry-level, newly licensed nurse.
Nursing programs are reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to last about one year (BLS.gov, 2012) and can be offered at vocational or technical colleges or even at some high schools. Courses at a nursing school cover biology and pharmacology (the study of drugs and their effects on the human body), as well as a supervised clinical experience that provides real-world, hands-on experience for prospective nurses.
What to expect as an LPN
Based on the types of work performed by LPNs, the BLS has compiled a list of beneficial qualities that may be beneficial for LPNs. These qualities are not necessary but could help prevent burnout and increase job satisfaction:
- Detail oriented
- Emotional stability
Additionally, as patients need specific medication and personalized care, and because some patients may be under stress, the BLS (BLS.gov, 2012) notes that organizational and interpersonal skills can also benefit LPNs.
As LPNs are some of the first health care professionals to attend to patient needs, much of the work LPNs perform is general, such as working with automated IV drips, blood-pressure monitors, heart monitors and blood oxygen-level monitors to note a patient's vital signs prior to a doctor's diagnosis. Much of a nurse's time may also be spent filing paperwork, looking for medication, managing supplies or locating other personnel.
The following technology can be used by nurses to locate personnel, help collect vital information, or provide the right medication, resulting in a savings of time and a better level of care.
- Electronic Health Records (EHRs) - These digital record systems can quickly retrieve a patient's records and quickly allow a nurse to enter updated information. Some programs can automatically log nurses into computer systems, automatically retrieve patient data and even automatically update relevant information, saving nurses up to a third of their time. Some hospitals that have included these systems have reported positive results in patient care.
- Mobile medical scanners - Some smartphone applications can a read patient's vital signs such as heart rate and blood oxygen level, and some applications can even take ultrasound pictures. These applications and specialty devices can cut costs and save time as nurses no longer have to get large medical devices and move them to patients' rooms.
Employment opportunities for LPNs
According to the BLS, as of May 2011, the median annual wage for LPNs was $41,150, nationally (BLS.gov, 2012). The top 10 percent and lowest 10 percent of LPNs earned a national median annual wage of $57,080 and $30,650, respectively. Most LPNs are employed in general medical and surgical hospitals, physicians' offices, and nursing care facilities. Additionally, from 2010 to 2020, the employment of licensed practical nurses (as well as licensed vocational nurses) is projected to grow 22 percent, faster than average for all occupations, as the country's population ages and the need for overall health care increases.
Some LPNs advance to a registered nurse by taking advantage of bridge programs that build upon an LPN education (BLS.gov, 2012). Registered nurses are required to have completed a diploma program, earned an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). Registered nurses also tend to perform a supervisory role in hospitals and clinics managing LPNs.
Sources and further reading:
Equipped for Efficiency: Improving Nursing Care Through Technology, California Health Care Foundation, December 2008