If you enjoy helping people and want to work in a health care setting but don’t want to put in the four years of schooling typically required to become a registered nurse, there is another option. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) do many of the same things RNs do, providing bedside care, checking vital signs and administering injections. However, LPNs typically require much less schooling, so you can be doing what you love sooner.
LPNs need a wide variety of skills. They must provide basic patient care, including helping patients getting in and out of bed and assisting them in doing daily personal care things like bathing. Beyond that, they must take vital signs, such as pulse and blood pressure, using the necessary medical equipment. Additionally, they might be called upon to dress wounds, monitor catheters and administer treatments via injections and enemas.
LPNs must also be trained to collect samples for testing, including blood and urine. In some settings, they are the ones to perform laboratory tests, while in other settings the health care professionals they work under perform the tests themselves. Additionally, LPNs help registered nurses, physicians’ assistants and doctors performing other medical tests.
Because LPNs are involved in providing direct patient care, they play an important role in monitoring progress and symptoms. They must report what they see both orally and in writing, to ensure that supervisory health care professionals know what is going on with patients. If a patient has an adverse reaction to a medication, the LPN must report it immediately. LPNs also record food and fluid intake, as well as waste output. Further, LPNs typically are the ones to gather patient information such as health history and complete insurance forms.
While experienced LPNs sometimes supervise other LPNs and nursing aides, they typically report to a registered nurse, physicians’ assistant or doctor directly. In both cases, being a good communicator is a critically important skill. They must not only give good directions, but also take directions well and follow through on instructions. This is a skill often practiced during LPN programs, which tend to last about one year. After graduation, future LPNs must pass a state licensing exam, after which they can work in the field. This exam tests all of the skills mentioned.