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Licensed Practical Nurse Job Description, Career as a Licensed Practical Nurse, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school plus training; license

Salary: Median—$33,970 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) help physicians and registered nurses (RNs) care for patients. They have the technical knowledge to perform routine nursing duties, but they may also make appointments, maintain patient records, and perform basic clerical duties. Their work allows doctors and registered nurses to devote their time to patient care that requires specialized knowledge. Most licensed practical nurses work in hospitals, nursing homes, other health care institutions, and private homes. Some are employed in doctors' offices, clinics, and public health agencies. Still others work in large businesses. They care for workers who have accidents or become ill on the job. Licensed practical nurses are also called licensed vocational nurses.

Licensed practical nurses have a great deal of contact with their patients. It is important that nurses keep patients in good spirits. They also take patients' blood pressures, check temperatures, and apply bandages. In some cases LPNs may give their patients drugs that doctors have prescribed. Licensed practical nurses watch for changes in their patients' condition. If there is a change, they report it to the doctors immediately.

Licensed practical nurses sometimes work in special units of a hospital. These include cardiac, burn, and maternity units. LPNs may be trained to use special equipment and may direct nurse's aides.

On occasion, patients who are recovering from an illness hire licensed practical nurses to work in their homes. The nurses provide basic bedside care as well as follow the specific instructions of a patient's doctor. For example, they may give drugs on schedule or change bandages. In addition, they may prepare meals for patients.

A licensed practical nurse works under the direction of registered nurses or doctors. (© Hulshizer, Jen/Star Ledger/Corbis.)

Education and Training Requirements

Most schools that train licensed practical nurses prefer to admit high school graduates. Admission requirements usually include passing an aptitude test and taking a physical exam.

Training programs currently take one year to complete and include both classroom study and supervised patient care. Junior and community colleges, technical and vocational schools, and hospitals offer these programs. The armed services also offer state-approved courses. However, there is a move to two levels of nursing. Technical nurses, such as LPNs, will be required to have an associate degree. Professional nurses, such as RNs, will be required to have a bachelor's degree. Those interested in careers in nursing should check current state regulations. All LPNs must be licensed. To qualify for a license, a person must complete a state-approved course and pass a written test.

Getting the Job

The school placement office may be able to help students find a job. Interested individuals can apply directly to hospitals, clinics, and other institutions. They can also check with private employment agencies that specialize in medical job placements. Newspaper want ads and job banks on the Internet often carry listings for licensed practical nurses.

To get a job in home health care, candidates can contact local hospitals and clinics. These facilities usually maintain lists of practical nurses. When a patient needs private care, hospitals suggest someone from their lists.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Licensed practical nurses can take extra courses to specialize in one field, such as the care of newborn infants. With further training, they may become registered nurses. However, this training may be extensive.

The outlook for licensed practical nurses is good, with employment expected to increase as fast as the average through the year 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These jobs will be concentrated in clinics, rehabilitation hospitals, and long-term care facilities. There will also be increasing demand for skilled LPNs to work in home health care.

Working Conditions

Licensed practical nurses can usually choose where they work, from hospitals to private homes. LPNs must keep an even temper, especially when caring for difficult and unhappy patients. They must stand for long periods and often have to help patients move in bed, stand, walk, or dress. Licensed practical nurses always work under the direction of registered nurses or doctors.

Practical nurses generally work forty hours per week. Sometimes they work at night and on weekends, earning premium pay for these shifts. Jobs in private homes often involve longer hours. Each case places different demands on the practical nurse's time.

Where to Go for More Information

National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service
PO Box 25647
Alexandria, VA 22313
(703) 933-1003

National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses
605 Poole Dr.
Garner, NC 27529
(919) 779-0046

National League for Nursing
61 Broadway, 33rd Fl.
New York, NY 10006
(212) 363-5555

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary with experience and place of employment. Full-time licensed practical nurses earned a median annual salary of $33,970 per year in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In most hospitals salary increases are given at regular intervals. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.

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