An LPN, or licensed practical nurse, is a type of nurse who provides basic patient care. LPNs typically work in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities. They may also work in home health settings. LPNs are responsible for monitoring patients’ vital signs, administering medications, and providing basic nursing care.
They also provide patient education and support. LPNs work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and doctors. They typically report to an RN or a doctor. In some states, LPNs may also be able to perform certain advanced nursing tasks, such as starting IVs. The following are some of the broad range of jobs an LPN might perform during their work day.
Monitor Patient’s Health
Part of an LPN’s job is to monitor a patient’s health and make sure that they are receiving the best possible care. There are many ways to do this, but some of the most common methods include taking vital signs, checking for changes in the patient’s condition, and keeping track of their medications.
As a front-line caregiver, it is important to be able to identify changes in a patient’s condition so that you can provide the appropriate care and report it to other healthcare team members. To do this, you will need to take vital signs such as the patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. You will also want to check for any changes in their appearance, such as their skin color or temperature. If any of these indicators are abnormal, communicating the changes to a Charge Nurse or Doctor is critical.
When a person is wounded often times best medical practices dictate that the wound should be dressed in a bandage. That bandage could be as simple as your basic over-the-counter adhesive bandage (think Band-Aid) or as complex as a complete gauze dressing. Regardless of the type or severity of the injury, keeping bandaging clean is paramount to maintaining the patient’s health as dirty bandages can promote infection. Many times LPNs will be called upon to change a patient’s bandaging when appropriate. This could be once each day or more often as the doctor prescribes.
Listen and Document Patient Concerns
Listening to others is a skill that most people have been practicing since Kindergarten. Many of us, even grown adults, have a hard time really listening to what others are saying. As a Licensed Practical Nurse, this is a skill you must master to truly excel at your profession. Not only must you listen to patients, you should record pieces of information that are pertinent to their care. This could include:
- The patient’s chief complaint
- A brief history of the complaint
- Any relevant family history
- A list of current medications
- Any other pertinent information that may help in the diagnosis and treatment of the patient’s condition.
By taking the time to thoroughly document a patient’s concerns, you can help ensure that they receive the best possible care.
Provide Daily Care
The list of daily care items an LPN may be called upon to undertake could be quite extensive. It could be as simple as sitting with a patient to provide comfort. Other duties might include bathing and dressing patients, taking vital signs, and giving injections. Caterer insertion and care may also fall under these roles. LPNS may change bandages, assist patients with meals, check testing procedures, and work with RNs, or registered nurses, on a patient’s overall health plan. LPNs also play an important role in educating patients and their families about medical conditions and treatments.
Assist with Procedures
You’ve seen the old movies… It’s a very tense moment in a surgical theater; the patient is laid out on the operating table fighting for his or her life; the EKG machines are beeping; the life support machines are humming; the doctor says “Scalpel!” and a nurse immediately reports back “Scalpel.” while dutifully handing the surgeon the required tool. Did you know that the nurse assisting the surgeon in that case may very well be an LPN?
LPNs can assist with procedures out of the operating room as well. Many routine procedures are carried out in doctor’s clinics every day. These could include everything from the mundane cheek-swab to test for illness through to the gross-but-necessary assisting with something like wart removal. Regardless, there are dozens of procedures where having an LPN nearby to assist is extremely helpful in the outcome of the overall health plan.
One of the core job responsibilities of an LPN would be to administer medications to patients. It will fall to the LPN to measure out the doses and ensure that the patient successfully takes the prescription. Often these medications will be oral–either in pill or liquid form–and the patient themselves can ingest the medicine. As a nurse you may also be called upon to provide injections. Obviously this requires specialized training (which you will receive as part of earning your LPN certificate) so the patient cannot be responsible for self-administering this type of medication. Similarly, in a hospital setting, injecting medications into a patient’s IV drip may be required. While the skill to perform this task is not as high as injecting into the patient themselves, proper dosing is critically important to ensure the correct amount of drugs reaches the patient’s body. Finally, a more rare form of suppository medication may be called for. As uncomfortable as it may be, as an LPN it could be your job to administer medication in that manner.
Communicate with Healthcare Team
Communication is a vital portion of being a nurse. Perhaps, in fact, it could be the most vital component. Good communication with both your superiors such as a Charge Nurse or physician and your direct-reports such as CNAs or orderlies, will determine how successful you are at fully caring for your patients. Communication can be either oral or written. Most often, it will be both. As an LPN you may have to update the patient’s chart for other healthcare team members to review. You may have to log medication dosing and intervals so that other nurses on other shifts can see when the patient last had their prescriptions. Certainly you will have to report to other how the patient is recovering so that the correct course of action can be laid out for the patient moving forward. Communication with the healthcare team is a critical part of a successful patient outcome.
As you can see, an LPN is responsible for dozens of various tasks throughout the day. Whether it’s dealing with patients, their relatives, colleagues or co-workers, or anyone else, there are a myriad of job responsibilities to undertake. A successful LPN will have the ability to focus on the detail and keep several pieces of information in their head at one time. It’s not the easiest job in the world but it is among the more rewarding. One thing is for certain, as an LPN, your daily job life will be anything but boring!