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Practical Nursing Job Duties and Career Options

Sep 17, 2019

Working as a practical nurse requires little formal education. Learn about the education programs, job duties and licensing to see if this is the right career for you.

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A practical nurse may find work in a variety of different industries, including residential health care, hospitals, physicians' offices and home health care. Although very little formal education is required to become a practical nurse, appropriate licensing is required in all states.

Essential Information

A practical nurse provides basic care under supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or doctor to disabled, convalescent, injured or sick individuals. Practical nurses must be licensed; after graduating from a state-approved practical nursing program and passing an exam, individuals gain the licensed practical nurse (LPN) designation and can perform many nursing duties. Licensed practical nurses may also be called licensed vocational nurses.

Required Education Certificate or diploma in practical nursing
Certification Licensing is required in all states and achieved by passing the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-PN
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 11%* for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses
Median Salary (2018) $46,240* for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties of a Practical Nurse

Job duties for licensed practical nurses range from taking and recording temperature, blood pressure, respiration and pulse information to helping with basic day-to-day needs of patients. In addition to recording vital signs, LPNs often post reports on fluid intake and output, treatments given and unusual behavior or reactions to medications. They may help recovering patients attend to their bathroom needs and get in and out of bed, as well as assist with feeding and personal hygiene activities such as teeth brushing, hair combing, shaving, bathing and dressing.

Practical nursing duties can also include applying sterile dressings and compresses, providing suppositories and enemas, monitoring catheters and administering tube feedings. Other duties include providing pre- and post-operative care, oxygen therapy and diabetic care. Licensed practical nurses in most states may also set up and administer oral, subcutaneous and intra-muscular medications. LPNs also sometimes help to feed and care for infants, occasionally helping in their delivery. In some settings, licensed practical nurses collect samples for lab tests or even perform some routine tests.

Career Options

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing care facilities and hospitals employed the most practical nurses of any industry in 2018 (www.bls.gov). Other practical nurses find jobs in physicians' offices, community health clinics, public schools, dentists' offices and mental health facilities. Working in residential care is another option. LPNs are also employed by government agencies at the local, state and federal levels.

Licensed practical nurses can improve their career options by enrolling in an LPN-to-RN bridge program. Graduates generally earn an associate's degree in nursing and become RNs by passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). One can also earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) through an LPN-to-BSN program. RNs can specialize in areas including ambulatory care and geriatric or pediatric nursing, for example. They can also specialize in the treatment of various health conditions or work as nurses in particular settings, such as the operating room or emergency room.

A practical nurse must be trained to perform a wide range of duties, some of which include administering tube feedings, providing enemas, monitoring blood pressure and assisting with feeding. Entry-level requirements for the career include a short-term training program and state licensure.

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