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Licensed vocational nurses, also known as licensed practical nurses (LVN/LPN) care directly for patients, usually under the supervision of registered nurses and doctors.

What does a licensed vocational/practical nurse do?

Work performed by LVNs/LPNs can vary depending on the work environment. Also, because medical care is regulated, state laws may limit the tasks they can perform. Typical duties can include (continue below):

  • Taking patients’ health histories
  • Monitoring patients’ vital statistics (temperature, blood pressure, pulse and respiration, IV drips)
  • Applying and changing treatments and dressings
  • Inserting and monitoring catheters
  • Listening to patients and discussing their conditions and treatment with them
  • Keeping records on patients’ health, fluid, food and drug intake, and response to treatment
  • Sterilizing equipment and supplies

Additional tasks might include:

  • Observing patients and reporting observations to registered nurses and doctors in a hospital or other healthcare facility
  • Explaining treatment and teaching caregivers how to care for a patient
  • Helping to deliver, care for and feed infants
  • Collecting samples for testing (blood, urine, sputum, etc.) and doing routine laboratory tests
  • Assisting patients with self-care such as eating, bathing, dressing or performing other personal hygiene tasks
  • Preparing and delivering medications, injections, enemas and douches
  • Giving treatments to make patients more comfortable such as alcohol rubs, massages or applying ice packs or hot water bottles
  • Preparing patients for examinations, tests or treatments
  • Filling out insurance forms and referrals

Most LVNs/LPNs are generalists and can work in any area of healthcare. Some may choose to focus on one area and are responsible for duties specific to their specialty. For example, in a doctor’s office, LVNs/LPNs may perform administrative tasks like making appointments, calling in referrals and prescriptions or managing patient records and insurance reimbursements. In a private home, responsibilities may include light housework, cooking or running errands.

What skills does a licensed vocational/practical nurse need?

LVNs/LPNs must be very compassionate to provide the highly personalized care they give patients. Having patience in dealing with people who are sick, injured or scared is also helpful in this role. They need strong observation skills and to show good judgment in deciding how to respond to patients. Some tasks LVNs/LPNs are required to perform require physical strength, so they should be healthy and in good physical condition.

Because schedules are critical to effective treatment, especially when giving medication, LVNs/LPNs should have effective time management skills. Being detail-oriented is important in keeping comprehensive records. In settings such as hospitals where LVNs/LPNs are part of a healthcare team, strong communication and collaboration skills will help them work well with others and ensure patients get the right treatment.

Where does a licensed vocational/practical nurse work?

The trend toward providing care on an outpatient basis has created expanded opportunities for LVNs/LPNs outside of traditional workplaces like hospitals and nursing homes. While most LVNs/LPNs still work at hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities, they may also find jobs in correctional facilities, the military, doctors’ offices, patients’ homes, or private companies in administrative roles such as insurance claims processing.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 75 percent of LVNs/LPNs worked full time in 2010 and the rest worked part-time or on variable schedules. For LVNs/LPNs who work in hospitals or other inpatient healthcare facilities, shifts can include nights, weekends and holidays and may be longer than eight hours.

How much money can a licensed vocational/practical nurse expect to earn?

The median annual wage of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses was $40,380 in May 2010. Healthcare Salary Online provides additional details, including the five best-paying states and benefit information. Check to find out what you can expect to earn in the state(s) where you plan to work.

Will there be many jobs as a licensed vocational/practical nurse available?

LVN/LPN employment is projected to grow faster than average: by 22 percent from 2010 to 2020. The aging U.S. population will require additional healthcare services, creating new jobs. In addition, a large number of LVNs/LPNs are expected to retire during this period and will need to be replaced. New jobs are also being created in outpatient care facilities that are performing more and more tests and procedures formerly performed only in hospitals.

More information can be found below:

How to Become a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

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