PROS / Vocational career with great job stability with opportunities for advancement.
CONS / Licensed practical nurses often work with very ill or terminal patients.
VERDICT / Excellent job for individuals who like caring for and assisting others.
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) have the highest demand of any vocational career we reviewed. With a projected 391,300 jobs opening over the next 10 years, the profession has excellent job stability. In addition, there are many opportunities to specialize within a particular medical field, as well as to advance within the nursing industry.
A starting salary in this profession averages $31,400 annually with the potential to earn $55,000 annually with just an associate's degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Insurance and other benefits are usually provided by employers in this profession.
Presently there are more than 725,000 licensed practical nurses nationwide, which is more than twice as many as any of the careers we reviewed. With the number of baby boomers now becoming more aged, their medical needs will increase substantially over the next 10 to 20 years. They are attributed to providing much of the projected growth in the nursing industry. This means that individuals in this field have a high chance of working with elderly individuals.
Typically, individuals in this profession are either a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Both certifications must pass the NCLEX-PL exam, which is developed and administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. A community college or vocational school will usually provide an educational program to prepare individuals for the test, or individuals may get trained through the U.S. military.
Most individuals in this profession are generalists who can work in any area of healthcare. However, individuals advance in their duties and salaries by specializing in a particular medical field, such as pediatrics, gastroenterology, or orthopedics. They often work under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN).
Some licensed practical nurses go back to school to pursue additional licensure to become RNs. RNs often work more closely with doctors to meet patient needs, and they have the opportunity to specialize more within a specific medical field with titles such as surgical nurse, ICU nurse or oncology nurse. LPNs rate as one of the highest we reviewed because of job availability as well as the opportunity to advance far beyond its immediate career track. It is common for RNs to work as LPNs first before advancing.
Licensed practical nurses fulfill a slightly different role than medical assistants. Although differentiation between them will vary depending on the hospital, clinic or care center where you work, LPNs perform basic bedside care related to patient care, such as dressing wounds, treating bedsores, giving enemas or douches, or performing catheterizations. They work with all kinds of medical instruments such as stethoscopes, hypodermic needles, tracheotomy tubes, oxygen suppliers, nebulizers, and ankle and body restraints. Because of the sensitive nature of some of these tasks, the work requires the ability to be discreet and gentle.
Individuals in this profession monitor patients and report adverse reactions to medications or treatments. They also often teach family members how to care for a relative and teach patients good health habits. In addition, they may schedule doctor's appointments for patients and perform other clerical duties.
Because many in this profession work in facilities that require 24-hour care of patients, flexible schedules are available including the swing shift, night shift or weekends and holidays. Full-time and part-time positions are also available. This gives you a more flexible schedule to work a second job, enroll at a college or university for additional education or take care of your family. You may also need to work overtime on a regular basis. You may work individually or with other nurses or medical assistants to perform regular duties.
Although you may work in a variety of medical facilities in this vocational career, you also have the option of working as a traveling nurse where you work within private homes to issue medication, check blood pressure, change IVs, change catheters or tend to other physical needs of patients.
Technology assists individuals in this profession. In a clinic, you will likely use an electronic thermometer and a blood pressure monitor. In a hospital, you will likely work with an electronic monitor which measures the capacity of the heart, as well as an electronic device called a spirometer that measures the breathing capacity of the lungs. You will also likely use medical database software specially designed for the needs of doctors and nurses.
You will need to be able to lift 50 pounds for jobs in this profession in order to move or transport patients. In addition, you will wear protective gloves and masks when conducting a lab test such as drawing blood. The dress code of nurses is typically to wear scrubs, and some clinics require nurses to wear a specific color such as white. Wear comfortable shoes that support your feet well, as you will be on your feet most of the time. Medical apparel vendors sell certain brands of footwear such as Crocs, Drew, Orthofeet and Aetrex.
Basic Office Skills
Basic spelling, grammar and punctuation skills are required for this vocational career because you will frequently be adding information to patient records. You also need to know basic math skills and to have a handle on typing, data entry and 10-key functions.
LPNs need to be detail-oriented because the slightest error could have drastic repercussions. For example, if a doctor orders lab work to be done, and you perform the wrong lab work, that is an additional expense that often a hospital or clinic has to eat, and it also causes delay in getting a diagnosis. Documenting patient history requires the ability to process your observations and what a patient says into relevant medical phrases that doctors and RNs then investigate further.
You will need to use MS Outlook to communicate with staff by email. In addition, you will need to be familiar with MS Word and MS Excel.
Although you may not have as many qualifications as a registered nurse, you will likely interact more with the patients to take care of tasks that nurses don't have time to do in this vocational career. As a result, patients will probably work with you more than other staff in a hospital, clinic or care center, so you will play an integral role in keeping a pulse on how patients are feeling.
Presently there are many licensed practical nurses in the United States today, and they are expected to increase in demand substantially over the next 10 to 20 years. They have one of the brightest outlooks of any of the vocational careers we reviewed. If you enjoy working with people and have a great attention to detail, you will likely do well in this profession.
A Licensed Practical Nurse's Typical Work Day
Tony served in Iraq in the 1990s as a medic and was a first responder at the scene of bombings and other attacks. When he came home and re-entered civilian life, Tony was an emergency medical technician (EMT) for six years before choosing to go back to school to begin a vocational career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN).
On a daily basis, Tony's responsibilities as a licensed practical nurse at the emergency room in his local hospital include such tasks as inserting intravenous needles, connecting individuals to heart rhythm monitors, drawing blood for blood tests, dressing wounds and performing catheterizations. He keeps an eye on his patients to monitor how treatments or medications are working. Tony usually works 10-hour shifts at nights and on weekends, and most of that time he is on his feet. He frequently moves or transports patients, which requires both strength and gentleness.
Tony interacts with a large variety of patients in the ER, from accident victims to patients who have suffered a stroke or heart attack. Each does not expect to be there and must deal with the realization that their lives may be different for a while as they recover from injuries or conditions. In some cases, they may not recover completely. Occasionally a patient will die, and although it is never easy to deal with that, Tony has learned to accept that death is a part of life.
In his vocational career, Tony works closely with doctors, radiology technicians, respiratory therapists, medical assistants and other medical staff. Because he frequently helps treat victims of crime including victims of domestic violence, child abuse or neglect and gang violence, he often works closely with law enforcement officers and social workers. In such cases, he is required by law to assist in investigations; however, he does so in a way that will not interfere with a patient's treatment whenever possible.
A nurse has one of the most stable careers in America today because of the increasing need for medical personnel as the baby boomer generation becomes more elderly. Tony has watched as his own parents have started getting older. Because of this, he has gained compassion for the elderly patients with whom he works, and he wants to do all he can to help them maintain their dignity.
Tony is presently back in nursing school to become a registered nurse (RN), which will give him more career opportunities and a higher salary. He likes how with his job in nursing, he has been able to stay in his home town near family. Some of the work Tony wants to do as a registered nurse includes assisting in chemotherapy treatments and other specialized non-surgical procedures for cancer patients.
As a licensed practical nurse, Tony works with patients of all ages. Children in particular love Tony because he is such a tough but gentle person who is always making them laugh. Beyond accuracy in the medical treatment he provides, the part of his vocational career he thinks is the most important is helping patients be as comfortable as possible. Passionate about the work he does, Tony loves helping and being around people.