LPN Job Description and Scope of Practice

Jobs in the Health Care Field continue to increase as population grows and ages. Nursing staff make up the bulk of Health Care jobs. These days nurses are in great need and short supply. As our population continues to expand and age, the need for nursing staff will only grow. The nursing field is extensive and encompasses many forms of nursing, from Certified Nurse Aides (CNAs) to Nurse Practitioners (NPs) to nurse researchers. One type of nursing, that is growing very fast, is the LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) or LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse).

In my own hospital we utilize LPNs on our Surgical, Medical and Pediatric floors. They help fill in the gaps in nursing staffing and fulfill a very important role. I enjoy working with the few who work on our surgical floor. They are knowledgeable about their patients, competent and provide great patient care.

It can be difficult to know a LPN’s scope of practice or job description. Regulations vary by state. LPNs often find work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, home health care, the military and anywhere else there is a need for trained nursing care. LPN duties and job descriptions will also vary based on where they practice. They work under the guidance of doctors and Registered Nurses (RNs). A LPN will see to the care of patients who are ill, disabled, rehabilitating or any time a person might be unable to care for themselves.

A LPN’s course of study last roughly a year. During this year, no matter what state they study in, the knowledge base is the same. The same basic practices transfer from facility to facility and state to state. All LPNs must be licensed by their state’s governing board.

LPN Duties and Job Descriptions

Primarily, LPNs perform important, direct patient care. They see to the comfort of their patients. LPN responsibilities include giving back rubs, helping with personal hygiene and assisting with mealtimes. The tasks keep LPNs up to date with the status of their patient. As part of their patient care, LPNs often over see the work of the CNAs who they work with.

LPN job duties also include assisting with medical care. They clean and dress wounds according to doctor’s orders. They monitor vital signs, intake and output, as well as any other bodily functions needing to be monitored. Often LPNs are trained to take venous blood samples and collect other types of specimens for lab studies. You will find LPNs assisting doctors or RNs with different procedures. LPNs also give many different medications – including oral, intravenous and shots. Please note that each state determines and regulates what medications, the form and the route. Many states do not allow LPNs to give intravenous medications.

As part of a LPN job description, paper work is a necessity. LPNs are required to chart on their patients progress and any patient care the LPN provides: making careful records of each patient so that each patient’s care and progress can be assessed properly, collecting pertinent information on patients, including health history and any medications being taken, is important information for the LPN to know and document. LPNs also help with patient and family education – demonstrating techniques, answering questions and assessing for understanding.

LPN Scope of Practice

These basic descriptions of what a LPN’s job entails do not encompass all LPN can learn or do. Some states allow their LPNs to give and monitor intravenous medications, so special training is required. Even within hospitals, the scope of a LPNs practice can be widened through additional education. Certifications, available for a LPN to broaden their abilities, provide another avenue for learning. Basic Life Support (BLS), which includes CPR and knowledge of automatic external defibrillator (AED) use, is a requirement for all LPNs. They can continue on from there to secure their ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life support) or PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support). They can obtain certification in many areas including advanced wound care, hospice care, intravenous therapy, hemodialysis or pet therapy.

What are the differences in LPNs job description working in hospitals as compared to LPNs working nursing homes?

Two of the biggest factors that play a role in what your scope of practice will look like as a LPN are the regulations set by both your state and your health care facility. Your scope of practice either expands or contracts depending on which regulations they choose to use. Most LPNs will find themselves working in either a hospital or nursing homes. These tend to be very large facilities and thus employ large nursing staffs.

In both hospitals and nursing homes, as a LPN, you will provide physical and emotional care to patients. Physical care includes everything from passing medications and performing treatments to giving back rubs and helping with showering. Emotional care, aka psycho-social care, will have you dealing with cultural, spiritual and growth and development. Don’t forget the ever present charting done in both settings.

In nursing homes…

The differences really lie in the type of facility you work in. Nursing home patients are mostly elderly or disabled. Here the nursing home is just that, their home. They live there year round and their chances of living outside of the nursing home are very slim. LPN duties and concerns will involve keeping them at their optimal level of health. You will need a strong knowledge base on chronic disease processes. Monitoring will involve keeping track of each patient’s health status and knowing when a change signals a problem. LPN job description also involves working closely with Physical and Occupational Therapist, working with the patients under your care daily to maintain their physical status.

nursing home

In a nursing home, LPNs duties focus less on recovery and more on helping the patients do all they can for themselves. You will see limited medical interventions, more personal items in the rooms and you will grow to know your patients in a way you cannot in the hospital. To them, you will become more their family than their own flesh and blood. They will rely on you and look to you as they finish out their lives.

In hospitals…

In a hospital, on the other hand, LPNs duties involve treating a wide range of ages – from birth to old age. The focus here is on bringing an acutely sick patient back to their optimum norm, on healing. The pace is faster, with the goal to get the patient out in as little time as possible. More time is spent on the physical healing and less on the emotional condition. Patients have little say in the scheduling of their day or control in what goes on in the hospital.

LPNs in the hospital find themselves more concerned about the medical condition of their patients. Most of their time will be spent monitoring bodily functions and vitals, as well as performing various medical treatments. Charting in the hospital consumes more time with the faster pace of care. Your will not have the time to get to know your patients very well as they often change daily.

One final difference lies in autonomy. In hospitals LPNs find themselves working under the direction of a RN, and sometimes a MD. This is not the case in most nursing homes. While RNs do work at nursing homes, there are times when only LPNs will be working. You will often have the option to be trained as a charge nurse and work without supervision.

The basic duties of LPNs do not vary much between types of health care facilities. The changes are based on the type of patients in the facility where you work. Both nursing homes and hospitals care for the physical and emotional aspects of their patients. Hospitals focus on healing and bringing the acutely ill back to the best possible health. Nursing homes want to maintain their patients’ current health level and seek to provide more emotional care.

Last Modified: 11 Apr 2012