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What is a LPN?

Licensed practical nurse (LPN) is the term used in much of the United States and most Canadian provinces to refer to a nurse who cares for "people who are sick, injured, convalescent, or disabled under the direction of registered nurses and physicians.

According to the 2010-2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook, licensed practical nurses care for patients in many ways:

Often, they provide basic bedside care. Many LPNs measure and record patients' vital signs such as weight, height, temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory rate. They also prepare and give injections and enemas, monitor catheters, dress wounds, and give alcohol rubs and massages. To help keep patients comfortable, they assist with bathing, dressing, and personal hygiene, moving in bed, standing, and walking. They might also feed patients who need help eating. Experienced LPNs may supervise nursing assistants and aides, and other LPNs.

As part of their work, LPNs collect samples for testing, perform routine laboratory tests, and record food and fluid intake and output. They clean and monitor medical equipment. Sometimes, they help physicians and registered nurses perform tests and procedures. Some LPNs help to deliver,care for, and feed infants.

LPNs also monitor their patients and report adverse reactions to medications or treatments. LPNs gather information from patients, including their health history and how they are currently feeling. They may use this information to complete insurance forms, pre-authorizations, and referrals and they share information with registered nurses and doctors to help determine the best course of care for a patient. LPNs often teach family members how to care for a relative or teach patients about good health habits.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, while most LPNs are generalists and will work in any area of healthcare some LPNs work in specialized settings, such as nursing homes, doctor's offices, or in home care. In some U.S. states, LPNs are permitted to administer prescribed medicines, start intravenous fluids, and provide care to ventilator-dependent patients. While about 18 percent of LPNs/LVNs in the U.S. worked part-time in 2008, most work a 40 hour week. The Occupational Outlook Handbook states that LPNs may have to work nights, weekends, and holidays; often stand for long periods and help patients move in bed, stand, or walk; and may face occupational hazards which include exposure to caustic chemicals, radiation, infectious diseases, back injuries from moving patients, workplace stress and sometimes confused, agitated, or uncooperative patients.

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LPN Training

In the United States, training programs to become a LPN/LVN last about one year and are offered by vocational/technical schools and community colleges. The Occupational Outlook Handbook states that in order to be eligible for licensure, LPNs must complete a state-approved training program. A high school diploma or equivalent usually is required for acceptance into a training program, but some programs accept candidates without a diploma and some programs are part of a high school curriculum. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook states that most programs include both classroom study (covering basic nursing concepts and subjects related to patient care, including anatomy, physiology, medical-surgical nursing, pediatrics, obstetrics nursing, pharmacology, nutrition and first aid),and supervised clinical practice (usually in a hospital setting, but sometimes elsewhere.

The National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nurse  (NCLEX-PN), a computer-based national licensing exam developed and administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, is the exam required to obtain licensure as a LPN/LVN. In many states, LPNs/LVNs are required to obtain continuing education credits throughout their career.


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