An LPN’s Guide on How to Become a Nurse

Job opportunities in nursing have never been better, but for some students, spending years in a classroom isn’t an option. Is there a faster way to get started? With the right training and a 12-month commitment, a student can be on track to a flexible, engaging, and rewarding career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

What Is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?

Nurses at all levels are caregivers, but their responsibilities vary based on their training. Like a registered nurse, an LPN cares for patients under the supervision of a physician, but their day-to-day practice is focused more on practical tasks.

Practical nurses typically work as part of a multidisciplinary team. Higher education and a professional license are required to practice in all 50 states.

What Does an LPN do?

The responsibilities of a practical nurse depend on the setting. In nursing homes, assisted living centers, and physicians’ offices, clients are stable, and LPNs may have many of the same responsibilities as registered nurses.

In facilities like hospitals, where patients require a higher level of medical supervision, LPNs typically work under the supervision of an RN, taking over tasks that are essential but less medically complex.

Duties of an LPN may include these tasks.

  • Provide bedside care in residential health facilities
  • Monitor vital signs
  • Track intake and discharge
  • Administer medications and immunizations
  • Perform clinical procedures (urinary catheterizations, oral or tracheal suctioning)
  • Test blood glucose
  • Care for wounds and change dressings
  • Help patients with therapeutic activities
  • Collect blood, urine, and sputum samples
  • Update medical records
  • Educate patients and identify patient goals for care plans
  • Supervise unlicensed care staff, such as certified nursing assistants (CNAs) in nursing homes
  • Counsel families
  • Participate in quality improvement projects

Skills for Success as a Nurse

The character of nurses is as important as the knowledge they possess. Students graduate from school with the practical know-how they need to succeed, but it takes certain skills and a few special qualities to pave the way. These skills include empathy, compassion, open-mindedness, communication, team spirit, critical thinking, time management, and flexibility.

Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. For nurses, it’s seeing with patients’ eyes, listening with their ears, and feeling with their hearts. Licensed practical nurses work with vulnerable people, and to truly understand what they need, a deep-rooted sense of empathy is essential.

Compassion

Compassion is empathy in action. As the ultimate patient advocates, nurses help others heal by alleviating their suffering in practical and meaningful ways. Assisting an elderly woman with basic grooming is an easy job for a busy LPN. Going the extra mile to put on the finishing touches, making that elderly woman feel special, is the spirit of compassion.

Open-Mindedness

It’s a small world. Today’s nurses will see patients from different socioeconomic backgrounds and diverse cultures, many of whom have unorthodox beliefs. Nurses learn to practice based on scientific evidence, but while neither religious nor cultural values are proof based, they’re an equally important part of holistic medicine.

In health care, patients are always in the driver’s seat. Their right to make their own decisions is something nurses must protect, even if those decisions are nontraditional.

Communication Skills

From transcribing orders to educating patients, everything about a nurse’s job requires excellent communication skills. Nurses are the heart of the health care team. They spend more one-on-one with patients than other health care providers, and that puts them in the best position to mediate communication. Nurses must be able to read, write, and speak confidently to be effective.

Team Spirit

Providing quality health care is a team effort. From the physician and the occupational therapist to the nutritionist and the nurse, everyone shares a common mission, yet no one person can complete it alone.

Nurses are independent thinkers. But sharing common goals with other medical professionals requires the ability to respect the roles of others and defer to their expertise and training, even when there are disagreements. Patients’ outcomes improve when team members work together.

Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking, the ability to assess facts and come to thoughtful conclusions, is how nurses prioritize the hundreds of decisions they make every day. It’s the type of common sense that tells them the woman with chest pain needs attention before the teen with a sprained ankle.

Thinking critically comes more naturally for some people than others, but because much of it is based on knowledge and experience, it’s also a learnable skill. Students who are willing to question their assumptions and challenge their personal biases are the first to master critical thinking.

Time Management Skills

From administering medications to having a patient prepped for surgery, most tasks in health care are time sensitive. Nurses need to handle these everyday challenges while always being prepared for the unexpected, something that often happens in a medical setting. Without a sense of time, busy days can quickly become stressful. Being able to make the most of every minute keeps them from becoming unmanageable.

Flexibility

Managing work/life balance is essential to avoid stress, but a hospital’s door never closes. Administrators expect that nurses will do their part by taking shifts when necessary, even if it means working overnight or missing an occasional holiday dinner with the family.

One of the many benefits of a nursing career, however, is the extensive choice of employment settings. Jobs in a busy emergency room are exciting, but they may not offer flexible hours. A position in a doctor’s office may be more predictable, but chances are it will come with a Monday through Friday schedule. It’s a trade-off, but nursing is one of the few careers that can fit any lifestyle.

The Path to a Nursing Career

The fastest way to launch a career in nursing is to obtain a diploma through a vocational school. Whether being a practical nurse is a dream job or a steppingstone to higher education, a vocational school diploma is an exceptional value. Application is a low-stress process, and vocational school representatives are always eager to help nontraditional applicants meet requirements.

Education features both classroom time and supervised clinical experiences. Because graduates of nursing diploma programs are medical professionals, LPN programs are rigorous. But many of today’s programs are flexible learning options that are ideal for students with other commitments or older adults looking for a second career.

Students learn how to work with patients of all ages through nursing classes that address each life stage from pediatric to geriatric, preparing them for a career in any medical setting.

Making the Most of School

As part of their education, LPNs participate in a wide range of clinical experiences. Students work side-by-side with experienced nurses where they can practice what they’ve learned in a real-world setting.

The job market for nurses is extensive, so graduates have many choices of where to apply for work. Time working in hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors’ offices can help students decide what type of setting is the best fit for their skills.

It’s also a valuable opportunity to network. Future graduates get to know others in their field and make professional connections. Nurses are in such high demand that impressing the right people could be an easy pathway to a job.

Clinical rotations are also the ideal time to find mentors. They’re experienced nurses who can help graduates transition from school to work.

Health care is a fast-paced field with a steep learning curve that can be tough to navigate. New nurses need to define their clinical practice while learning the mountains of rules and regulations that govern health care facilities, all while forging relationships with patients and peers.

It’s not always easy. Mentors offer pointed guidance on specific issues, helping new nurses make better decisions about their practice and careers.

After Graduation

Graduation is a time for celebration, but it’s just the beginning. To work independently as a licensed nurse, graduates must pass an exam that demonstrates their professional competency, the NCLEX-PN (National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nurse). The NCLEX-PN is fully computerized and evaluates candidates’ knowledge in four major areas. Its purpose is to ensure nurses have the expertise and judgment necessary to care for patients in general situations safely.

Final Thoughts

As roles expand for registered nurses, practical nurses are filling in the gap on the front lines of health care. It’s an exciting career that offers professional respect, room for growth, and personal fulfillment. All that’s required is a big heart and the willingness to learn. It takes only 11 to 14 months, and the path forward can begin today.

Did learning about how to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) interest you? Ready for an exciting new career in the health care field?

The Practical Nursing certificate program provides the graduate with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to function as a licensed practical nurse, or LPN.

Part of the practical nurse training curriculum is devoted to theory and the rest to hands-on laboratory skills practice and off-site clinical externship rotations. These rotations include work at long-term care and rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, and childbearing and pediatric outpatient settings.

Upon successful completion of the NCLEX-PN, the National Council Licensure Examination, which is a nationwide examination for the licensing of nurses in the United States, the licensed practical nurse (LPN) works under the direction of a registered nurse or licensed physician in a variety of health care settings.

Contact us today to find out more about how to become an LPN on Long Island.