Are LPNs/LVNs Still Needed?
In the medical field, there are many different types of nurses. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) offer fundamental nursing care and are valuable healthcare team members. They work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) or physicians, providing patient care.
The role of the LPN was created during World War II to supplement nursing shortages after RNs joined the military.
LPNs and LVNs have the same role, but the name varies by state.
What is an LPN?
LPNs are nurses that perform basic medical tasks such as taking vital signs and feeding patients. They can also administer medications and injections, provide immunizations, perform wound care, tube feedings, and other similar tasks of an RN. Sometimes they may perform the duties of a certified nursing assistant (CNA), such as dressing and bathing patients. LPNs are responsible for sustaining a clear line of communication between patients, their families, and the healthcare team.
Many hospitals have stopped utilizing LPNs over the past couple of decades, as they increased their education requirements. In this case, they switched to hiring only RNs and CNAs.
Meanwhile, LPNs have continued to work in home health, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and hospice care. Some even work with insurance companies doing audits, in correctional facilities, and school nursing.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022), employment of LPNs/LVNs is projected to grow 9 percent from 2021 to 2031. This is much faster than the national average for all occupations. There are about 58,000 job openings projected for LPNs/LVNs. Many of these openings are to replace nurses that are retiring or changing to a different occupation.
This is especially notable in long-term care. The aging Baby Boomer generation is creating a surge in demand for rehabilitative services. People are living significantly longer than before. As a result, the role of LPNs is more crucial than ever. Additionally, certain chronic diseases have become more prevalent, such as diabetes and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, requiring the type of care LPNs can provide.
The Difference Between LPNs and RNs
The education levels of an LPN and RN are quite different. To become an RN, one must earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing. This can take between two and four years. Some states do not require an RN to have a bachelor’s degree, but the employer may sometimes require it. Magnet hospitals do require their RNs to hold a bachelor’s degree.
On the other hand, to become an LPN, one must complete an accredited nursing certificate program. These can be found at community colleges or vocational schools. The program usually takes about 12 to 18 months to complete. Becoming an LPN requires less time and energy to obtain a traditional college degree. Completing a program in one year is significantly shorter than most healthcare career programs. It can also be affordable for those unable to pay for a longer education period.
An LPN and an RN must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to apply for a nursing license and practice. The NCLEX has separate tests for the LPN and RN roles. The exams are similar in length but the RN NCLEX has a more critical thinking questionnaire.
The average annual salary for LPNs is $55,860. The mean salary for RNs is $89,010, depending on the state. Although working as an LPN has a fair salary, there is more opportunity for growth in income as an RN.
One of the main distinctions between an RN and LPN is that the RN has more on-the-job responsibilities. The RN role focuses more on critical thinking. LPNs do not have the full scope of practice that RNs do. Thus, RNs can perform initial patient assessments and play an active role in conceptualizing patient care plans. RNs tend to take on a leadership role, whereas LPNs are more task-driven. Importantly, both professions are required to document patient care.
Outside of medical skills, LPNs need to be good communicators. They often interact effectively with patients, their caregivers, supervising RNs, and physicians. Additionally, they provide patient education on procedures, diet, and treatments. LPNs need to serve as the patient’s advocate. The LPN should notify the physician if the patient has more questions about a procedure or may benefit from other interdisciplinary services such as physical therapy.
Having a good bedside manner is an important part of nursing. This is when healthcare practitioners treat patients as real people and not just a number. Examples are good eye contact, active listening, being approachable, and being patient.
LPNs should have strong time management skills. This requires them to be organized, efficient, and multi-task. Healthcare is a fast-paced environment. LPNs can delegate tasks to CNAs, such as patient grooming and turning. They must administer medications on time and complete all responsibilities before the end of their shift.
LPNs Are Still Needed
Jobs in the nursing sector are always in high demand, and that includes LPNs. The ongoing nursing shortage has led to LPNs being able to continue to find work. Although some organizations prefer hiring nursing with advanced degrees, such as RNs, LPNs are still attractive since they cost less to employers.
LPNs have plenty of opportunities for advancement and can choose between various places to work. Many LPNs decide to continue their education while working. They pursue higher learning to become an RN. While they continue working while studying, they may consolidate what they learn into practice.
Becoming an LPN/LVN takes work. Caring for patients can be challenging and requires a lot of preparation and dedication. Passing the NCLEX for some may be tough, but through good study habits and determination, potential LPNs can be successful. Becoming an LPN can be a great career on its own, or if desired, can be a stepping stone for transitioning into an RN position later on.
Depending on the state and scope of practice, LPNs can become intravenous (IV) therapy certified. This will allow them to start, administer, and discontinue IVs in patients. This will make them more attractive to employers. Depending on the state, the LPN can also draw blood and give medications via IV.
As mentioned above, LPN job opportunities are expected to grow over the next several decades. The number of people over 65 is expected to double by 2060. As a result, nurses of all levels, including LPNs, will continue to be in high demand. The aging Baby Boomer population will increase the overall need for healthcare services. Areas in high demand for LPNs are residential care facilities and home health. Employers need LPNs in these fields due to lower expenses.
Nursing has become popular and commonly thought to be a “recession-proof” career. There will always be sick people in need of medical care. Nursing offers many benefits, such as career advancement, flexibility, and various work settings. This applies to all levels of nursing, including LPNs. Although LPNs are not interchangeable with an RN, they are still needed.
LPNs are more affordable for medical facilities and are an important aspect of the interdisciplinary team. The education requirements to become an LPN are less than those needed to study to become an RN. As a result, the length of the LPN program is shorter and may be attractive to those looking to start a career in nursing as soon as possible. Due to the aging Baby Boomer population, the need for LPNs is greater today than ever.