What is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on July 16, 2023
3 min read

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) may have similar sounding titles, but they have very different duties. Registered nurses have generally completed more education than LPNs, and are in charge of giving medication and administering tests and treatments. LPNs manage basic patient care such as checking blood pressure and vitals, and helping patients eat and get dressed. Both roles are critical to the care and comfort of patients.  

Licensed practical nurses are qualified to handle many tasks that are necessary to keep patients comfortable while at the hospital or in other types of medical settings. LPNs handle tasks like: 

  • Recording patients’ vitals, such as blood pressure, temperature, and pulse. 
  • Reporting patient status to RNs and doctors and adding it to patient charts. 
  • Changing wound dressings.
  • Giving medications. 
  • Feeding and bathing patients.
  • Following healthcare plans developed by an RN or a doctor. 

In order to receive an LPN license, these nurses must complete a one-year training program, which involves a combination of classroom courses on biology, pharmacology, and nursing and supervised clinical experience. These programs are most frequently available through technical or community colleges, but some areas hospitals and high schools also offer them.

At the end of their education, LPNs take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). Passing this exam grants LPNs their license and allows them to begin working in their field. 

Many LPNs go on to complete further education. LPNs may get specific certifications to work in certain fields, such as IV therapy or neonatal care. They may also get further medical education to become an RN. 

LPNs cannot diagnose any medical condition or prescribe any medication. However, they can handle most of the routine tasks of day-to-day medical care. Typically, they administer medication and perform basic medical tasks such as changing bandages.

In most cases, the LPN will not be the medical practitioner you are scheduled to see. Instead, they will be working as an assistant to the medical professional or doctor who has primary charge of your care. As a result, you may see an LPN in a variety of different medical facilities.

Nursing Homes

Most commonly, LPNs are found in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and hospice care facilities. These are the medical facilities where people need the most day-to-day assistance. Here, they will help residents care for themselves, administer medication, and monitor their health for the residents’ primary care physicians. 

Home Health Care

If someone has a medical professional who comes to their home daily or weekly, it’s likely that they are working with an LPN. In this case, LPNs provide similar care to what they would in a nursing home or hospice center. They monitor their client’s health and help them handle daily tasks that they cannot manage on their own. 

General Physician Offices

In some particularly busy general care offices, LPNs might help smooth the patient experience. An LPN may be the person who takes your vitals before the doctor comes in for your exam.

General Hospitals

LPNs are most frequently in charge of responding to patient requests, giving medications, taking care of wound dressings, and helping patients feel comfortable.