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What Is the Role of an LPN in a Hospital?

Are you interested in becoming an LPN but not sure whether you want to work in a hospital or not? Licensed practical nurses are in high demand as healthcare facilities grow. A fixture in nursing homes for decades, they have a wide range of opportunities in many facilities, including hospitals. Rumors that LPNs are being phased out of acute care are unfounded. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. So, let’s take a closer look at what LPNs do in hospitals and why they’re irreplaceable.

What Does an LPN Do?

Like registered nurses, licensed practical nurses are professional caregivers. Their responsibilities vary by setting but include:

  • Helping patients with activities of daily living such as eating, bathing, and dressing.
  • Checking vital signs.
  • Monitoring food and liquid intake and output.
  • Administering oral and injection medications.
  • Inserting urinary catheters.
  • Obtaining blood glucose readings.
  • Changing light dressings.
  • Collecting laboratory specimens.
  • Assisting with therapeutic exercises.
  • Educating patients and families.
  • Supervising paraprofessional staff.
  • Nursing documentation.

Where Do LPNs Work?

LPNs can work in any healthcare facility or home health setting. With less education, their role is different than a registered nurse’s but no less valuable. Practical nurses are perennial long-term care centers, like nursing homes, because their practical skills are a perfect match for stable patients who need medical supervision without constant attention. Still, many hospital patients fill that description.

Registered nurses take the lead while practical nurses manage many of the hands-on tasks that keep patients comfortable and safe. Hospitals rely on them both. Together, they’re a dynamic duo.

What Do LPNs Do in Hospitals

LPNs employed in hospitals perform bedside care, working directly with patients on their daily needs while monitoring for changes in their condition. As a hospital nurse, you’ll:

Help Patients with Daily Activities

Just because someone is hospitalized doesn’t mean their everyday needs change. They still need to eat, bathe, dress, and eliminate. However, daily activities are challenging when you’re sick, making even normal tasks a safety issue that requires supervision.

As an LPN, you’ll manage patients’ bedside needs considering their illness. You’ll help them cut their food, change their clothes, and walk to the bathroom, all while monitoring them for changes in physical condition.

While assisting with hygiene, for example, you’ll look for skin ulcers and signs of circulatory impairment. After documenting your findings, you’ll report to the registered nurse who will follow up by speaking to the doctor or making changes in the nursing plan of care. It’s a joint effort.

Take Vital Signs

Registered nurses delegate most routine clinical tasks, such as taking vital signs, to LPNs. Even slight changes in temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and respirations indicate a patient’s condition has changed, so it’s a simple but important task.

Administer Medications

In hospitals, registered nurses manage high-risk medication and drugs administered by IV or pump. Practical nurses give low-risk oral medications and injections, including vaccinations and insulin.

Monitor Intake and Output

Fluid and calorie balance has a significant impact on some illnesses. Patients with kidney disease, for example, are often on fluid restriction while those with high fevers need extra liquids.

LPNs measure intake at every meal and output when taking patients to the bathroom, emptying urinary catheter bags, weighing adult incontinence briefs, and verifying regular bowel movements. A strict record is crucial for making the best medical decisions.

Perform Wound Care

Whether it’s caring for chronic wounds or changing a post-op bandage, LPNs can manage most light dressings. In an acute care environment, however, open skin is a conduit for infection, so special precautions are necessary.

LPNs monitor for signs of infection and IV infiltration, a situation in which a venous catheter perforates the vein. Patients fare better when nurses catch infection symptoms early.

Collect Laboratory Specimens

Testing is an integral part of patient care, so it’s not unusual to need blood, urine, sputum, or stool samples. In hospitals, certified phlebotomists handle most blood draws, but only nurses are trained to collect clean or sterile urine, sputum, and stool samples. With additional training, LPNs may also swab wounds for culture.

Insert Urinary Catheters

Urinary catheters shunt urine out of the bladder when the patient can’t. Sometimes, the problem is neurological or musculoskeletal, but catheters are also inserted for surgical procedures to handle urine flow while patients are anesthetized. A sterile procedure, it requires an LPN’s dexterity and attention to detail.

Monitor Patient Comfort 

Comfort plays a significant role in how patients recover from illness or surgery. When they’re in pain, they can’t participate fully in their treatment plan. LPNs assess for pain several times per shift, using verbal screens and observation. When they’re struggling, they report to the healthcare team and search for solutions.

Safeguard Skin Integrity

Decubitus ulcers, or bed sores, are a consequence of immobility among many contributing factors. Bedridden patients are prone to pressure over bony prominences and need help with repositioning to avoid skin damage. LPNs help by assisting with movement, keeping skin clean and applying pressure-relieving devices.

Medical devices such as bandages, splints and casts can also compromise skin if they’re too tight. LPNs check them regularly to ensure adequate circulation in the affected area.

Assist with Therapeutic Exercises

After procedures, physical and occupational therapists design plans of care to help patients regain normal mobility. However, it takes more than one round daily to improve conditioning. Following the therapist’s instructions, LPNs work with patients on therapeutic exercises that enhance their range of motion and stamina.

Manage Medical Equipment

Some patients require medical equipment to stay well. Oxygen concentrators, CPAP devices, feeding tubes and mobility equipment, such as walkers and wheelchairs, are among the most common. Each device has maintenance needs that, if not addressed, may result in injury. LPNs assess the safety of equipment and perform or arrange for proper upkeep.

Offer Emotional Support

The days are long when you’re in the hospital. Between tests and procedures, visits can be rare. And those with contagious illnesses are often quarantined, so they need the emotional support that only a nurse can provide.

Whether it’s holding their hand, arranging electronic communication with family and friends, or just easing their minds by keeping them informed of test results, an LPN is a patient’s bedside angel. They understand the devastating impact of illness, and they work to make life as normal as possible.

Provide Patient and Family Education 

The difference between a successful discharge and rehospitalization for the same condition often comes down to education. Patients need a lot of teaching when it comes to their illnesses and treatment plans. People with diabetes and heart failure are among the most likely to be readmitted because they couldn’t manage their care at home. So, teaching should begin the moment a patient is admitted.

Because practical nurses spend most of their day on the floor, they’re the most aware of their patients’ needs and learning limitations. Step by step, they guide patients and their support network to a better understanding of their illness, medication use, and other treatment recommendations.

Document Care

The rule in nursing is, if it wasn’t documented, it wasn’t done. Writing notes takes time away from patients, but it’s a necessary evil. Without it, continuity of care is poor.

As an LPN, you’ll record your observations and how you respond to patient needs, what happened, what did you do about it, and who did you tell? Notes that are clear and complete are critical for the next shift.

How Do You Become an LPN? 

A quicker way to become a practical nurse is to enroll in a vocational school LPN program. The training is comprehensive and intense, but you’ll graduate work-ready with a diploma in under a year. It’s an ideal way to break into the nursing field without spending years in college, not everyone can afford to put their life on hold.

The sole prerequisites are a high school diploma or general equivalency and a commitment to learning. Programs are a blend of classroom instruction and clinical rotations in which you’ll have the opportunity to work with patients in real-life settings.

Training prepares you for the licensing exam. Pass, and you’re ready to embark on a rewarding career in your choice of settings, including hospitals.

Final Thoughts

Nursing is an exciting field, and there’s no more thrilling place to work than a hospital. You’ll see unusual cases and care for the sickest and most vulnerable people. If you’re passionate about wellness, there’s never been a better time to become a practical nurse.

Did learning about how toc become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) on Long Island interest you? Ready for an exciting new career in the healthcare 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 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 on how to become an LPN on Long Island.