Advancing Your Career | Career & Finances

Practical Nursing: An Introduction and Overview

  • Practical nurses (LPNs) provide basic medical care and support to patients in various healthcare settings. 
  • LPNs can work in hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, surgical centers, and other healthcare settings. They can also perform administrative duties, work in management positions, and specialize in a particular area of interest. 
  • Practical nursing is a great opportunity to start a nursing career, gain experience, and determine whether nursing is the right career path. The role of an LPN may vary depending on the healthcare setting, but LPNs play important and necessary roles in various healthcare settings. 

Amy White

RN-MSN, Chief Nursing Officer 

March 07, 2023
Simmons University

Practical nursing is a valuable, critical profession that provides support to patients in need of basic medical care across a vast array of settings including nursing homes, hospitals, physicians’ offices, and private homes among others.  

Practical nurses may perform a number of duties depending on where they choose to work. But what are practical nurses, and how do they differ from registered nurses? Often, even healthcare professionals do not fully understand the differences in duties assigned to practical and registered nurses. 

Let’s take a look at some common questions related to the differences between practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs). 


practical nursing job

Differences Between Practical Nursing and Registered Nursing

RNs provide direct care to patients, while LPNs typically provide assistance to doctors or registered nurses. Licensure as an RN is generally sought after graduation from either a 2-year nursing program or a 4-year undergraduate nursing program along with successful completion of the NCLEX-RN 

The following are some of the skills that LPNs regularly perform: 

  • Changing wound dressings 
  • Taking vital signs and recording them in patient charts 
  • Performing immunizations and other injections 
  • Presenting patient information to RNs and doctors 
  • Evaluating patient care and tending to the emotional and psychological needs of patients 
  • Speaking to patients’ families regarding care 
  • Supporting patients through difficult treatments and diagnoses 
  • Preparing patients for exams and surgical procedures 
  • Educating patients on surgical aftercare, medical treatment, symptoms, and side effects 

LPNs are equipped to work in a variety of healthcare settings including hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, specialty clinics, therapy centers, and surgical centers. An LPN may also work as a lead nurse, perform administrative responsibilities, work in management positions, and may also specialize in a specific area of interest. 

Supporting Roles of Practical Nursing

The fundamental role of a practical nurse is to provide routine care for the sick, disabled, or injured patients. LPNs typically coordinate with and assist physicians as well as RNs with common duties, such as monitoring patients and charting vital signs.  

Another important role of the LPN is providing basic comfort to the patients while listening to their concerns. LPNs often have the opportunity to spend longer with each patient, so they are valuable in gathering pertinent information that can then be passed along to an RN or physician. 

LPNs offer expertise than may be utilized in many different roles, including the following: 

  • Manager – constantly managing patient care, making sure that the patient care plan is being followed and is effective 
  • Counselor – assisting patients, families, and loved ones to deal effectively with feelings they have towards an illness 
  • Advocate – being present to support the patients with their decisions and protecting their rights 
  • Detective – being attentive to details and able to identify problems quickly so these can be reported to a physician or RN 
  • Educator – informing patients about their care plan daily and are responsible for training and helping other nurses

practical nursing career

Autonomy and Scope of Practice of Practical Nursing

Professional autonomy includes having the authority to make decisions and the freedom to act according to one’s professional knowledge base. LPNs utilize autonomy by applying their knowledge to patient care and clinical decision-making.  

They assist both physicians and RNs in daily activities such as nutrition, ambulation, and recording vital signs.  

For practical nurses to be successful, they should: 

  • Have patience with caregiving 
  • Be organized with a detailed approach to work 
  • Be a team player 
  • Keep an open mindset

Have Patience with Caregiving

One of the most important qualities of an LPN is patience. When patients are injured, sick, or disabled they are typically scared, stressed, and even angry. Individuals undergoing these feelings may lash out at others out of fear.

In these situations, the LPNs who exhibit patience can offer immense help by assisting to calm the patient and to find understanding in these difficult circumstances.   

Be Organized With a Detailed Approach to Work

Nursing is a busy and demanding profession. It is easy to feel overwhelmed.  

The LPN needs to possess great organizational skills and the ability to manage time well. These traits will help the LPN keep track of tasks performed, prioritize those tasks, and complete them in an efficient manner. These skills help reduce stress in a chaotic environment. 

Be a Team Player

LPNs work closely alongside physicians, RNs, and administrative staff. They must be willing to work with others, collaborate on patient care, and be ready to jump in where needed to keep the healthcare setting working efficiently.  

Keep An Open Mindset

LPNs need to keep an open mind to the possibility of new ideas.  

When an LPN is eager to listen, offer respect, and educate others, stronger connections are fostered. The concept of having an open mindset is not always easy.  

There will be times when the LPN disagrees with the patient’s viewpoints or other members of the team. However, an open mindset can be advantageous and can create lasting trust.

practical nursing field

The Bottom Line

Practical nursing serves as a great opportunity for many individuals that are wanting to start their nursing career faster and who desire to advance to a registered nurse in the future. It is important to consider the advantages such as a solid earning potential, strong job growth outlook, and minimal barriers to entry. While practical nursing is not for everyone, it is a great way to begin one’s career to gain experience and ascertain whether nursing is the correct career path.  

The duties of an LPN will vary based upon the type of healthcare environment in which one is working, and roles may be very different between hospital settings, private practices, or a home health agency. Regardless of the environment, there are endless opportunities, and it is imperative to understand the important and necessary roles that these nurses offer in various healthcare settings.

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