Top 10 Challenges for a LPN

by Ann Steele Community Director, NurseJournal.org   

Licensed Practical NursingBeing a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) is incredibly important as those who are in this role will help in administrating medication to patients, check on their various vital signs and help the Registered Nurses (RNs) in ensuring they can do their jobs properly. By being an excellent LPN, you ensure that all types of nursing care can be delivered properly, thereby increasing the quality of care that patients receive. Indeed, some health facilities would not be able to function properly without the assistance provided by their LPNs.

Unfortunately, there are also many challenges that LPNs have to face in terms of their careers and also in terms of how they are able to work. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome many of these challenges so long as the lines of communication remain open. However, others are due to the legal framework that surrounds the profession and cannot be overcome.

Sometimes, the tasks can be particularly challenging, mainly because LPNs have to wait for the guidance of the RNs in order to do their jobs properly. Nevertheless, by fostering excellent working relationships with the RNs, the LPNs can still ensure that they are able to do their job to the best of their abilities. Let’s take a look at the top 10 challenges that LPNs will have to face in their careers.

1 – Limited Job Opportunities

Unfortunately, as an LPN, you are quite limited in terms of where you are able to work. Most LPNs work in care homes and residential settings. Some do work in hospitals, but they are restricted in terms of which wards they can work in, with specialized areas such as accident and emergency wards being off bounds. Their role tends to be free of responsibility and is focused on tasks, which means they are unable to provide any kind of acute care. As an LPN, you have very few responsibilities and always have to answer to someone above you. Naturally, you do have the option of continuing your education and becoming an RN yourself, which would help you to overcome this restriction.

2 – Problems with Delegation

As an LPN, you are not able to diagnose, assess or evaluate. This is all done by the RN in charge, who then delegates work to you as the LPN. You are not able to then pass on that work to someone else, which means it can be difficult to manage your own workload. The difficulty with this is that, as the LPN, you are often the first to notice that something is wrong with a patient. For instance, the patient may have a soiled pad that needs cleaning. However, you will need the agreement of an RN to actually change that pad, which could potentially leave the patient uncomfortable for long periods of time. In real life, most RNs will have standard delegations to their LPNs, but it is possible that you will feel incapable of doing something that you know has to happen, simply because you do not have the authority to do so.

3 – Experience and Education

As an LPN, you have very few opportunities for growth within your career, unless you invest in further training. This could potentially mean that you have been doing a certain job for decades, and have to be managed by someone who is in his or her early 20s and has just become an RN. This can be frustrating, because you have far more knowledge and experience than the RN. But such is the hierarchy, which must be followed.

4 – Long Hours

As an LPN, you will have to work shifts that are often very long and at unsociable hours. You will have to work nights, weekends and public holidays. This can be difficult, but is a problem that is faced by all nurses, even the RNs. Unfortunately, the only way to get around that is to get work in a private practice, which is very rare for an LPN, or to study on towards a Master’s Degree or higher.

5 – Physical Challenges

Working as an LPN is also very challenging on one’s physical body. Indeed, it is very common to see those who have worked in the field for several years to have problems with their backs and their joints. This is due to the fact that they spend most of their time on their feet, walking along the wards, and because they have to bend and lift a lot.

6 – Challenging Patients

LPNs are at the forefront of primary care. They have a lot of personal contact with the patients they deal with. Because they often work in residential settings, they regularly have to deal with very challenging patients. People who are older, for instance, are often frightened and lash out at the staff who are there to care for them. Similarly, their families may not understand what is happening and also behave inappropriately towards the LPN. Most of this is done out of misunderstandings but that doesn’t make it any easier.

7 – Dealing with Death

As an LPN, you will also regularly have to cope with a patient’s death. It is almost impossible to not become attached to patients, mainly because you work so closely with them for long periods of time. The first death, it is said, is the hardest one of all. However, this does not mean subsequent deaths become easier and this is something all LPNs have to learn to deal with.

8 – Dealing with Hazardous Materials

Another things LPNs have to work with are hazardous materials. They may be caring for patients with infectious diseases, which are sometimes unknown. Furthermore, hospitals are breeding grounds for bugs and other problems, including MRSA for instance, and the risk of becoming infected with such bugs is greatly increased.

9 – Less Pay

Unfortunately, the LPN is at the lower earning scale of the medical profession. Although the job is as physically demanding as that of an RN, LPNs will always earn significantly less, mainly due to the fact that they have fewer responsibilities. Salary advancement is minimal too, and some feel it is in effect a dead end job. It is certainly true that if you do not choose to study towards a BSN or MSN, earning a significant salary can become very difficult.

10 – Anonymity

Finally, for all the work the LPNs do and all the challenges they face, they are often completely anonymous. It is the RNs that get the thank you notes and who are recognized for excellence in practice. As an LPN, you have to understand that your rewards will never be public. Hence, if you do the job for any reason other than delivering excellent care to patients, you may want to choose a different profession.



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