As the Affordable Care Act is implemented and baby boomers age, the health care field is a promising profession for those who want to make a difference and earn a secure living. A career as an LVN is the perfect way to enter the growing healthcare sector.
So you might be wondering, “What is an LVN?” A licensed vocational nurse, sometimes called a licensed practical nurse (LPN), provides basic nursing care in facilities like hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and in homes as well. While your responsibilities may vary based on where you work, it can include keeping up-to-date records, taking and recording vital signs like blood pressure, bathing or dressing patients, and providing other basic care.
The next logical question is about the paycheck. “What is the licensed vocational nurse salary?” According to the federal government’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median salary for an LVN is projected to be about $42,000 per year. The average hourly wage is $20.63. There are over 700,000 LVNs employed across the country. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics also has information broken down by state, so be sure to check out how your region measures up and learn the LVN salary average near you.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics also offers the following endorsement of the professional outlook for LVNs, “Employment of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses is projected to grow 25 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. As the baby-boomer population ages, the overall need for healthcare services is expected to increase. LPNs and LVNs will be needed in residential care facilities and in home health environments to care for geriatric patients.”
So now that you know the outlook is strong and the salary stable, you might be wondering, “What are the qualities of a great vocational nurse?” If you’ve got these important traits, you have what it takes to become an LVN.
Attention to Detail
Whether you are working in a hospital, a nursing home, home health care, or another setting, recording vital signs and patient information will be a large portion of your work. It is critical that all information is recorded correctly. Even a seemingly unimportant mistake could end up impacting your patient’s health and well-being.
But beyond perfect data entry, attention to detail also includes paying attention to patients, your surroundings, and your colleagues. Did someone leave a medicine cart in the hallway in a way that would obstruct wheelchair bound patients? Is your nursing home patient, who always sits in the TV room in the morning, not in her usual spot? When helping to dress a patient, do you notice slight swelling in their legs or fingers? Paying attention to details and being able to recall them quickly will set you apart as a successful LVN.
Calm Under Pressure
There are about 1.5 million residents in nursing homes in the United States. There are 51.4 million procedures performed at hospitals and over 100 million outpatient visits to hospitals each year. As the Baby Boomer generation ages and relies more on assisted living, nursing homes, and home health care, the need for LVNs will only increase along with their workload.
In the course of any 8 or 12 hour shift, you might serve a dozen or more patients. At any moment, those patients might have a medical emergency that needs to be addressed immediately. Will you be able to quickly recall your cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training? Could you recall the patient’s allergies to medicine? What about how to correctly use a defibrillator?
Say you are at a sporting event, like a soccer or baseball game. Would you be able to go from spectator to life saving nurse without notice? That is what this nurse-turned-trainer had to do when a local soccer legend had a heart attack right on the field. Since the nurse was able to quickly recall CPR and the correct use of an AED, he is now hailed as a “hero.” The nurse’s quick thinking ended the day with joy instead of tragedy.
The importance of being flexible and easily adaptable is critical to professional success as an LVN, and staying calm under pressure will save lives.
Strong in Body and Stomach
This might not be the most glamorous of topics, but as a nurse you will have to bathe patients and clean those who are no longer able to use a bathroom by themselves. After all, they come to you for help when they are sick. You will have patients vomit in front of you — or maybe even on you — and you must remain professional and courteous throughout. Not a pleasant thought, but a realistic one in the life of a nurse.
In addition to having strong stomachs, LVNs must also be physically tough. It takes a great deal of endurance to finish a 12-hour shift spent mostly on your feet walking between rooms and up and down stairs. Not to mention some of those shifts may be night shifts. You may need to help lift patients in and out of their wheelchairs or carry large loads of laundry to the washroom. Many hospitals are also understaffed, which adds to the demands of the job.
A regular regime of healthy diet and exercise is something you will preach to your patients and given the demands of the job, it’s something you should follow as well!
As an LVN, you will be present for some of the most joyful, as well as the most painful, parts of your patients’ lives. Riding this emotional rollercoaster during your third day of 12-hour shifts will push you to the mental limit, so you must be able to cope with the highs and lows.
During work hours, your life will be centered around the patients. Consider one who just received the diagnosis of cancer after months of physical therapy and rehab to recover from a broken hip and replacement surgery. The patient and her family, with whom you’ve become very close, might start to cry or yell in response to the news. Will you be able to be a calming influence and help explain the next steps, or will you dissolve into a puddle of your own tears? LVNs aren’t devoid of emotion; they just understand that sometimes the best course of action for the patient is to be strong and forward-looking.
Regular exercise will help manage this stress. So will whatever calming practices work for you: praying, meditating, or deep breathing are some commonly used soothing techniques.
The patients you will serve will have every type of communications style under the sun – some will be truthful, while others will deceive; some will share every detail of their health history, while others will be tight-lipped.
You will need to work with every patient to ensure they understand the care you are giving them. But patients aren’t the only people you will work with. Patients’ families and friends will also have lots of questions for you. They might even have additional information the patient didn’t share with you. You’ll need to communicate with them while also respecting their privacy.
Furthermore, you will have to communicate effectively with doctors and other nurses, many times trying to convey vitally important information in just a few moments between patient visits or rounds. The ability to share significant information in a timely and clear manner is another key to being a successful LVN.
Understanding nonverbal communications is also important. Are you crossing your arms or looking away when your patient talks to you? That could convey that you are closed off or disinterested. Instead, lean forward and make direct eye contact to convey that you are open to hearing what they are sharing.
Being a good communicator is directly related to being a good listener. A technique called “active listening” is often used by nurses, whether they know it by that name or not. When practicing active listening, you are to keep an open mind throughout the entire conversation, resist the natural urge to jump to conclusions, hear the patient out, and then repeat back to them in your own words what you heard them say.
Active listening has many benefits in the healthcare field. For example, your nursing home patient starts to tell you about a pain in his back. You might know that nine times out of ten, that type of discomfort is the start of a bedsore so you immediately begin to think of all of the supplies you’ll need to gather so you can properly clean and dress it. As you do that, you are tuning out the other details of his complaint, including additional pain in his arm and chest. By keeping an open mind throughout the entire conversation and repeating back to the patient what you heard, you will save yourself from making a potentially life-threatening mistake.
Sense of Humor
A recent study by Loma Linda University in California confirms the importance of laughter. The study tested the stress levels and memories of two groups of adults: one who sat silently for 20 minutes and the other who watched humorous videos for the same amount of time. The group that was shown the funny videos had better memory abilities and also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Sharing your sense of humor with colleagues and with patients will go a long way to balance out the stress and demands of a fast-paced job in health care. Laughing has the positive result of lowering stress, so go ahead and L.O.L!
You’ll have lots of patients as an LVN, but you’ll also need lots of patience. One day, every last one of your residents might seem cranky. Another day, your doctor or facility manager may be overly demanding. Every day will try your patience, but staying calm and compassionate is part of being a successful LVN.
You will probably never have a nursing home resident say, “Wow, you were so good at reading my blood pressure!” or “That was a great way to prick my finger!” But your patients will always remember the nurses who were kind, took time to explain the procedures, and talked to them about how they were feeling. They will say, “My nurse took extra time to explain my new medicine and was so gentle with me when she fed me.” Patients will remember the extra time you take in your busy day to offer empathetic care.
As an LVN, you will encounter various types of families and people. Some will be religious while others are atheist. Some will speak English while others only know a few words. Some will come from large families with lots of support and some may be alone with no support system.
As a medical professional, it is not your place to judge the people you serve. If you need to find a translator to better communicate, do it without muttering your opinions about patients learning English. If a patient asks for a minister or to be taken to the chapel, don’t roll your eyes if you don’t believe in prayer. Supporting your patients and helping them on the road to recovery requires r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
If you’ve ever watched PBS’s popular show Call the Midwife, you’ve seen them use a pinard horn to hear the baby’s heartbeat. To modern viewers, it looks almost toy-like or silly, as if the nurses might also use two tin cans connected by string instead of a phone. But at one point in history, that was the technology available to maternity nurses and they used it to serve their patients well.
Similarly, though hard to imagine, at some point the tools being used today will be replaced with new, faster, and more high-tech versions. LVNs must be ready and willing to learn at all costs. Perhaps your first assignment will have a new electronic medical records database that is shared within the health system. Or you’ll work in a field where a new healthcare mobile phone app – like one that tracks sleep patterns or nutrition – may be useful to your patients.
Rather than shying away from new developments and technologies, those in the healthcare field must have a passion for learning and staying abreast of industry trends.
How to Become an LVN?
If these traits describe you, it’s time to start on the path to becoming a Vocational/Practical Nurse.
Vista College offers a 60 week practical nursing program that includes hands-on studies in a laboratory and a classroom. After you complete the program, you will be prepared to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Vocation/Practical nurses, also called the NCLEX-PN. Graduates of this program report they are able to find work soon after graduation and licensure.
As a nurse, you will work in large and small ways to improve the lives of those in your community. Now that you know the qualities of a great vocational nurse, what better way to earn a living?