6 Challenges LPNs Face At The Beginning of Their Career

As a licensed practical nurse (LPN), you’ll face many challenges as you care for your patients. LPNs provide primary patient care, often to patients who may be dissatisfied with their treatment.  As rewarding as the work may be, it comes with many challenges, from potential exposure to harmful materials to dealing with a patient’s death.  Still, LPNs strive to overcome these challenges while caring for their patients. 

Let’s look at 6 challenges LPNs face at the beginning of their career.

Dealing With Patient Death

Although dealing with death is part of the job, it can be challenging for new LPNs who’ve never experienced a patient’s death. As a nurse, your priority is your patients’ health and safety. Part of your job is to build a trusting relationship with your patients, especially for nurses working in a long term or home health care facility. Often, you become emotionally attached to those in your care. It makes experiencing patients’ death, especially in the beginning stages of your career, brutal. Experiencing death or working in an environment where death is frequent can take a toll on your mental and physical health. 

Potential Solutions

  • Connect with peers and mentors. 
    • Speaking with experienced LPNs or RNs who have been through the same situation can guide you through this challenging process.
  • Connect With A Counselor or Therapist
    • You can use Talkspace to connect with healthcare workers to talk about COVID, Burnout, and experiences felt as a healthcare worker.
    • Due to COVID, Headspace is  giving healthcare professionals who work in public health settings free access to Headspace Plus through 2020
    • You can also check with your institution or facility to see if they offer therapy or counseling, including recommendations for counselors outside your workplace.

Limited Work Responsibility

 An LPNs scope of practice is often limited to administering IVs, medications, and cannot assess or evaluate patients.  LPNs can only accept assignments and work delegated to them by RNs, providers, and other supervising health professionals.  

It can be challenging, especially since LPNs are often the first to interact with patients but cannot provide or assess their patients without supervision. As an LPN, you must report and compile with decisions made by the RN. It becomes challenging when they disagree with their supervisor’s assessment or diagnosis, but cannot do anything because of their restricted workload.

Potential Solution

  • Connect with your Supervisor
    • Develop a delegation plan and include how you’d like to advocate for patients if and when you may disagree with an assessment.
  • Volunteering 
    • LPNs can volunteer to do in school check-ups, i.e., elementary health fair or high school. 
    • Volunteer as a phlebotomist at the American Red Cross or a Blood Bank can allow you to help others, gain experiences, and connect with various people outside of work.
  • Leadership Roles 
    • Some facilities allow for Lead LPNs where LPNs can provide leadership and training to CNAs, Medical Assistants. These leaders help with day-to-day reporting and act as an advocate for staff. 
    • With the supervision of RNs, LPNs can also make schedules and assignments and be in charge of nursing aides and students. 

Additional Information

As the newest person on your team, you’re also probably the person with the least experience. It can be hard as you try to navigate through your already limited workload. Check out our articles on the challenges you face as the least experienced healthcare team member and what you can do.

Potential Exposure

LPNs are patient-facing because they work in close contact with their patients; they have a higher risk of exposure to diseases. From dressing wounds, collecting specimens, and lifting patients, LPNs are always at risk of exposure to infections and harmful chemicals. With a pandemic like COVID, the job becomes more challenging, especially for LPNs in the beginning stages of their career. 

Potential Solutions

  • Connect  with supervisors and support staff about accessibility of PPE in the facility
  • Follow the CDC and OSHA guidelines for providing safety in the workplace; especially for those who work in home health and nursing homes
  • Sterilizing equipment and workspaces
  • Training for properly removing and disposing of PPE

Physically Demanding Workload

An LPN’s work is rewarding, but it can also be demanding.  Most LPNs jobs require them to bend, stretch to retrieve medication and move equipment. LPNs face situations where they may carry patients, and both patients and LPN may slip and hurt themselves. Lifting and transporting patients puts them at risk of injuring themselves and causing pain in joints, i.e., back, wrist, or legs. The day-to-day work of caring for patients leads many first-time LPNs to feel physically and emotionally drained and increase workplace burnout. 

Potential Solutions

  • Exercising and stretching before and after work allows you to ease the pain in your joints and muscles. 
  • There is an application called PeerRxMed is a peer-to-peer program for physicians and other health care workers that provides support, connection, resources, and more to help combat burnout.

Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying is one challenge many LPNs face at the beginning of their career. LPNs may be bullied because of your inexperience, limited workload, or because they are new to the field or facility.  The bully can be a coworker, other healthcare professionals, i.e. RN, LPN, physician, or patient. Dealing with bullying in the workplace is challenging; having coworkers or patients criticizing your work, yelling at you, limiting your ability to perform your job, or threatening you can cause physical and emotional stress. Bullying can affect job performance and patient care, and as a new LPN, performance is important.

Potential Solutions

  • Connect with Nurse Managers about issues on bullying in your department 
  • Check your facility’s policies on bullying, which includes training and programs and procedures.
  • Document and report abuse
    • You should report abuse to human resource or point person in charge
    • You can also seek outside legal advice

Loss of Purpose

One of the biggest challenges new LPNs face is, deciding whether they should continue working in the field or quit. The beginning of the LPN journey is difficult. The hours are long and inconsistent; most of the shifts are at night, dealing with bullying, problematic patients, potential injuries, and patient death.

If you work in a healthcare facility that is understaffed and underpaid, you become overworked and physically exhausted; leading you to wonder why you became an LPN. Unfortunately, working in healthcare is stressful and unpredictable. As an LPN, your priority to care for patients and ensure their safety and well-being. That becomes difficult when you’re new to the field and dealing with issues in the workplace.

LPNs are problem solvers, excellent communicators, organizers, and work under pressure.  Still, it’s challenging to work with so much happening. Just know, if you are contemplating quitting, transferring to another department, or wondering why “you’re here,” it’s normal.  Whether you venture out of the LPN field or transfer, do what’s best for you. Also, talking to your support system, i.e., peers, trusted coworkers,  former school and career advisors, and counselors can help you decide your next move. 

Are you an LPN who has faced similar challenges? Are there any challenges we missed, or do you have any solutions or advice for new LPNs? Let us know in the comment section.

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About the author

Joycelyn Ghansah

Joycelyn Ghansah is a former Healthcare Organizer with a background public health, include reproductive and sexual health. When she's not freelance writing, she's transcribing interviews and researching ways to strengthen healthcare labor laws.

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