Important Skills for LPN Students

To rise to the top in your LPN program and excel as a licensed practical nurse after graduation, you will want to master these soft, hard, and online learning skills.

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Michelle Katz

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Michelle Katz, MSN, LPN, has over 20 years of experience navigating through the healthcare system with an extensive background in healthcare — clinically, administratively, and politically. She serves as the "healthcare consumer advocate" for many media outlets and is best known for her work on ABC World New Tonight's Real Money series, as well as The Doctor's Doc on a Dime series. She is the author of three well-known publications, "Healthcare for Less," "101 Health Insurance Tips," and "Healthcare Made Easy," highlighting her successful healthcare cost saving tips and much more.

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Last Updated: 02/26/2021
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Whether you’re looking into online LPN programs or you’re already enrolled, you can focus on developing a handful of hard and soft skills that will help you get the most out of your program now, do better in nursing school, and help you stand out from the rest of the class. These skills will also help you become a stronger nursing professional upon graduation.

With the increasing popularity of remote learning for nursing students today, your LPN program will probably have at least some online components. In addition to nursing-specific skills, this guide includes some general online learning strategies to help you excel as a remote learner. While there are some skills out there that you’ll learn while on the job, here is a list of hard and soft skills that you can fine-tune now to thrive as an LPN student while preparing for a smooth transition into the healthcare workforce.

5 Soft Skills for LPN Students

Soft skills for LPNs and other nursing professionals may come from a variety of experiences, professional development seminars, internships, and coursework in your LPN program. Additionally, some soft skills might already be a part of how you naturally handle yourself in professional settings and your interactions with others. Here’s a list of the top five soft skills you’ll need as an LPN student and nursing professional.

1. Active Listening

Whether you’re just looking into programs, already enrolled as a student, or making your way toward the job market, being an active listener is one of the top skills you’ll need as an LPN. This especially holds true when you’re working directly with patients and other healthcare professionals. Many students and young professionals, however, often don’t realize what it takes to be an active listener and all the ways it can manifest in healthcare settings. Here’s some things to know about active listening and ideas for how you can put this soft skill on display as a student and professional.

  • Active listening is more than just paying attention to someone. It’s an interactive skill where your responses and word choices are just as important as hearing what someone, especially a patient or colleague, has to say.
  • This soft skill also includes using non-verbal cues to demonstrate your understanding of the conversation including eye contact, nodding, and leaning in toward the speaker.
  • As an active listener, you should be asking both open-ended and specific questions to get more clarification of what someone is saying to you.
  • Avoid cutting speakers off mid-thought. Do your best to let them finish saying what they need to say.
  • If you have an opinion, wait to give it until you’re asked for it or there’s an appropriate time after you’ve demonstrated that you understand the speaker. A simple, “I understand,” can go a long way.

2. Time Management

Time management is one of the most important skills an LPN student or working professional can cultivate. Nursing students have a lot on their plate, including attending classes, keeping up with homework, and managing family responsibilities. Professional LPNs may wear several hats in the workplace and need to keep track of several tasks at a time. Whether in school or the workforce, ways to manage time effectively include:

  • Writing down a daily schedule and a list of tasks.
  • Allotting a specific amount of time for each task and sticking to it.
  • Knowing which tasks to prioritize.
  • Delegating responsibilities to others when it’s appropriate.
  • Planning ahead and following short- and long-term schedules.

Time management is more than just getting things done, however. You’ll also need to make time to rest and recharge your batteries.

3. Compassion

LPNs are typically in patient-facing roles in healthcare settings. Since patients and their families may be going through tough scenarios, it’s important that nurses show compassion to all. To show compassion as an LPN you can:

  • Be a good listener.
  • Provide emotional support.
  • Take time to explain procedures and tests.
  • Answer patient questions carefully and thoughtfully.

With so much emotional weight tied to their daily activities, LPNs and other nursing professionals can sometimes experience a phenomenon referred to as compassion fatigue. It’s important that nurses make time for themselves and get enough rest to help combat emotional exhaustion. Mental health professionals and nursing managers are available to help nurses deal with compassion fatigue in healthy ways.

4. Cultural Competency

Most nursing professionals today work with colleagues and patients from diverse cultural backgrounds. To make sure that you understand the main aspects of other widespread cultures, especially the values and belief systems that are commonly in place for others around us, it can be helpful to take a cultural competence self-assessment. Some nurses obtain a certificate in cultural competence to help them improve upon their cultural sensitivity and awareness. There are many free online tools to help you prepare for professional nursing scenarios and develop a more robust cross-cultural awareness.

5. Teamwork

LPNs and other nurses typically work as part of a team in healthcare settings. These interdisciplinary teams greatly affect the quality of care that patients receive, the daily workflow, and general safety of patients and workers. Nurses must be able to communicate effectively and work with others to resolve conflicts or develop solutions to programs on the fly. Those medical professionals that work within a well-functioning team often enjoy their jobs more and are more likely to avoid compassion fatigue and burnout.

Other Important Soft Skills

Motivation: As an LPN student, you’ll face some significant academic and personal challenges. Having a positive mental attitude and a strong drive to be an excellent nurse will go a long way. Whether it’s navigating coursework, studying for the NCLEX-PN, or looking for your first job, your motivation plays a key role in your trajectory toward an impactful and rewarding career.

Patience: Patience is a necessary attribute for all nursing professionals today, both when it comes to handling a diverse population of patients and being an effective team member. As you progress through your LPN program, you’ll find strategies and suggestions for being a patient LPN and witness the positive impact it has on your day-to-day career down the line.

5 Hard Skills for LPN Students

Hard skills cover a wide range of topics, from equipment operation to computer skills. These skills are often those that you learn and develop over time. You’ll learn a diverse set of hard skills while you’re a student and on the job as an LPN. For LPNs, every medical facility will do things a little differently, so it’s important that you’re flexible and adaptable, adjusting the way you carry out hard skills-areas to meet the demands of your specific role. Here’s some of the most in-demand hard skills for LPNs today.

1. Computer Skills

LPNs must keep up with the latest technologies used in the field in the following ways:

  • They need excellent computer skills to help healthcare facilities create and maintain accurate patient records.
  • They must follow patient privacy protocols when it comes to handling electronic medical records systems and electronic prescription or e-Prescribing software.
  • They may be required to use personal digital assistants, voice recognition technologies, financing and budgeting software, and staffing and scheduling systems.

While you’ll get some practice in these areas while in school, you will need to learn a lot of information quickly when you land your first job. Each facility will have its own way of doing things, so as long as you’re flexible and have some foundation knowledge to build on, you’ll be ready to go.

2. Clinical Skills

Having a strong understanding of all clinical processes to effectively participate in the delivery of patient care is a must. As an LPN, you’ll be responsible for many different tasks, and your roles will depend on what kind of healthcare facility you work in. You’ll likely be called upon to:

  • Monitor and maintain patients’ conditions.
  • Look for early signs of trouble and distress in patients.
  • Check and record vital signs.
  • Perform injections.
  • Attend to minor health issues.

LPNs should also be trained in CPR and life support strategies so you can be prepared to handle many patient emergencies in just about any healthcare setting.

3. Supervisory and Monitoring Skills

While often considered a combination of hard and soft skills, LPNs must learn how to manage and monitor the activities of nursing assistants, nurse aides, and other members of their healthcare team. Each healthcare facility will have its own demands in this area, so LPNs must learn the best way to monitor patient care and supervise personnel given their specific location.

4. Patient and Family Education

LPNs will need to communicate effectively with patients and families. You’ll need to combine your technical knowledge of patient care and progress with soft skills that help you communicate effectively and compassionately. Ultimately, you’ll deliver a body of information that will assist patients and their families in making good decisions upon their discharge from your medical facility. This category also includes:

  • Providing patients and families with a rundown of safety precautions.
  • Describing courses of treatments.
  • Counseling patients and families with how to manage emotions and expectations.
  • Offering easy-to-understand explanations of diagnoses.

5. Patient Safety

One of your main focuses as an LPN is on patient and co-worker safety. LPNs are often in charge of helping to develop and implementing a nursing care plan under the supervision of other team members and registered nurses. You’ll be expected to:

  • Take precautions to minimize the risk of injury in physical spaces.
  • Follow stringent protocols to reduce margins for error in patient care.

Ultimately, a safe space for patients can maximize their recoveries and protect medical facilities from certain liabilities.

Other Important Hard Skills

Scheduling and Transferring Patients: LPNs may need to take on patient scheduling and transferring duties in the workplace. Using your computer and communication skills, you’ll be able to coordinate patient transfers to other medical facilities and outside healthcare providers as needed. This also includes the transfer of relevant patient data and medical histories.

Laboratory Skills: LPNs often need a high level of organizational and technical knowledge to assist with tests and laboratory specimens in medical facilities. This includes knowing laboratory protocols, relevant safety information, and how to review and update patient records.

3 Essential Skills for Online LPN Students

Online LPN students today can receive an excellent education with very few in-person obligations. In many cases, the majority of your non-clinical coursework will be completed online. There’s a variety of essential online nursing student skills you’ll need to do your best in your program and prepare yourself for a rewarding career upon graduation. Here’s three of the top skills to know going into an online LPN program.

1. Know How and When to Ask Questions

When it comes to being an online student, your professors are there to help you. If you have a legitimate question or concern, it’s best to reach out to your teachers sooner than later. Be proactive and ask questions as they arise. Some questions necessitate only an email, while others are better for one-on-one discussions. Depending on your professor’s communication preferences, it might be best to arrange a time to meet with them privately, online or in-person, or to attend their scheduled office hours.

2. Show Respect for Teachers and Fellow Students

You might find yourself in an LPN online program that requires a high level of interaction between you and your professor and fellow students.

  • Use respectful language when sending emails, posting on class discussion boards, and attending online classes.
  • Your peers in the online classroom are also learning and may have questions or comments that don’t align with your learning style or opinions. It’s best to be open, supportive, and respectful of others in these learning environments.
  • Your fellow students will likely become your colleague in the healthcare workforce upon graduation, so stay positive and patient with them.
  • Your professors work hard to manage online classes and instructional materials. Even if you take issue with their teaching style, syllabus, or some of the class materials, remember that they are experts in this area of study. This warrants your respect and professionalism in all cases.

3. Plan Ahead

Many LPN online students today have a lot to manage on a daily basis. Some may have outside jobs or familial obligations while they’re managing coursework, homework assignments, clinical experience requirements, and more.

One of the best ways to manage your time effectively is to plan ahead and make a schedule that you’ll stick to. Being able to develop and adhere to a plan is great practice for when you land your first job. The more organized you are as an online LPN student, the better off you’ll be in the professional arena.

Advice from an LPN Graduate

Michelle-Katz
mic-green_mic

Michelle Katz, MSN, LPN, has over 20 years of experience navigating through the healthcare system with an extensive background in healthcare — clinically, administratively, and politically. She serves as the “healthcare consumer advocate” for many media outlets and is best known for her work on ABC World New Tonight’s Real Money series, as well as The Doctor’s Doc on a Dime series. She is the author of three well-known publications, “Healthcare for Less,” “101 Health Insurance Tips,” and “Healthcare Made Easy,” highlighting her successful healthcare cost saving tips and much more.

What’s one of the most important soft skills for an LPN student or nurse?

Critical thinking and compassion. LPNs are often caring for some of the sickest patients on a day-to-day basis, and sometimes the signs that a patient is deteriorating or improving can be very subtle. This is where these skills are essential and will take time to master.     

What about one of the most important hard skills?

It depends on the setting, but in my experience, I would say something as basic as checking and monitoring vital signs. The reason I say this is that I have encountered many patients that have “baseline vitals” that are atypical.  For example, what may seem “normal or within range” for one patient may actually be abnormal and potentially dangerous in another. So knowing how to get vitals accurately and quickly, as well as the patient’s medical history, is essential.  DO NOT rely solely on the technology around you, because technology will inevitably fail at some point in your career, and that can become a life and death situation pretty fast.

What’s one thing that changes, in terms of skill set, that is required on-the-job but isn’t a part of the schooling experience?

How to communicate effectively with your peers, patients, patients’ families etc.  I am not just talking about a language barrier, but also knowing and learning the cultures and customs of those around you and communicating with those you may never see, such as the prescribing doctor. If you listen and do a little research ahead of time, you can gain the respect and confidence of those around you, which will inevitably make your job a little easier.

Empathy and compassion are commonly identified as necessary soft skills for nurses. Is there a way for LPN students to prepare to take on the weight of working with patients and avoid compassion fatigue?

Unfortunately, this is very common. Knowing when you are about to hit that compassion fatigue is tough to gauge at first and setting a pace is almost impossible; however, going in with this mindset from day one and learning when your compassion fatigue is kicking in is a process. Eventually you will realize when you need to take a step back and recharge, which might not always be possible, but just being aware of this can help as well as developing a way to quickly cope and recharge that works for you will be helpful.

Many courses for LPN students are online today. Do you have any advice for our readers who are partially or fully online learners?

Be patient and know that you are going to learn most of what you need on the job.

In your opinion, what is something every LPN student should know before entering a program? What’s something you wish you knew before you entered a nursing program?

Working full-time and going through a nursing program is tough, so if you are going to work full-time, try to work at a healthcare facility where you can be surrounded by what you will potentially be studying so things will make more sense. In fact, I would advise working at a healthcare facility while you are going through nursing school, not only for the reason discussed, but to expose you to a potential LPN position once you pass your boards.