LPN Math: Are Good Math Skills Needed For Nursing?

LPN Math: Are Good Math Skills Needed For Nursing?

10 December 2019 By Kate

LPN Math - Are Good Math Skills Needed for Nursing

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) are essential to providing medical care in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other health institutions. In order to become an LPN, job seekers must obtain a nursing degree from an accredited college or university. 

Like any other profession in the medical field, nursing requires math skills, although not to the same extent as doctors and pharmacists. This is why many programs recommend prospective nurses to complete a few math classes before receiving their degrees.

What Kind of Math Do Nurses Need to Know?

Nurses must have a basic understanding of math in order to provide precise and high-quality care to patients in both long and short-term care. While math is an important part of the nursing program, proficiency will not make or break a student’s dreams. Many nursing programs offer resources and tutoring to better prepare a student for the profession.

Basic Mathematics

Databases, software, calculators, and medical equipment simplify the daily math needed in the world of modern medicine. In order to be prepared for the worst, nurses should be ready to use mental math to continue caring for patients. All nursing revolves around several basic mathematic concepts:

  • Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division
  • Fractions and decimals
  • Algebra
  • Statistics
  • Ratios
  • Proportions
  • Percentages
  • Decimal conversions
  • Roman numerals
  • Concentrations

Convert Between Systems

Basic calculations and algebra may run the medical world, but the need for metric system conversions is an unfortunate reality for American health providers. While we use the Imperial System in America, the STEM field uses the Metric System exclusively. Nursing math conversions are essential to providing quality care to patients and preventing medication errors. 

LPNs must know how to accurately convert between Metric, Apothecary, and Imperial Systems, which can vary in usage. These conversions can affect everything from BMI to drug doses and in some cases, medication must be precisely measured to the hundredth. The easiest way to stay on top of conversions is to keep a cheat sheet on hand just in case, although memorizing them is preferred.

Why Do Nurses Have to Be Good at Math?

Luckily, nursing jobs don’t require much more than a bit of algebra and statistics, but job seekers should definitely have a course or two under their belt. While every program is different, it’s important for applicants to check the LPN math requirements before applying. Nursing programs stress basic math skills because, in the event of a power outage or device malfunction, nurses must know how to administer constant care without the help of machines. While calculators and phones are battery-powered, technology can fail at any time, so it’s imperative that medical professionals are ready for anything. In order to ensure the consistent health and safety of their patients, nurses must know how to convert measurements, calculate drug dosages, and regulate fluids.

Dosing Drugs Correctly

Dosage calculations are some of the more important uses of math in the nursing industry. LPNs must be able to calculate the precise dosages in order to properly and safely distribute medication. Medication comes in all shapes and sizes, so pills may need to be cut and concentrations adjusted. Nurses must be able to determine how much medication to give a patient regardless of the unit sizes. 

In order to correctly do drug calculations, nurses may opt to use ratio or proportion calculations, or even dimensional analysis. Sometimes medication is dependant on body weight, so calculating dosage can involve another factor. A single miscalculation can have consequences to a client’s health. Too little medication can prove to be ineffective, while too much can result in an overdose.

Administering Intravenous Medication

Not all medication is taken orally and many can’t be dosed as easily as cutting a pill in half or taking four at once. For example, when medication must be administered intravenously, dosage is determined by concentration and flow.

Determining IV Concentration

In order to administer the proper dose of medication to a patient intravenously, nurses must ensure the IV fluid solution contains the correct concentration. To ensure precise measurements, some drugs must be titrated. Titration a process used to determine the exact concentration of a solution before administering it to a patient—some institutions require all IV medication to be titrated for assurance. Once the LPN knows the concentrations of the necessary medications, they can calculate the amount needed of each medication to add to the solution. The incorrect concentration of IV fluid or medication can have detrimental effects on a patient’s health and wellbeing. 

Adjusting IV Flow

It’s crucial that nurses (RNs and LPNs) also know how to manually calculate intravenous (IV) flow rate, infusion times, and infusion volumes without the aid of a pump. This calculation determines the exact amount of fluid or medication that is given to a patient and exactly when treatment should end. Tubing varies in diameter and length, which means all of these factors are dependant on the equipment used. Nurses can adjust the solution and flow rate based on the drug concentration, patient’s body weight, and volume per unit of time. While most IV-administered medication has a rate listed by the Pharmacy, it’s important to calculate it by hand for accuracy and safety.

Calculating Vital Signs and Other Important Values

Complicated mathematics aside, LPNs must feel comfortable taking simple vital readings in case of machine malfunction. Nurses should know how to measure and record:

  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Respiratory rate
  • Temperature 
  • Ovulation dates
  • Calorie consumption
  • Body mass index
  • Glycemic index

Math Instruction in at Pioneer

If a prospective LPN doesn’t quite have the math skills to become a Licensed Practical Nurse, they can take remedial or refresher courses. At Pioneer Pacific College, we offer pharmacology classes that cover the math concepts you need for nursing. Don’t let math hold you back from getting the life-saving job of your dreams!

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