Providing Health Education to Patients: An LPN’s Guide


Licensed practical nurses play a primary role in patient education. As liaisons between patients and their healthcare providers, they’re go-to sources of information about topics from medication to nutrition. Students in a vocational LPN program learn what they need to know about educating patients and their loved ones. Teaching skills begin with proven approaches, and these skills improve over time with practice.

Patient Education Approaches

Nurses use a variety of proven approaches to educate patients and their families. Individuals learn differently, so the best way to reach people is to choose teaching methods that best fit their preferred learning styles. An LPN should:

Identify and Overcome Barriers

Common barriers to education among patients include age-related comprehension, low literacy, sensory impairments, cultural sensitivities, generational bias, and financial concerns. Nurses set the stage for learning by removing or adapting to obstructions.

Determine How Patients Like to Learn

Each individual has a unique learning style, assessing how patients learn best and choosing the most appropriate teaching materials are paramount to their comprehension. Are they visual or auditory learners? Do they prefer hands-on learning, or do they understand health concepts better by reading? Teaching materials may include:

  • Books, brochures and pamphlets
  • Posters and charts
  • Audio and Video presentations
  • PowerPoint slides
  • Props and anatomical models
  • Role-playing and demonstrations
  • Individual and group classes
  • Interactive apps

Be Realistic

When it comes to health education, more isn’t always better. Too much information will easily overwhelm patients. Nurses should focus first on what patients must know, sharing essential health information and expanding on topics only when the fundamental concepts are clearly understood.

Be Flexible

Respecting patients’ physical, intellectual and emotional limits is critical. Teaching plans may require adjustments based on the patient’s health and their responses.

Educating Different Age Groups

Children, adults and seniors each have distinct learning needs.

Educating Children

Kids grow quickly. They become teachable as preschoolers, but techniques should evolve as they do. Children from three to six years old, for example, are motivated by curiosity but are still unable to make sense of their world. Teaching is best accomplished through sensory stimulation, permitting them to handle objects that are frightening, telling short stories, or using pictures and drawings to illustrate points.

School-age children are more realistic and objective. They respond to logic and analogies. Allowing them time to ask health questions and being honest with responses are essential to building trust.

Teens, while not yet adults, are capable of abstract and hypothetical thinking. They can build on past experiences and understand the consequences of their actions. The most effective way to reach adolescents is to make information applicable to their lives, using real-world examples that speak to their needs. Technology is an effective teaching tool for this group.

Educating Adults

Adults are autonomous and have a well-developed sense of cause and effect. But not all reach the same level of emotional maturity as they age. Differences in life experience and motivation affect how they learn.

Assessing adults’ intellectual capability, their learning style and their goals allows nurses to tailor their teaching plan. Framing what they teach as a way for patients to maintain their independence and live a “normal”life is especially effective.

Educating Seniors

Many people age 65 and older have some degree of cognitive decline. It could be as simple as impaired short-term memory or changes in their ability to think abstractly, but it affects teaching at a time when seniors are the most physically vulnerable.

Sensory impairments are also common in seniors, but the loss of eyesight and hearing can be countered with adaptive equipment. Nurses can improve seniors’ learning potential simply by ensuring they have their glasses on.

Older adults fatigue quickly, so they benefit from shorter, informal teaching sessions and consistent reinforcement. Approaches such as using visual aids and analogies are helpful.

Patient Health Education: Patients versus Family

Families play a critical role in health care management, loved ones are a patient’s support system. When working with patients and families, the most important consideration for nurses is to keep everyone on the same page. Family health education should cover these concepts:

  • What the patient needs and why
  • What is the family’s role in the treatment plan?
  • How and when to get help for their loved one
  • Helpful community resources to explore

Teaching a family how to care for patients can be a challenge, however, if negative group dynamics complicate the process, not every patient has a positive relationship with their family. Parents, sibling and adult children often feel obliged to care for a sick loved one, but while some are respectful of patient autonomy, others take an aggressive advocacy role.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) of 1996 strictly limits how personal health information can be shared without patients’ permission. When someone wants family or friends involved, they can consent to the sharing of data, but otherwise, a nurse’s hands are tied. The patient is always in the driver’s seat if they can legally make their own decisions.

Patient Education Topics

Doctors create the treatment plans for their patients, but they leave the details for nurses to clarify. Working one-on-one with patients, an LPN may be asked to teach patients about pre- and post-care instructions, medication safety, disease processes, and preventative medicine.

Pre- and Post-Care Instructions

Medical exams, lab work, diagnostics, and procedures all require pre- and post-care education. Nurses talk to patients about:

  • The purpose of tests and treatments
  • Preparations for procedures, such as fasting or taking medications
  • Potential side effects
  • Worrisome symptoms to report
  • Physical precautions and limitations
  • When to expect test results
  • Scheduled follow-up care

Medication Safety

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 18 million people misuse medications either intentionally or accidentally each year. Most drugs have at least some precautions, and it’s a nurse’s role to teach patients how to use them safely. Drug education topics include:

  • The purpose of medications
  • How to take them
  • When to take them and for how long
  • Dosage and storage cautions
  • Medication interactions
  • Potential side effects
  • Recommended therapeutic monitoring

Disease Processes

It’s a confusing time for patients when they’ve been diagnosed with an illness. Conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and kidney failure, among others, require significant changes in lifestyle. Nurses teach patients how to live successfully with these disorders and manage their self-care.

Diabetes education, for example, encompasses:

  • How to monitor blood sugar at home
  • How to recognize the symptoms of hypo- and hyperglycemia
  • Dietary management of diabetes
  • Emergency treatment of insulin overdoses
  • Traveling as a diabetic
  • How to self-administer injections
  • Insulin pump use
  • Diabetic foot and eye care

Teaching for heart disease patients covers:

  • Symptom management
  • Emergency medication use
  • A heart-healthy diet
  • Safe ways to exercise
  • How to monitor blood pressure and heart rate at home
  • When to call the doctor

Important subjects for patients with renal failure include:

  • Dietary and fluid restrictions
  • The dialysis process
  • Shunt care
  • Medication safety

Preventive Medicine

Health professionals estimate that most of these diseases are preventable. Nurses help patients stay ahead of illness by practicing preventive care. Talking points include:

  • Immunizations
  • Nutrition
  • Home safety
  • Preventive screenings
  • Regular check-ups

Skills for Patient Education

There are many different skills that help nurses with patient health education. The most important include empathy, communication skills, generational awareness, and compassion.


Empathy allows an LPN to put themselves in their patients’ shoes. It’s a critical part of evaluating how patients learn and how receptive they’ll be to teaching.

An empathetic nurse tries to see situations from both the patient’s and the family members’ point of view so they can better understand how each perceives their role in care. Empathy improves communication and gives an LPN greater insight into the type of education patients and families need.

Communication Skills

The foundation of teaching is communication. Nurses should be outgoing and comfortable with conversation while being familiar with therapeutic communication techniques from active listening to asking probing questions.

Generational Awareness

Educating patients requires generational awareness because people in different age groups respond to teaching differently.

Seniors, for example, are less likely to ask questions and more likely to disregard advice they don’t clearly understand. A simple, direct approach with consistent follow-up is best. Children, on the other hand, will ask questions until both parents and nurses are exhausted. Patience and reinforcement are the keys to success.


Patients and families worried about health issues are under stress, they may be distracted and have difficulty learning new material. As educators, nurses must approach education with compassion, being willing to revisit topics as often as necessary to make their points.

This is especially critical when dealing with families who not only have a sick loved one to care for, but also have obligations of their own. Compassionate nurses see the situation from family members’ point of view, helping them understand how the patient’s illness is affecting them personally and how they can help.

Final Thoughts

Patient health education is the medical community’s most powerful treatment for disease. When patients, families and nurses work together, there’s nothing they can’t accomplish in the interest of better health. It’s a winning collaboration.

Do you enjoy educating others? Ready to become an LPN? The Practical Nursing program at Gwinnett Institute provides training to prepare college graduates to enter the nursing profession as an LPN.  Classroom theory, challenging assignments, skill labs, simulations, and clinical experiences help to prepare college graduates for an entry-level nursing position. 

After graduating from the Nursing diploma program and successfully passing the NCLEX-PN licensure exam, nursing students will further their career to become a licensed practical nurse. There is an overall need for LPNs in response to the aging baby boomer population.

*While Gwinnett Institute provides test preparation and review assistance to college students, it cannot guarantee any college student will be able to take or pass any type of licensure exam.  College students must be mindful throughout their entire training program that licensure is a prerequisite for employment as a nurse and to diligently prepare themselves to meet this important requirement.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming an LPN at Gwinnett Institute.