Here's What You'll Study in an LPN/LVN Degree Program

Learn about the different classes you'll take as you embark on your education for an LPN or LVN career.

What degree levels are available?

Stethoscope on top of a patient chart

Unlike other nursing jobs, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses are not required to hold a college degree. However, training is required from an accredited school resulting in a postsecondary non-degree award.

As an example of a typical LPN/LVN program, American Career College offers the following in their Vocational Nursing Program:

Examples of LPN/LVN Courses

  • Introduction to Client-Centered Care Module: Students will learn the basic concepts of pre- and post-operation surgical nursing care, plus an introduction to anatomy, nutrition, physiology and pharmacology.
  • Care of the Client with Health Care Deviations I and II: This progression of courses involves clinical work and cover nursing intervention and psychosocial aspects of caring for clients with a variety of disorders.
  • Advanced client care: Obstetrics, pediatrics and mental health are covered in this course and includes clinical work.
  • Nursing License Preparation: A recap of the program and preparation for the program's final examination.

If you decide you want to become a registered nurse (RN) in the future, you'll need to earn either an associate's (LPN-to-RN) or bachelor's degree (LP-to-BSN), but your LPN training will count as credit toward your degree. You can find a brief description of each option below.

Associate's Degree Programs

If you're interested in advancing your career and becoming an RN, consider enrolling in an LPN-to-RN program. An associate's degree in nursing includes courses in anatomy, nursing, nutrition, chemistry, microbiology among others. Getting an associate's degree from scratch usually takes two to three years, but with LPN/LVN course credits, you can usually earn the degree in a shorter span of time.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

For an LPN/LVN looking to become an RN, you have the option to enroll in an LPN-to-BSN program which is geared specifically for LPNs and take about three years. Schools offering these programs tend to focus on nursing courses where students learn better leadership skills.

What certification will I need?

After completing your degree program, you'll need to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

In order to sit for the exam, you'll need to apply for a nursing license from your state board of nursing. Since each state has different eligibility criteria, check with your state board to ensure you've met the requirements in order to take the exam.

The NCLEX exam covers four "categories of needs," according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing:

  • Safe, effective care environment: Management care and safety and infection control
  • Psychosocial integrity: Coping and adaptation and psychosocial adaptation
  • Health promotion and maintenance: Growth and development through the life span and prevention and early detection of disease
  • Physiology integrity: Basic care and comfort, pharmacological and parenteral therapies, reduction of risk potential and physiological adaptation

What will I learn in my courses?

LPN training programs will cover general medical topics. On top of that, you will learn by being hands-on in a clinical work setting.

Typical courses include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Basic nursing
  • Nutrition
  • Medical-surgical nursing
  • Emergency care
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Obstetric nursing

How long will it take?

Generally, most LPN/LVN programs take about a year, but some can be as short as seven months with others lasting 24 months.

Are online programs available?

Community colleges and vocational schools offer LPN/LVN programs, many of which are online. If you enroll in an online program, you will most likely do your clinical work at a local hospital coordinated by the school.

How much will my education cost?

Tuition for LPN/LVN programs usually start at the $2,000 range. Financial aid and grants are often offered by many of the schools making it easier to pay for your education.

If you decide in the future to go back to school to become an RN or to earn your bachelor's degree, many schools will give you credit for LPN coursework, saving you time. And, if you've racked up some LPN/LVN work experience, some schools will allow you to test out of certain classes, saving you money.

Are there prerequisites?

LPN/LVN programs at community colleges and vocational schools require candidates to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Some schools and programs will also require candidates to pass an entrance exam so it's a good idea to confirm this when applying to programs.

What accreditation is there for my program?

Accreditation is a definitive way to know if a program meets nationally-recognized nursing education standards. Independent accrediting organizations register schools once they've undergone a rigorous application process. Because these organizations stay up to date on state governments and health departments, they know whether a school or program provides the necessary training to an LPN/LVN student in their respective state.

For students, accreditation can help with financial aid eligibility. Earning a degree at one accredited school also allows a student to pursue further education at other accredited schools. Plus, if you move to another state, training from an accredited school can make getting a new license easier.

A quick tip: Accreditation isn't earned and maintained in perpetuity. Accreditations are usually given for a certain amount of time, usually between 5 and 10 years, and are different for each school. It's a good idea to check with your potential program about the length of time it's accredited for.

Main Accrediting Bodies

  • The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN), formerly NLNAC: Accredits the entire spectrum of nursing programs (associate's, diploma, bachelor's and master's)
     
  • The Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE): This body accredits bachelor's and master's nursing programs

It's important to point out that the CCNE doesn't accredit LPN/LVN programs, so you'll want to look for programs with a seal of approval from NLNAC.

And one more thing:  State boards of nursing approve schools so they can prepare students for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). However, state board approval does not automatically equal school accreditation from one of the national organizations. While most accredited schools are state board-approved, it's always a good idea to check.

Non-accredited schools: If you're thinking of attending a non-accredited, but state board-approved school, there can be drawbacks. While you can still take the NCLEX, your nursing profession may stall out if you're seeking additional education. Generally, education from a non-accredited school doesn't qualify students to attend an accredited school. 

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Licensed Practical or Vocational Nurse Career and Degree Guide