Licensed Practical Nursing: Education Requirements, Career Paths & Job Outlook
As an assistant to physicians and registered nurses (RNs), a licensed practical nurse (LPN) takes care of basic duties in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities. Also known as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), the role is critical to providing patients with the quality care they need.
If you’re passionate about healthcare and want to work hands-on with people each day, a career as an LPN might be the right fit. And you might not even need a college degree to pursue the position. The education you need can often be obtained in a year or less.
Read on to learn more about this fulfilling career, including job responsibilities, education requirements, and opportunities for growth.
What Is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?
What exactly does a licensed practical nurse do? An LPN works under the supervision of doctors and RNs, performing duties such as taking vital signs, collecting samples, administering medication, ensuring patient comfort, and reporting the status of their patients to the nurses.
Are LPNs and LVNs the same?
While duties may vary slightly depending on your employer, LPNs and LVNs are essentially the same thing—the difference is the name and the state where you work. A licensed vocational nurse is the title used in Texas and California, while licensed practical nurse is used in the rest of the United States.
How LPNs differ from CNAs, RNs, and other nurses
Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) provide the most entry-level care to patients, including taking vital signs, cleaning rooms, and helping with daily activities such as eating, getting dressed, and using the bathroom. The role requires education in a training program, which can sometimes be completed in as little as 4 weeks. After successful completion of your program, you must take and pass a certification exam through the state where you plan to work. Later on, you can opt to attend a CNA-to-LPN program if you’re looking to advance your career.
Licensed practical nursing includes the same duties as those for CNAs, as well as more extensive care.LPNs might also supervise the CNAs on duty. The role requires education in a state-approved program, which will typically last between 12 and 18 months. Before you can begin working as an LPN, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
RNs oversee both CNAs and LPNs. They provide the most in-depth level of nursing, with job duties that include performing diagnostics tests, analyzing results, determining treatment plans, and instructing patients on how to manage their illness. RNs must hold at least an associate’s degree in nursing from a 2-year program, though 4-year bachelor’s degrees are becoming increasingly required by employers. RNs must also pass the NCLEX exam, and many opt to gain additional certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
What Licensed Practical Nurses Do
The role of an LPN will vary depending on where you work, and your state might even put regulations on the types of duties you’re allowed to perform. That said, a licensed practical nurse job description frequently includes:
- Maintaining patient records
- Measuring vital signs
- Administering and monitoring medication
- Assisting doctors and nurses with tests and procedures
- Helping patients eat, dress, and bathe
- Updating doctors and nurses on patient status
LPNs working in the maternity ward of a hospital have additional duties that include feeding infants and coaching women through childbirth.
Where LPNs fit into healthcare organizations
LPNs are on the front line of nursing, interacting directly with patients on a daily basis. They report to doctors and registered nurses, and sometimes oversee CNAs. Within the organization, the overall function of a licensed practical nurse is to ensure patient comfort and safety.
Can LPNs specialize?
LPN education often covers a wide variety of topics, so you can leave your program with knowledge and skills in many areas. Specialization isn’t required, but you might choose to focus your career by gaining certification through a state organization or the National Association of Practical Nurse Education and Services (NAPNES). You can specialize in areas like IV therapy, long-term care, pharmacology, correctional health, and developmental disabilities.
How Much Do LPNs Make?
LPNs are reported to earn the highest salaries in government and nursing home facilities, while those working in physicians’ offices typically earn the lowest.
How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse
So, what do you need to become an LPN? Unlike for most other nursing jobs, you don’t need a college degree, but the requirements to become an LPN include completing education through an accredited program. These can often be found at community colleges and vocational schools. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accredits LPN/LVN programs. Be careful not to confuse state board approval and accreditation. Some programs may be approved by your state, but not accredited.
Education and certification requirements
LPN education length is typically around 12 months, though some programs might be as short as 7 or as long as 24. Courses frequently include:
- Nursing fundamentals
- Nursing math
- Pediatric nursing
- Medical surgical nursing
- Geriatric nursing
- General anatomy and physiology
After successful completion of your program, you must apply for your nursing license and pass the NCLEX exam through the ANCC. The test covers 4 main categories:
- Safe, Effective Care Environment: management of care, safety, and infection control
- Health Promotion and Maintenance: growth and development through the lifespan, prevention, and early detection of disease
- Physiological Integrity: basic care and comfort, pharmacological and parental therapies, reduction of risk potential
- Psychosocial Integrity: coping and adapting, psychosocial adaptation
If you choose later on that you’d like to advance from a licensed practical nurse to a registered nurse, you can find a degree program designed specifically for LPN-to-RN. You can opt to pursue either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and often apply your LPN course credits to the program so you can graduate sooner.
Would I be eligible for financial aid?
There are many financial aid options for those who qualify, including loans, scholarships, and grants designed for different types of students. The best way to start is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application is used by the government to calculate how much money they think you can reasonably pay and how much financial help they’re willing to offer.
You might also be able to qualify for a private loan through a bank, credit union, or the school you’re attending. But keep in mind that these often have very high interest rates and come with less options for how you can pay them back once you graduate.
Scholarships are also a good thing to look into if you’re worried about paying for school. There are nursing scholarships tailored to all types of students, including veterans, single parents, minorities, and more. This overview of 40 scholarships is a great place to start if you’re not sure where to look.
Where LPNs Are Employed
Nursing homes are by far the most common employer of LPNs, but you can find these nurses in a number of other places as well. The BLS breaks down employers in the following way:
- Nursing home and residential care facilities: 38%
- Hospitals: 16%
- Physicians’ offices: 13%
- Home healthcare services: 12%
- Government and military facilities: 7%
That leaves about 14% left over, which leads us to…
Unconventional LPN jobs
You may find LPNs working in less common places, including schools, churches, charities, and research centers—just to name a few. But there are even more unconventional opportunities for a licensed practical nurse. You might find job openings at summer camps, on cruise ships, and or at amusement parks. Though rare, you could even come across an opening for a role with NASCAR or working as a consultant on a medical movie or TV show.
Job Outlook for LPNs
According to the BLS, job opportunities for LPNs are expected to grow by 12% through 2026, nearly twice as much as the average for all occupations in the country. And with the number of people over the age of 65 expected to double by 2060, nurses of all kinds will continue to be in high demand as age-related issues increase.
LPNs/LVNs are typically required to earn continuing education credits every few years. Each state has a different amount of hours/units an LPN/LVN must fulfill in order to keep their license active. Your state board can provide you with the most up-to-date information.
Looking for a Practical Nursing Program Near You?
As one of the medical professionals who has the most direct interactions with their patients each day, a licensed practical nurse can have a huge impact on the quality and effectiveness of care. If you’re interested in pursuing this rewarding career, use the Find Schools button to explore LPN programs near you.
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