Licensed Practical Nursing: Education Requirements, Career Paths & Job Outlook

Do you have what it takes to become an LPN/LVN?
Find out if this job is for you.

licensed practical nurse checking patients blood pressure
woman nurse takes woman patient blood pressure

As an assistant to physicians and registered nurses (RNs), a licensed practical nurse (LPN) takes care of basic nursing 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.

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. “Licensed vocational nurse” is the title used in Texas and California, while “licensed practical nurse” is used in the rest of the United States.

The job doesn’t require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, but rather completion of a formal training program. If you’re interested in finishing your training relatively quickly and like working with people, a job as an LPN/LVN may be what you’re looking for.

“Important qualities for anyone interested in a nursing career would be being a people person who is interested in the wellness of others,” says Laura Flinn, APRN, FNP, an assistant professor in Bradley University’s (Peoria, Illinois) online nursing program and herself an advanced practice registered nurse. “Those individuals with good communication and listening skills who show empathy towards all individuals will thrive in the field.”

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.

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 an organization, the overall function of a licensed practical nurse is to ensure patient comfort and safety.

How LPNs Differ from CNAs, RNs, and Other Nurses

While an LPN’s on-the-job responsibilities are less than those of an RN, you will have the opportunity to use your social and caretaking skills as you tend to your patients.

Certified nursing assistant (CNA)

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 four 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 nurse (LPN)

LPNs perform the same duties as CNAs, as well as offer 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.

Registered nurse (RN)

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 two-year program, though four-year bachelor’s degrees are becoming increasingly required by employers. RNs must also pass the NCLEX exam, and many opt to pursue additional certification in an area of specialty.

What Training Do I Need to Become an LPN?

For most nursing jobs you’ll need a college degree, but the requirements to become an LPN are considerably less demanding. Instead, you’ll need to complete 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.

How Long Will It Take?

The length of an LPN education is typically around 12 months, though some programs might be as short as seven months or as long as two years.

Length of education for LPNs is typically around 12 months.

What Will I Study in an LPN Program?

Courses frequently include:

  • Introduction to nursing courses
  • Science courses
  • Nursing skills
  • Patient care
  • Geriatric nursing
  • Population and specialty courses

What Licensing Will I Need?

After successful completion of your program, you must apply for your nursing license and pass the NCLEX exam through the ANCC.

The NCLEX covers four main categories:

Physiological Integrity

Basic care and comfort, pharmacological therapies, and reduction of risk potential

Safe Care Environment

Management of care, safety, and infection control

Health Promotion and Maintenance

The lifespan, prevention, and early detection of disease

Psychosocial Integrity

Coping and adapting, psychosocial adaptation

Do I Need to Be Certified?

An LPN education covers a wide variety of topics, so you can leave your program with knowledge and skills in many areas. Earning a specialty certification isn’t required, but you might consider it if you find yourself drawn to a particular area of nursing. A certification also has the potential to increase your earnings.

You can specialize in areas such as:

  • IV therapy
  • Long-term care
  • Pharmacology
  • Correctional health
  • Developmental disabilities

State agencies, as well as the National Association of Practical Nurse Education and Services (NAPNES), offer specialty certification programs for LPNs. 

Are There Continuing Education Requirements?

LPNs are typically required to earn continuing education credits every few years. Each state has a different number of hours/units an LPN must fulfill to keep their license active. Your state’s board of nursing can provide you with the most up-to-date information.

Where Do LPNs Work?

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 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) breaks down employers in the following way:

  • 38%—Nursing homes and residential care facilities
  • 15%— Hospitals
  • 13%—Physicians’ offices
  • 13%—Home healthcare services
  • 6%—Government and military facilities

While these are the most common workplaces for LPNs, they also work in schools, churches, charities, and research centers—just to name a few. You might even find job openings at summer camps, on cruise ships, or at amusement parks.

How Much Do LPNs Make?

According to the BLS, LPNs earn an average salary of $48,500 per year. They tend to make the most in nursing care facilities and as home health care providers; less in hospitals and physicians’ offices.

$48,500
Average annual salary for Licensed Practical Nurses

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupation Employment Statistics

That doesn’t mean that an LPN/LVN’s salary is strictly limited. Salaries can vary greatly depending on whether you specialize, your years of experience, and where in the country you work.

How to Advance Beyond an LPN

While working as an LPN can be rewarding and fulfilling, you may find yourself looking to further your career once you’ve worked in the role for a while and gained some experience. If you decide later on to advance from an LPN to a registered nurse, you can consider a bridge program, which builds on your existing education. With an LPN-to-RN degree program, you can pursue an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which takes between one and two years.

An LPN-to-BSN program will take about twice as long, but you will earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), giving you a richer understanding of nursing, more on-the-job responsibilities, and the potential for a higher salary.

Job Outlook for LPNs

According to the BLS, job opportunities for LPNs are expected to grow by 9% through 2029. With the number of people over the age of 65 expected to double by 2060, LPNs—and nurses of all kinds—will continue to be in high demand as age-related health issues increase.

9% through 2029
Job growth rate for Licensed Practical Nurses

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook

As the baby boom population ages, the overall need for healthcare services is expected to increase, according to the BLS job outlook for LPNs. They will be needed in residential care facilities and in-home health environments to care for older patients.

A number of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, have become more prevalent in recent years. LPNs will be needed to assist and care for patients with these and other conditions. In addition, many procedures that once could be done only in hospitals are now being done outside of hospitals, creating demand in other settings, such as outpatient care centers, according to the BLS.


sheila cain

Written and reported by:

Sheila Cain

All Star writer and editor

laura flinn

With professional insight from:

Laura Flinn, APRN, FNP

Assistant Professor, Bradley University


Licensed Practical Nurse Career and Degree Guide



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