Licensed Practical Nurse Career and Degree Guide

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LPNs earn your ADN or BSN degree online in up to 1/2 the time and cost of traditional programs. All applicants must be either an LPN or LVN to apply.

Are You an LPN/LVN?:

What Degree Does a LPN Need: LPN/LVN Education Guide

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

licensed practical nurse working on laptop computer

Most nursing and healthcare roles require you to earn at least an associate’s degree, and many others require a bachelor’s or even higher. That’s not the case for LPN/LVN roles. Instead of an associate’s or bachelor’s program, you’ll attend a formal training program to earn a non-degree award. It’ll generally take around a year to complete.

The non-degree path is an attractive one for a person interested in joining the workforce quickly, or someone who may be deciding if nursing is a career they want to pursue further.

“(LPN/LVN students) can gain nursing knowledge quickly while deciding which direction to pursue next,” says Laura Flinn, APRN, FNP, a board-certified advanced practice registered nurse and assistant professor in the online nursing program at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois.

Typical LPN/LVN Class Line-Up

The classes you take will vary slightly depending on your program, but there’s a general structure you can expect to follow. 

  • Introduction to nursing and nursing ethics courses—You’ll start out with these foundational courses. They’ll give you an overview of nursing and your role in the healthcare field.
  • Science courses—You’ll study the science you need to work as an LPN/LVN. Generally, this means anatomy, physiology, human growth and development, and basic nutrition.
  • Nursing skills courses—Skills courses will focus on your job duties. You’ll learn to assess patients, record information in charts, and administer medications.
  • Patient care classes—Patient care classes will teach you how to make sure your patients receive the best care possible. You’ll learn some of the best ways to communicate with patients, as well as ways you can assist with patient hygiene, patient mobility, and more.
  • Population and specialty courses—Population and specialty courses will teach you the basics of working in different settings. You’ll learn how to provide nursing care to pediatric and geriatric patients and how to work in specialty settings like rehabilitation units, emergency rooms, or neonatal units.

Classes, Labs, and Real-World Nursing

LPN/LVN nursing programs are typically divided into classroom work, skills-based labs, and rotating clinical hours in partner facilities, according to Michelle Paul, an RN and content specialist with staffing agency Clipboard Health.

Classroom work is usually focused on test-based learning, with regular, often weekly, exams and quizzes, she says. Skills learned are then put to the test in a lab—and eventually in the field.

“Skills-based labs are done within the program’s nursing labs, where students can have hands-on experience practicing skills on dummies using real equipment before they go out and practice on real patients,” says Paul. “Clinical hours tend to rotate from specialty or facility to give students a good variety of real hands-on experience as they shadow real working nurses and participate in real patient care.”

How Long Will It Take?

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

What Will I Learn?

Your LPN/LVN program will give you the skills you need to work in the field. You’ll learn:

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

In a nutshell, an LPN/LVN program will provide a well-rounded education for a student just getting started in the field of nursing.

“For the most part, LPN courses focus on training students to think like nurses, perform valuable and common skills, and focus on patient care,” says Paul.

Are Online Programs Available?

Like most nursing programs, your degree can be earned online. However, part of your education will require in-person learning. Earning your LPN/LVN license requires you to gain experience in the form of hands-on, clinical hours. You’ll need to do these at a local hospital, nursing home, or other clinical setting. The exact number of hours you need will depend on your program and state.

Generally, this means that you can take your classroom courses online. Your program will then assign you to locations for your clinical hours. For example, you might be able to take anatomy and physiology completely online, but you’ll need to complete in-person hours at a local emergency room to complete your emergency nursing course requirements.

Things to Consider Before Starting Your Studies

young adult female wearing scrubs writes notes while studying

There are a few things to look into once you’ve decided an LPN/LVN program fits your goals. Keeping these things in mind can prepare you to start your program and complete your studies with less stress. Earning an LPN/LVN award is an investment of your time, money, and energy, so before you make that serious commitment, here are some things to consider.

Are There Prerequisites?

Generally, yes. Most LPN programs are offered at community colleges, trade schools, and technical schools, so you’ll need to start by meeting the school’s entrance requirements. This can vary depending on the school, but normally, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED to enroll. Some schools might also want you to take an entrance exam or an English proficiency exam.

There might be additional prerequisites for your LPN/LVN program. For example, you might need to have taken high school biology or a set number of math courses. If you didn’t take these classes in high school, you might need to take them at your school before you can enroll in the LPN program.

Beyond academics, you might need to fulfill some requirements that will clear you to be present in a clinical setting for your hands-on learning. This often includes:

  • Up-to-date immunizations
  • A recent tuberculosis test
  • A criminal background check
  • CPR certification

Your program will let you know what you need. Talk to the admissions department if there are any requirements you’re not sure you’ll meet.

How Much Will My Education Cost?

Your costs for an LPN program will depend on the school you choose and the type of program. You can find programs that cost anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000. Programs are generally the most affordable at community colleges, but this isn’t always the case.

You might be able to get financial aid and grants to help you pay for school. One of the best ways to find out what aid you qualify for is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The application will let you know if there are any federal loans or grants you’re eligible for.

Some healthcare systems reimburse tuition for an LPN/LVN program.

Some LPN/LVN programs are offered by healthcare systems and hospitals. Often, these programs will cover the cost of your education if you agree to work for them for a set number of years after you graduate. If you have one of these programs in your area, they can be a great option. Even if you don’t, you might be able to get tuition reimbursement from your employer if you already work in healthcare.

How Important is Accreditation?

Very. Accreditation means your school has met national standards and is giving you the training and education you need to work in the field. Accreditation ensures your school is keeping up with current standards for LPNs/LVNs and will prepare you for your nursing role.

Accreditation doesn’t just affect the education you get. It also affects how you’ll pay for it and what you can do with it. Your school needs to be accredited for you to qualify for federal financial aid. You can’t get a federal loan or grant if your school isn’t accredited.

Accreditation can also help you later. Credits from an accredited school are much more likely to transfer to another school or state. That means you can use them if you want to earn a BSN down the road or if you want to transfer your license to another state.

LPN/LVN programs are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Programs need to be re-accredited every five to 10 years, so it’s a good idea to make sure your program is accredited by ACEN before you enroll.

What About State Board-Approved Programs?

Some programs are approved by your state’s board of nursing but not accredited. If you attend one of these programs, you’ll be able to take the NCLEX and get your LPN/LVN license in your state. However, you’ll have a hard time transferring your credits if you want to go back to school at a later date.

You’ve Completed Your LPN/LVN Program: What’s Next?

One you’ve completed your program there are a few more steps you’ll need to take before you can begin working as an LPN/LVN. The requirements might be slightly different depending on your state, but they’ll also include taking the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and applying for a license.

About the NCLEX

Taking and passing the NCLEX is a requirement before you can get your LPN/LVN license to practice nursing. Before you can take the test, you’ll need permission from your state board of nursing. This is called an Authorization to Test (ATT). Generally, you’ll need to send some information to your state licensing board to get your ATT. This might include:

  • Your school transcripts
  • A background check
  • Letters of reference

Once you have your ATT, you can take the NCLEX. There are 205 questions on the exam and you’ll answer a minimum of 85. The test is computerized. You’ll receive your results in about six weeks after you take the exam. You’ll need to apply for a new ATT if you don’t pass.

Receiving Your License

Passing the NCLEX will allow you to receive your license as long as you’ve also met any other requirements and paid all the fees. Your results will be sent to your state board of nursing, which can then send your license to you.

What About Certifications?

You don’t need certification to work as an LPN, but it can be a help. Earning a certification can show that you’ve mastered a specific area of nursing. It can make your application stand out and might allow you to take on additional duties and earn a higher salary.

Popular certifications for LPNs include:

  • IV therapy
  • Wound care
  • Gerontology
  • Rehabilitation
  • Long-term care
  • Pharmacology

Certifications for LPNs are available from the National Association of Licensed Professional Nurses (NALPN) Education Foundation or the National Association of Practical Nurse Education and Services (NAPNES). The right certification for you will depend on your goals and workplace.

Advancing Your Degree and Career

If you decide you want to return to school and become a registered nurse (RN) in the future, you’ll need to earn either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. You can use your LPN/LVN education as a starting point on the road to these degrees in what are called “bridge programs.”

Associate’s Degree Bridge Program (LPN-to-RN)

To become an RN, you must hold at least an associate’s degree. If you are already an LPN/LVN, you can enroll in an LPN-to-RN program, which will apply your existing education and offer RN curriculum at an accelerated pace. An associate’s program includes courses in anatomy, nursing, nutrition, chemistry, microbiology, among others. Getting an associate’s degree without an LPN/LVN usually takes two to three years, but with existing course credits, you can usually earn the degree in one or two years.

Bachelor’s Degree Bridge Programs (LPN-to-BSN)

LPN/LVNs looking to become an RN may also consider earning a bachelor’s degree. While an LPN-to-BSN program will take about twice as long as the path to an associate’s degree (usually between two and four years), you’ll finish with a deeper breadth of knowledge and the potential for more responsibilities and a higher salary.

Schools offering these programs tend to focus on nursing courses where students learn better leadership skills. Many of these programs are part time or flexible, allowing you to work while you earn your BSN.

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

laura flinn

Laura Flinn, APRN, FNP

Assistant Professor, Bradley University

Michelle Paul, RN, BSN

Content Specialist, Clipboard Health