Licensed Practical Nurse Career and Degree Guide


What You’ll Do as an LPN/LVN

You’ll be an important part of a healthcare team in your role as a licensed practical or vocational nurse.

nurse injecting iv of happy patient
nurse injecting iv of happy patient

Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurse (LPN or LVN) jobs are actually the same role, despite the slight difference in name. The LVN title is only used in Texas and California. The job involves a variety of daily tasks, ranging from dressing wounds to feeding infants. Most LPNs are trained to work in all aspects of healthcare, but there are some who specialize in certain areas.

What Kind of Work Does an LPN/LVN Do?

The crux of the job is to provide basic nursing care to patients while working under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or doctor. LPNs/LVNs can be found in all kinds of medical settings, like hospitals, clinics, physicians’ offices, nursing homes, and even in a patient’s own home. While the general LPN role doesn’t change, there can be variations in your duties depending on where you work. For example, LPNs/LVNs in a physician’s office may do some administrative tasks like making appointments, whereas an LPN in a hospital may find themselves with more advanced nursing responsibilities in an emergency room.

Working as an LPN is a great way to get a feel for the healthcare field, according to Michelle Paul, an RN and content specialist with staffing agency Clipboard Health.

“LPNs are a good entry point into the medical field,” says Paul. “They have more autonomy and skills than a CNA (certified nursing assistant), but not quite as much responsibility and education as an RN (registered nurse). They’re also cheaper for facilities to hire.”

Additionally, the educational path to becoming an LPN/LVN doesn’t take as long as other nursing jobs—usually about a year.

“(It) can be a quick way to get into the field of nursing and start getting valuable experience before moving on and committing more time and financial resources to an RN license and BSN degree,” Paul says.

What Kind of Work Does an LPN/LVN Perform?

In almost all settings, there are some general tasks that tend to fall to LPNs. Daily work often includes:

Interviewing patients

Get information about their current condition, as well as their medical histories. You’ll ask about things like current medications, allergies, family history of conditions, and more.


Taking patient vital signs

You’ll take a patient’s blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respirations. In some cases, you might also take their weight.


Reviewing medical records and recording new information

You’ll look over the patient’s charts and medical records to get a more complete idea of their health history. You’ll add any new information you received from your interview, as well as their latest vital signs.


Administering medications and treatments

You’ll give patients medications that have been prescribed to them. You’ll also provide care like treating wounds.


Monitoring patients after treatments or medications

You’ll observe patients to make sure they’re responding well to new treatments or medications. You’ll chart their reactions and report your observations to an RN or MD.


Giving immunizations and other injections

You’ll provide flu shots and other immunizations. Depending on where you work, you might also give tuberculosis (TB) tests and read the results.


Drawing blood for labs

You’ll help get the needed blood work for patients’ labs. You’ll draw blood, label it, and send it to the lab for processing.


Preparing IVs

You’ll help set up IV treatments and then monitor the IV to make sure it’s working properly. You’ll also monitor the skin around the insertion site.


Giving oxygen and other breathing treatments

You’ll set up patients’ oxygen to make sure they’re getting the levels they need. You might also give treatments, such as nebulizer treatments, to help their breathing.


Taking inventory of supplies

You’ll make sure your nurse’s station or supply room is stocked.  You might also order any supplies you’re getting low on.


Handling phone calls

You’ll take care of phone calls and other administrative tasks, including filing paperwork.

Other tasks will be specific to your workplace. For example, LPNs working at a skilled nursing facility will likely also supervise certified nursing assistants (CNAs), while LPNs working at a hospital will likely help patients get ready for discharge.

Your state will also regulate what tasks you can take on. You’ll be able to do some things independently and others only as part of a team under the supervision of an RN. This is called your scope of practice. Your LPN education program will prepare you for tasks that fall under the scope of practice in your state.

Typical Career Paths and Workplaces

Today’s LPNs and LVNs have a variety of work settings to choose from. Take your pick, from hospitals to physicians’ offices and everything in between:

Hospitals

Hospital nursing is a fast-paced environment for LPNs/LVNs. In this setting, you’ll assist RNs and physicians in areas like the emergency room, surgery, the maternity ward, and more. Hospitals are also a great setting if you want to gain knowledge and take on advanced duties.

Physician’s offices

Working at a physician’s office or clinic can offer many benefits, including regular working hours and a slower pace. You’ll do both patient care and administrative work in this role, taking on tasks like scheduling appointments and administering treatments.

Nursing facilities

Nursing facilities are the most common employer of LPNs/LVNs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You’ll provide nursing care to patients who need long-term care, including medications and treatments. You’ll monitor patients’ conditions and report any changes to a supervising RN or physician.

Home healthcare services

Home healthcare is a growing field with a lot of opportunities for LPNs. You’ll help people in their homes as they recover from procedures and illnesses. You’ll also educate patients and their family members on how to care for themselves once their home health services end.

Travel nursing

Travel nursing is a great way to explore. If you want to see the country while you work, travel nursing might be right for you. You’ll take on short assignments around the county—or the world, if you opt to explore international travel nursing—and your housing and other expenses will generally be covered.

How Does an LPN Differ from Other Nursing Roles?

The field of nursing is filled with acronyms, and it’s easy to confuse the various nursing jobs that are out there. The most common nursing jobs—RNs, LPNs, and CNAs—may look similar at first glance, but they are quite different.  

“The main differences between the three certifications and licenses include the type of responsibilities, the level of education required to take the certification exams, the job opportunities and places and specialties they can work in, and the type and amount of autonomy,” says Paul.

RNs vs LPNs vs CNAs:
How Do They Compare?

Degree or Training Needed

RNs

Two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

LPNs

One-year certification or degree

CNAs

Completion of a one- to four-month training program

Average Salary

RNs

$77,460

LPNs

$48,500

CNAs

$30,720

Duties

RNs

Assessing patients, educating patients and families, performing treatments and care, creating patient care plans

LPNs

Interviewing patients, giving medications, starting IVs, giving injections, monitoring patients

CNAs

Assisting with patient care, helping patients with daily activities like bathing and dressing, taking vital signs

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2019

What Are the Areas of Specialty?

Like RNs, LPNs can earn certifications in particular areas of specialty. Popular specialties for LPNs include:

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

The specialty that will be the best fit for you will depend on the type of facility in which you’d like to work and what your career goals are. For example, if you want to work in a skilled nursing facility, it might help to specialize in gerontology or long-term care.

You can earn certification in your specialty from LPN certification organizations such as the National Association of Licensed Professional Nurses (NALPN) Education Foundation or the National Association of Practical Nurse Education and Services (NAPNES).

What Can I Expect to Earn?

According to the BLS, the average annual salary for LPNs/LVNs was $48,500 in 2019. Your earnings as an LPN will depend on many factors, including your experience, education, and location. Factors like specialization and certification can also increase your earnings.

$48,500
Average Annual Salary for LPNs/LVNs

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2019

What Education Do I Need?

Many healthcare jobs require an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or higher. However, LPN roles don’t. Instead, you’ll complete a formal education program. Most programs last about a year and are offered in a variety of educational settings, including:

  • Community colleges
  • Vocational schools
  • Technical schools
  • Trade schools

Can I Complete My Program Online?

Depending on your particular program, you might be able to take classes online. However, you’ll need some hands-on training, too. Most LPN programs will blend classroom learning with training in clinical settings. Some will enable you to complete your classroom instruction online, but you’ll go to clinical locations or campus for your hands-on training.

Once you graduate, you’ll need to take the NCLEX nursing exam and complete any other requirements your state nursing board has. This might include things like submitting a criminal background check to the state.

It’s important to make sure you’re attending an accredited school. Depending on regulations in your state, you might not be able to sit for the NCLEX if your program isn’t accredited. Plus, your credits might night not transfer if you want to earn your RN down the road.

You’ll have several options if you do want to earn your RN later. One of the most popular is completing what’s known as an LPN-to-BSN bridge program. These programs build on the knowledge and skills you already have. Many are offered part time, allowing you to continue working while you earn your degree.


Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Michelle Paul, RN, BSN

Content Specialist, Clipboard Health


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