Licensed Practical Nurse Career and Degree Guide

What You’ll Do as an LPN/LVN

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

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 health care, but there are some who specialize in certain areas.

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.

What 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 or doctor.

On the job, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses perform a variety of functions:

  • Maintain records of patients’ histories
  • Provide dressing or bathing assistance
  • Update doctors and registered nurses on a patient’s status
  • Measure vital signs
  • Assist doctors and registered nurses with tests and procedures
  • Caring for and feeding infants
  •  Assemble, use and clean certain medical equipment
  •  Start IV drips or give medication
  • Monitor medication and a patient’s response

State regulations may put restrictions on what duties an LPN/LVN can perform or how much RN and physician supervision is required. Licensed practical nurse training typically covers a wide variety of topics, such as pediatric nursing and emergency care, so LPN/LVN graduates can be well-versed in all areas of their job.

What education or certification will I need to become a licensed practical nurse?

Unlike other nursing jobs, an LPN/LVN doesn’t need a bachelor’s degree or higher to practice. However, formal training is still required. Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurse training programs usually take about a year, although some programs are shorter or longer. Learn more about what you’ll study.

Community colleges, vocational colleges and trade schools usually offer LPN/LVN education programs with some allowing students to takes classes online. Even with the flexibility of online classes, you’ll want to look for a program that provides students with ample hands-on clinical work experience and the school must be accredited and approved by their state’s board of nursing.

Down the road, if you decide to advance your education further and become a registered nurse (RN), LPN-to-RN or LPN-to-BSN programs are available. Usually referred to as bridge programs, credit for LPN/LVN coursework is given, speeding up the degree completion process.

LPN/LVN school graduates aren’t completely done once they don a cap and gown. They must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) in order to practice. Check with your state’s board of nursing to ensure you complete the proper education requirements to become certified.

What career paths can I take as a licensed practical nurse?

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: If you enjoy a fast-paced environment, working as an LPN/LVN could be for you. Many LPNs/LVNs can be found assisting RNs and physicians in maternity wards, emergency rooms and in surgery. For LPNs/LVNs looking to learn a bit more, hospitals can be a good setting because licensed practical/vocational nurses are usually given more advanced hospital duties in certain areas.
  • Physician’s office: Offering a much quieter pace than a hospital, physicians’ office usually don’t require LPNs/LVNs to deal with too many intense medical conditions. Typically, the job involves assisting patients before an examination, helping with small surgeries, administering medications, making appointments and maintaining medical records.
  • Nursing facilities: As the population ages and those who are disabled and need long-term care, the demand for LPNs/LVNs has grown. Their job entails assessing patients’ health, administrative work, basic nursing care, developing treatment plans and supervising nurses’ aids.
  • Home health care services: Also affected by the increased elderly population, home health care services is a growing sector for LPNs/LVNs looking for jobs. The role involves assisting patients directly in their home and educating family members on how to provide proper care. Not only do LPNs/LVNs work with older people, but also patients recovering from diseases, accidents and major illnesses.
  • Military nursing: If you’re interested in serving your country while caring for others, there are a few paths you can take as an LPN/LVN in the military. Serving as a nurse requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but as an LPN/LVN, you could be specially trained to become a medic. Another option is to apply as a civilian in a military hospital or clinic through the Federal Civil Service. There’s an extra perk to working in military nursing: Education benefits, such as tuition reimbursement.
  • Travel nursing: For the LPN/LVN who wants to explore the country and enjoys short-term assignments, the traveling nurse role could be ideal. Many times, traveling nurses are given housing, coverage of travel expenses and help with licensing. Although these jobs usually pay a bit more than other nursing roles, you might find yourself working in a remote location, during an emergency situation or in a facility where there is a nursing shortage.

Learn about Pay & Job Projections for LPNs/LVNs.

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