Welcome to a Career in Practical Nursing
Start Planning Your Practical Nursing Career as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Today
PracticalNursing.org is the ultimate guide to everything you need to know about starting your career as a Licensed Practical Nurse. We offer information on all aspects of becoming and working as an LPN / LVN, including:
- Average LPN Salaries
- Common Work Environments
- Completing Education and Licensure Requirements
- Finding the Right LPN Program
- LPN Job Duties
LPNs have rewarding, challenging, and well-paying careers that offer excellent opportunities for growth and advancement. With the resources provided by PracticalNursing.org, you can begin your journey towards earning an LPN certificate and license today in the practical nursing industry.
What is a Licensed Practical Nurse?
Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), also known in some states as Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs - CA & TX), are nurses who provide standard emergency and preventative healthcare to patients who are sick, injured, or just need routine health checkups. LPNs are supervised by registered nurses and doctors and perform their work alongside a team of healthcare providers.
To obtain state certification, LPN's must complete accredited LPN programs, which generally take around one year to complete. LPN programs are offered at many community colleges, technical schools, and even hospitals throughout the United States and Canada.
After LPN students complete their coursework, they must pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-PN. If they pass, they can pursue specialized certificates in certain areas of healthcare, including gerontology, IV therapy, long-term care, pharmacology, and more. LPN's aren't just supposed to work at nursing homes.
What are an LPN's Duties?
LPN duties often vary depending on the state where they work. Some state regulations allow LPN's to provide medication to patients, while others allow LPNs to administer intravenous drips.
In general, LPN's are responsible for assisting registered nurses and doctors by providing basic medical care to their patients. Some of the typical job duties performed by LPN's include:
- Changing bandages, catheters, and IVs
- Checking vital signs like blood pressure and pulse rates
- Feeding patients who are unable to feed themselves
- Keeping detailed records of patients’ overall health
- Reporting any changes in patients’ health to doctors and nurses
These are just a few of the standard duties performed by LPN's, and their day-to-day routines may vary depending on the needs of the hospitals, physician’s offices, or nursing homes where they work.
Additional duties LPN include:
- Greeting Patients and Recording Their Information
LPN's are often the first point of contact that a hospital, doctor’s office, or other healthcare clinic has with patients. After patients are called back to be seen by a doctor, LPN's record their medical history, known allergies, height, weight, internal body temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate. These signs give doctors and registered nurses a good indication of patients’ overall health before any additional tests are administered.
- Collecting Samples
One of the most important day-to-day responsibilities for LPN's is to collect patient samples for routine laboratory testing, such as urine, feces, saliva, and other bodily fluids. In addition, some LPN's are trained to draw blood to test for certain diseases and infections.
- Monitoring Patients’ Health
Registered nurses and doctors may need to see several dozen patients in a single day.
Because of those demands, LPN's are asked to monitor their patients’ health throughout the course of their shift. Close monitoring is especially important after major surgeries, accidents, and when patients have received new medications. LPN's are trained to quickly identify adverse reactions or complications and notify doctors and registered nurses immediately.
- Counseling Patients and their Families
LPN's are often tasked with providing a human touch to routine healthcare. They often teach patients and their family members how to administer medication, which symptoms to be aware of after the patient goes home, which activities to avoid, and how to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Read more about what LPN's do.
Where Do LPNs Work?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that LPNs were employed in roughly 738,400 jobs in 2012. These nurses worked in a variety of settings, including:
- Elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools
- Home health care organizations
- Nursing homes and nursing care facilities
- Physicians’ offices and other private practices
- State, federal, and private hospitals
In addition, LPN's can find work in other settings by working as missionaries, serving in the military, or working as consultants for healthcare companies. Other nurses use their patient care knowledge and familiarity of healthcare settings by working as medical coders, billers, transcriptionists, and customer service representatives. Evaluate the many potential practical nursing careers.
How Do I Become an LPN?
If you want to become a licensed practical nurse, you must first complete one year of coursework in an accredited LPN/LVN programs Most states have dozens of accredited colleges, technical schools, and hospitals that offer LPN/LVN programs.
For example, California has more than 170 state-approved LVN programs, while Texas has over 100 established programs at community colleges, technical centers, and private nursing schools. New York has the BOCES programs which are a abundant and state ran. No matter where you live, you should carefully research and weigh the pros and cons of each school in your state to decide which program is right for you.
After satisfying the LPN program coursework and grade requirements laid out by your state’s Board of Nursing, you will be eligible to take the NCLEX-PN, or the National Council Licensure Examination. This exam is mandatory for all LPN/LVN's in the U.S. and can be scheduled through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing for $200.
The NCLEX-PN exam covers four distinct disciplines of nursing:
- Safe and Effective Care Environments
- Health Promotion and Maintenance
- Psychosocial Integrity
- Physiological Integrity
Some LPN programs offer study groups and practice exams, which can help you become more familiar with the format and subject matter that will be on the test.
After completing the NCLEX-PN, you will receive your examination results in the mail with a detailed description of how you performed in each section depending on the outcome of the exam. Read up on the types of questions asked, registration process, overall NCLEX-PN exam statistics and more. If you passed the examination, you can immediately begin searching for a job as a certified licensed practical nurse.
How Do I Find an LPN Program That’s Right for Me?
One of the toughest and most important decisions you’ll make when you decide to become an LPN is where to attend school. The decision is especially daunting in states with large numbers of accredited programs, such as New York, Florida, and Ohio.
Not all LPN programs are created equal, and some may be a better fit for you than others. When you’re weighing your practical nursing options, it’s important to take a few factors into consideration:
- What is the program’s NCLEX-PN pass rate?
- Is the LPN program accredited by the state?
- Does the program offer online classes?
- How much does the program cost?
- Where is the LPN program located?
- How much hands-on experience do you get?
- Do you feel comfortable with the instructors and students?
The answers to these questions will help you decide which LPN program to attend. If a highly-regarded program isn't available in your area, it may be worthwhile to move closer to one that has the best NCLEX-PN pass rates and reputation. The more you learn about nursing while completing your LPN classes, the better prepared you’ll be for your examination and your future career as a licensed practical nurse.
Cities with Most Available LPN / LVN Program Options
- New York, NY
- Los Angeles, CA (LVN)
- Chicago, IL
- Houston, TX (LVN)
- Philadelphia, PA
- Phoenix, AZ
- San Antonio, TX (LVN)
- San Diego, CA (LVN)
- Dallas, TX (LVN)
- San Francisco, CA (LVN)
How Much Do LPN's Make?
The median salaries of licensed practical nurses varies from state to state. States with the highest median salaries for LPNs/LVNs are:
- Alaska: $52,600 per year
- Rhode Island: $52,500 per year
- Massachusetts: $52,200 per year
- New Jersey: $51,100 per year
- Nevada: $51,500 per year
- California: 51,100 per year
- Maryland: 49,400 per year
The states with the lowest median salaries for LPNs/LVNs include:
- Arkansas: $35,000 per year
- Alabama: $34,700 per year
- Mississippi: $34,600 per year
- South Dakota: $34,200 per year
- West Virginia: $33,600 per year
If you complete your LPN program and licensure in one state but want to move to another state for higher pay or better job opportunities, you’ll have to become licensed in the new state.
How Are LPNs Different From Other Nurses?
Licensed practical nurses differ in many ways from other nurses, but their day-to-day duties often consist of similar work. Some of the major differences between LPN's and other nurses include:
Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs):
- This is strictly terminology that separates the differences between LVN and LPN titles. LVN terminology is used solely in California & Texas. See below for further explanation.
Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs):
- Like LPN's, CNA's earn their certificates with one year of coursework and provide basic care for patients. However, they are not considered licensed nurses. CNA's perform their duties under the close supervision of LPN's and RN's.
Registered Nurses (RNs):
- RN's can complete their coursework and become licensed in two years. Their basic duties are similar to LPNs, although they often receive higher pay, are allowed to perform tests and certain procedures, and are responsible for supervising CNA's and LPN's. Read about the LPN to RN transition process.
Nurse Practitioners (NPs):
- After completing their BSN and MSN degrees, aspiring NPs must pass additional licensing examinations to become fully certified. Licensed NPs have much more freedom than other nurses and are often allowed to write prescriptions and work independently without the supervision of physicians.
LPNs who wish to further their careers and gain increased responsibility and pay can enroll in bridge programs. These programs allow for faster transition and certification in new nursing roles. Bridge programs include transitions from CNA to LPN, LPN to ADN, LPN to RN, LPN to RN Online, and LPN to BSN. Several online program options for current LPN's are available.
What's the Difference Between an LPN and LVN?
The simple answer to this commonly asked question is, well, simply the name.
For example, the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) in Arizona who wishes to relocated to Texas or California, obtains his or her license in either state and is now called a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN). There is no difference in job duties, education, or scope of practice, as mandated by each state, and Texas and California are the only states using the title LVN.
LPN / LVN History & Background
To gain clarity, let’s explore the history of the LPN/LVN in the United States.
The role of the nurse became necessary in times of war, as injured troops needed help. The most well known in nursing history is the Crimean War (18531856), where Florence Nightingale made her debut and became known as the Founder of Modern Nursing. Nightingale is known for establishing a nursing school in London, and for teaching the, now, widely accepted practices of hygiene, nutrition, and fresh air to aid in healing.
Fast forward about 100 years to World War II (19391945), when the establishment of the licensed nurse started being accepted in the United States, with New York leading the way.
Prior to this time, nurses were trained by the hospitals in which they worked and upon completion of the diploma program, were considered “registered nurses.” The diploma programs were not standardized and the education each nurse received throughout the program varied. Some nurses had more didactic (textbook) training, while others received more clinical (bedside) training. This type of licensure was called permissive nursing licensure. New York set the trend for mandated nursing licensure after establishing more formalized education standards.
In 1945, New York was the first state to enact legislation requiring nurses to become licensed, which was 4 years after they established the Association of Practical Nursing Schools. The Association developed standards for more formalized nursing education. After New York was able to enact the legislation and model a successful educational program, other states would also reconsider permissive nursing licensure. By the mid 1950’s, most states had established a mandatory licensure program and more formalized educational standards for nursing.
In 1951, Texas passed mandatory licensure legislation, namely The Vocational Nurse Act, which established the Texas State Board of Nurse Examiners. This created the title Licensed Vocational Nurse for the formally educated nurse who was able to pass the nursing exam created by the State Board. The title still remains today.
California, too, passed legislation in 1951, the Vocational Nurse Practice Act, which established the California State Board of Vocational Nursing and the Vocational Nurse Program. This legislation also standardized the approach to educating and licensing nurses by exam and California has maintained the title Licensed Vocational Nurse since that time.
The remainder of the states who use the term LPN are thought to be based after one of the first formal nursing schools in the US, the Ohio Central School of Practical Nursing. These states also developed education and examination processes, like New York, Texas, and California. By 1955, the entire county had established legislation for standardized testing of the licensed nurse which helped the nursing field gain the respect and authority it deserves.
What is the Job Outlook for LPN's in the Future?
Like most jobs in the healthcare field, the job outlook for LPN's is excellent though there are healthcare systems around the country seeking to move forward with minimum standards of RN credentials to work in hospitals. As the population ages and reaches retirement age, they will need more frequent healthcare, including checkups and emergency care. In fact, every state in the U.S. is expected to see major increases in the number of LPN positions through the year 2020, with some increasing by 20 percent every year. Read more about LPN jobs and find current job listings.
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We are nurses helping future nurses. PracticalNursing.org was built to guide those interested in pursuing the exciting career in healthcare. Licensed practical nurses (LPN) are the stepping stone into a successful nursing career. Our trusted nursing experts are informed educators, experienced in their crafts, and advocates for healthcare professionals.