Working as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

What Do LPN's Do

The acronym LPN stands for Licensed Practical Nurse.  Some states refer to this job as an LVN or Licensed Vocational Nurse.  What the LPN does depends on the “scope of practice” laws in the state where you work.  Each state board of nursing regulates what the LPN can and cannot do.  In general, LPN's provide patient care in a variety of settings within a variety of clinical specializations.  LPN's usually:

  • Administer oral and intravenous medications
  • Chart in the medical record
  • Take the patient’s vital signs
  • Change wound dressings
  • Collect specimens such as blood, urine, sputum, etc
  • Insert and care for urinary catheters
  • Care for patients with tracheostomy tube and ventilators
  • Insert and care for patients that need nasogastric tubes
  • Give feedings through a nasogastric or gastrostomy tube
  • Care for ostomies
  • Monitor patients for a change in clinical condition
  • Call the physician if needed
  • Perform CPR in emergencies
  • Are supervised by an RN

Although each state sets the scope of practice for the LPN, each organization can narrow the scope.  It is important, therefore, to know what the specific organization does not allow the LPN to do.  In some organizations, but not all, the RN is expected to carry out the following tasks:

  • Start, monitor, and/or discontinue intravenous catheters or the intravenous fluids
  • Start, monitor, or change critical intravenous medications that stabilize the heart or blood pressure
  • Take phone or verbal orders from the MD
  • Administer intravenous medication that are given “push” or very quickly
  • Care of central intravenous lines (that go to or near the patient’s heart)

LPN Work Settings

The most common places that an LPN works includes but is not limited to:

  • Hospital - The hospital setting provides care to patients that are acutely ill or have just had major surgery.  The LPN will work under the supervision of the RN in caring for patients.  Most community hospitals hire LPNs, however is the larger teaching hospitals that have or wish to acquire “magnet status” from The Joint Commission (the accreditation organization for hospitals) do not hire LPNs. The work schedule depends upon the facility but usually is 12 hour shifts with every other weekend off and rotating shifts.
  • Rehabilitation – The rehabilitation setting provides care to patients that are in the process of gaining backs skills a recent medical or surgical event.  Patients are expected to be improving while there with the help of physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists.  The LPN and RN work side-by-side in caring for patients.  For example, a patient may have required a hip replacement in the hospital but still need to gain muscle strength, crutch walking skills, and practice walking on difference surfaces.  The patient can transfer to a rehabilitation setting to accomplish those goals.  The work schedule depends upon the facility but usually is 12 hour shifts with every other weekend off and rotating shifts.
  • Nursing Home – This setting provides care to patients that are not expected to improve and may be there for very long periods of time.The LPN may be in charge of patient care in this setting.  As an example, if stroke patient may be in the hospital initially after a stroke.  But after being stabilized, they moved to a rehabilitation center to work on getting back speech and movement skills.  But once the patient’s progress has plateaued and if there is not sufficient support for care in the home, the patient may be cared for in a long term care facility or nursing home.  The work schedule depends upon the facility but usually is 12 hour shifts with every other weekend off and rotating shifts.  Some long term care facilities choose 8 hour shifts.
  • Home Care - Many patients can live in their homes or a family member’s home with the support of additional health care providers.  The type of care provided in the home depends on what the patient needs.  Some complex patients need LPN care several hours per day so that family is able to sleep.  Some patients need LPN oversight to make sure the medical plan continues at home and to provide patient education.  The shift hours worked depends on the number of hours needed per day or per week.  The episodic visit may last from 1 -2 hours.
  • Medical Office or Urgent Care Clinic - This setting provides office visits for patients to see their healthcare provider, usually for a well care checkup. The LPN can assist by taking important patient vital signs, medication history, weight, and follow up with necessary tests that may be ordered after the visit.   The LPN hours will depend on what times and days the office is open to seeing patients.   There may be occasional weekends.
  • School – Students in the school setting often require episodic care for minor illnesses such as lice, sore throats, or vomiting.  Elementary schools, high schools, and colleges may hire an RN or LPN to provide this care.   If the student in younger, a parent picks them up from school to take home.  If the student is in college, care is provided until the student is safe to drive or walk home unless emergency care in a hospital is needed.  The work hours depend upon the hours the school is open and students are on site.

LPN Areas of Practice

There are some very exciting areas of nursing practice from which the LPN can chose to work.   Each area is very unique – as is every LPN!  It is a great idea to work in many areas of nursing over time to increase your “marketability.” Read about 8 roles of the LPN and the various LPN careers.

  • Pediatrics – This area of nursing care specializes in sick patients ages newbornpediatric nurse to age 18.
  • Labor and Delivery - Nursing in this specialization cares for pregnant woman just prior to delivery of a baby, during the delivery, after delivery, and care of the well newborn.
  • Neonatal – Neonatal unit nurses care for sick newborns and premature infants just after delivery.
  • Oncology – Patient needing an oncology nurse usually have one of the many forms of cancer.  Oncology nurses administer chemotherapy, help treat pain and nausea, and assist with procedures.
  • Neuro ICU – The nurse in Neuro ICU cares for patients after brain surgery or severe head injury. They specialize in neurological assessment of patients and know how to monitor the patient for improvement or deterioration.
  • Trauma ICU – The Trauma ICU nurse cares for patients after an accident of some type.  This can be a car accident, motorcycle accident, building collapse – anytime there are multiple systems involved with injury.
  • Burn Unit – When a patient is burned over a large percentage of the body, nurses specialized in dressing changes, pain management, and monitoring for sepsis – all while working in a team over a period of time as patient healing occurs.
  • Cardiac ICU– Patients receive nursing care in a Cardiac ICU after heart surgery.
  • Emergency Room – The emergency room nurse cares for patients that are suddenly unstable from an illness just after an accident.   Patients are quickly stabilized and then transferred to an ICU.
  • Rehabilitation Nurse – Rehabilitation nursing involves working with physical, occupational, and speech therapists to help the patient gain back skills that were lost due to illness or injury.
  • Gerontology Nurse – Nurses that specialize in gerontology care for the unique needs of elderly patients.

See what BSN careers are available provided you continue to further your nursing education.

LPN Salary & Employment Breakdown by State

StateTotal EmploymentAverage Hourly WageAverage Annual Salary
Alabama14,290$16.56$34,430
Alaska640$23.98$49,870
Arizona7,590$24.25$50,450
Arkansas12,190$16.79$34,920
California64,460$24.58$51,130
Colorado6,230$21.37$44,460
Connecticut8,620$25.49$53,010
Delaware2,230$22.78$47,390
Florida42,710$19.60$40,770
Georgia24,040$17.59$36,580
Hawaii1,250$21.25$44,200
Idaho2,850$18.60$38,690
Illinois23,390$20.05$41,700
Indiana20,500$18.71$38,910
Iowa7,200$17.70$36,820
Kansas7,070$18.04$37,520
Kentucky9,510$17.93$37,300
Louisiana22,150$18.36$38,180
Maine1,600$19.01$39,540
Maryland11,910$24.14$50,210
Massachusetts17,640$24.39$50,740
Michigan18,650$20.34$42,310
Minnesota18,080$19.09$39,700
Mississippi10,620$16.62$34,580
Missouri17,810$17.83$37,100
Montana2,650$17.39$36,160
Nebraska5,900$17.90$37,240
Nevada2,140$25.13$52,270
New Hampshire2,670$21.71$45,160
New Jersey14,690$24.65$51,270
New Mexico3,240$22.07$45,910
New York47,950$21.07$43,820
North Carolina17,420$19.65$40,870
North Dakota3,080$17.71$36,830
Ohio42,250$19.41$40,370
Oklahoma13,610$17.06$35,490
Oregon2,760$22.46$46,720
Pennsylvania37,040$20.63$42,920
Rhode Island1,260$24.95$51,900
South Carolina10,080$18.73$38,960
South Dakota2,010$16.57$34,470
Tennessee22,650$17.38$36,160
Texas72,100$20.32$42,260
Utah2,590$18.95$39,410
Vermont1,400$20.45$42,540
Virginia20,570$18.88$39,260
Washington9,270$22.19$46,150
West Virginia6,250$16.01$33,300
Wisconsin10,260$19.99$41,580
Wyoming760$19.50$40,560

Compare the salary difference of being an RN to an LPN.

Source: http://www.bls.gov/

Finding Your LPN Job

After you decide which area of practice is the one where you want to work, search out locations where employers offer this type of care.  For example, if you want to work in a Burn Unit, it may be necessary to search all the area hospitals to find out which one has a Burn Unit.  Burn Units are usually located in a hospital designated a Level 3 Trauma Center.  Go to that hospital’s website and find their “Careers at Our Hospital”.  Click on the link and do a search for jobs – looking specifically for jobs in your desired area of practice.  Carefully look at the title to make sure an LPN position is available and then read the position description, hours and shifts to be worked, and any salary quotes.  Compare jobs between facilities and narrow your decision down to your favorite 2 job opportunities. Read about the core values of nursing professionals. Click here if interested in finding a position: LPN Jobs.

Completing an LPN Job Application

nurse for hireMany job applications are submitted online but some are still hard copy.  Before you start, gather a couple important documents:

  • Employment History - You will the name of the facility, address, phone number, and supervisor’s name and direct phone number.
  • Education History.  Gather the name, address and phone number of your high school and nursing school.  It is a good idea of request an unofficial grades transcript from your LPN school in case your job requests it, although probably not.
  • License Information - Make sure you know the date you took your LPN exam and in which state.  Some employers do not require a copy of your license because Human Resources will do an online check to validate that you do have a license in the same state as the place you are applying to work. If you are looking to work in another state find out how to transfer your LPN license accordingly.
  • Follow Instructions - How you complete this online or paper application says a lot about you.   Make sure to look up the correct spelling of words and use good grammar.  Fill out all the spaces to the best of your ability.  Not following instructions can indicate how you would perform with instructions on the job.  You want to make a good impression!
  • Test Preparation - Many hospitals require a math test prior to hiring the LPN.  Be prepared for simple ratios, IV drip conversions, medication names and purposes.  Ask what is the cutoff for pass/fail.  Be careful and take your time unless it is a timed test.  The test may be part of the online application or something you take when you return for an interview.
  • Submission - Before you turn in the paper application or hit the “submit” button, review all the information one more time and make sure it is complete.  Some employers will not accept incomplete applications.

LPN Interview

If you have been asked to come in for a job interview, there are a few important things to keep in mind.  First, do some online research about the organization for which you are applying.  What type of care do they specialize in and in what care setting?  How many patients do they see per year?  Learn as much as you can ahead of time about the job you are looking to get.  What does the role do and not do in the organization.  Wear the appropriate attire for the position and bring a copy of your resume.  Practice potential questions and answers with a friend.  There are many interview videos available online to help prepare you.

More about interviewing in our LPN Interview Guide. For specific topics refer to the below:

Starting Work as an LPNlpn work

When you agree to a job offer and salary, the next step is that you are given a date to start work.  It may be necessary to have a pre-employment physical exam done which can include drug testing.  Prepare by purchasing any needed items such as nursing scrub outfits or a stethoscope.  You will be issued a computer security username and password that will allow you access to timekeeping, medical records, and registration systems.  You will need to complete several educational requirements specific to your role and department within the first couple days of starting in an organization.

LPN Work Orientation Period

The first month or so of work in an organization is called your orientation period.  The purpose of an orientation period is so the organization can decide if you have the skills needed to do the job and for you to decide if the job is a good fit.  Depending upon your role and the setting, your orientation period may last up to 6 weeks.  There will be a preceptor, or mentor, assigned to orient you and have you demonstrate competency.  At the end of the orientation period there is usually an evaluation process to get performance feedback from your supervisor.

LPN License Renewal

Once you have already obtained your LPN state license for the first time, there will be a date that your license expires.  Pay closely to this date and refer to your state licensure requirements regarding renewing your license.  Requirements vary from state to state – some states require only money to renew.  Other states have additional continuing education credits (the number of hours varies) and proof before renewal is allowed.

LPN Continuing Education Credits

Some State Board of Nursing require a certain number of continuing education credits in order to renew your LPN license at the time of expiration. Continuing education credits are accredited videos, articles, lectures, or conferences that provide education to the LPN to assure competency. Each state’s policy differs so refer to our guide to LPN CEU state requirements or via third party resource http://ce.nurse.com/RStateReqmnt.aspx for a list of all states and their continuing education requirements. Read more ways to obtain CEU's for LPN's.

Advancing LPN Education Options

  • LPN to RN/BSN Online - Achieve Test Prep

    *Must Be a LPN/LVN

    LPNs earn your ADN or BSN degree online in up to 1/2 the time and cost of traditional programs. With No Waiting List to get started, Free Books, and Low Cost financing options available, this is the perfect way for LPNs, LVNs, and Paramedics to earn your Associates Degree in Nursing and your RN license. Our convenient, instructor led test-out program allows you to learn at an accelerated pace and earn college credit-by-examination which then is eligible to be transferred to an ACEN accredited nursing school or 100's of universities nationwide.

Angela Ebel, MSN, RN

Angela Ebel, RN, MSN is a clinical nurse specialist currently in outpatient clinical practice and research. She is a graduate of Yale University and a Fellow in Patient Safety from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her nursing experience ranges from critical care, emergency, outpatient, and home health care. She has designed and implemented hospital error reporting software, implemented computer-based training, authored several CBTs, authored several book chapters and journal articles, been an educator for a trach speaking valve product, served as a nursing instructor, written several video scripts for a national patient safety provider, is a nurse blogger, and has been an instructor in an online patient safety fellowship using Blackboard. She is married with boy/girl twins, volunteers for local performing arts center, and volunteers for Camp Twitch and Shout for kids with Tourettes syndrome.