Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) are entry-level nurses who provide direct patient care in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and physicians’ offices. This position is popular among those who wish to enter the nursing profession, but don’t want to go through the 2-4 years of schooling required to become a Registered Nurse (RN).

As is the case with many healthcare professions, demand for LPNs and LVNs is particularly strong in the labor market. According to the latest figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be an increase of approximately 12% (almost 89,000 jobs) in new practical nursing positions through 2026.

What does an LPN do?

While working under the direct supervision of either a Registered Nurse (RN) or physician, practical nurses and vocational nurses perform a variety of direct patient care tasks. In cases where an LPN has acquired specialized certifications and training, this list of responsibilities can be greatly expanded.

Typical LPN duties

  • Monitor the health of patients by performing routine tests (e.g. checking vital signs)
  • Report patient status to the supervising RN or physician
  • Maintain accurate, updated records on patient health and status
  • Provide essential patient care (e.g. bathing, changing dressings, changing catheters, etc.)
  • Administer medication
  • Collect tissue and bodily fluid samples for testing

 

What is the process to become an LPN?

The process for becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse can be broken down into the following five steps.

  1. Meet the entry requirements for formal LPN training
  2. Choose the type of credential you want to earn (certificate/diploma or associate’s degree)
  3. Enroll in a state-accredited LPN program
  4. Pass the NCLEX-PN exam
  5. Receive your license and apply for jobs

Step 1: Meet the entry requirements for formal LPN training

All formal LPN and LVN programs have a basic, minimum requirement that applicants have a high school diploma or G.E.D. If you intend to pursue a career in practical nursing, you must first ensure that you can meet this prerequisite.

Some programs also have academic prerequisites that applicants must meet. These typically come in the form of courses that need to have been completed in high school, and minimum GPA requirements from these classes.

Step 2: Choose the type of credential you want to earn

Before becoming eligible to sit for the NCLEX-PN exam and test for your license, you must first earn a credential from an accredited LPN program. There are two primary types of credentials that these programs offer. You should choose the one that best fits your career goals.

Certificates and Diplomas

Programs that offer certificates or diplomas in practical nursing focus entirely on preparing students to take the NCLEX-PN exam. As a result, these programs are usually quicker (many can be completed in as little as 12 months) and less expensive to complete than associate’s degree programs.

Students who earn a certificate or diploma are eligible to sit for the NCLEX-PN at the end of their training, and can perform all of the same duties as students with associate’s degrees.

Associate’s Degrees

Associate’s degree programs are considerably longer than certificate or diploma programs, with most lasting two years as opposed to one. The extra study time is dedicated to providing students with a broader set of skills beyond just those required to perform the daily responsibilities of a practical nurse.

The advantages that associate’s degrees offer are that they are usually preferred by employers, and that they give the student academic credit that can be applied to an LPN to RN bridge program at a later time. This is obviously important if you are planning on eventually becoming an RN or other advanced nursing professional.

Step 3: Enroll in a state-accredited LPN program

Once you have decided on the type of credential you want to pursue, the next step is finding an accredited program that offers it. The key here is that the program must be accredited, as only graduates from accredited programs are eligible to sit for the NCLEX-PN exam needed to earn your license.

Each state has its own individual accrediting body that oversees practical nurse training, although many of them defer this responsibility to the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). In any case, you should check with your state board of nursing to find out who the accrediting body is in your state for LPN programs.

About online LPN programs

Many institutions offer online LPN programs as a convenient alternative to campus-based courses. These distance learning options are popular with students who work, have family commitments, or do not live close to a school that offers training.

It is important to note that, although it is possible to complete many of the academic components of an LPN program online, you will still be required to complete your clinical trials and training hours in a specific location.

For more in depth detail see our guide to Online LPN schools.

Step 4: Pass the NCLEX-PN exam

All 50 states require anyone employed as an LPN or LVN to have passed the NCLEX-PN exam. A passing score on this test is required in order to become nationally licensed.

The exam is made up of four sections, each of which focuses on a specific area of the practical nursing profession. The list below displays each of these four sections and roughly what percentage of the total exam they represent.

  • Health promotion and maintenance (12%)
  • Safe care environment (21-33%)
  • Physiological integrity (43-67%)
  • Psychosocial integrity (12%)

Unlike most exams, the NCLEX-PN is scored using what is known as a “logit”. A logit is a unit of measure that compares a student’s answers against the difficulty of the questions answered. The result of this is that, according to the NCSBN, a passing score on the NCLEX-PN is actually 0.00 logits.

To clarify what this means, a student must correctly answer approximately 50% of the questions of each difficulty level in order to secure a passing score.

Step 5: Receive your license and apply for a job

The final step in the process of becoming an LPN is to receive your license and start looking for your first job.

After you take the NCLEX-PN exam, you should receive your test results within as little as 48 hours. Your local State Board of Nursing will usually then send your license to you via mail within two weeks or less.

Once this formality is concluded, you’ll be able to start applying for jobs as a newly-minted Licensed Practical Nurse!

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LPN/LVN Information by State

How much do LPNs make?

The median annual salary for Licensed Practical Nurses in the United States was $45,030 in 2017. As the following tables show, this figure varies considerably according to geography however. Other factors that influence your pay are your experience and the type of employer you work for.

LPN salary by state

StateAVG Hourly wageAVG Annual Salary
Alabama9.6320020
Alaska16.0033290
Arizona11.5524030
Arkansas9.5319820
California14.0529210
Colorado13.0227080
Connecticut13.2227490
Delaware15.0431290
Florida13.3327730
Georgia11.2523410
Hawaii10.3821590
Idaho12.7826590
Illinois10.6422120
Indiana11.4623840
Iowa10.9722820
Kansas12.9726990
Kentucky11.5323980
Louisiana12.3625710
Maine9.5319820
Maryland11.8724690
Massachusetts12.0625080
Michigan14.0429200
Minnesota10.8522560
Mississippi12.6926390
Missouri10.1921200
Montana10.7922440
Nebraska11.4923900
Nevada11.9224790
New Hampshire13.8628840
New Jersey13.3527780
New Mexico11.1723230
New York11.2923480
North Carolina11.6124150
North Dakota9.7020170
Ohio15.9533170
Oklahoma10.3121450
Oregon11.9124770
Pennsylvania11.5223960
Rhode Island11.2223340
South Carolina9.0018720
South Dakota13.1427330
Tennessee9.9620710
Texas13.3227700
Utah9.9320660
Vermont9.8820550
Virginia12.8026620
Washington13.2227500
West Virginia10.8822640
Wisconsin12.3325640
Wyoming9.6420060

Source: www.bls.gov

Salary by employer type

WorkplaceAverage Pay
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)$23,570
Continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities for the elderly$22,860
Residential intellectual and developmental disability facilities$22,510
Services for the elderly and persons with disabilities$22,410
Home healthcare services$22,390

Source: www.bls.gov

What is the job outlook for Licensed Practical Nurses?

As discussed earlier in this guide, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nearly 89,000 new LPN jobs will be added across the country by 2026. This equates to a 12% increase, which is well above the national average for all positions.