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.
- Meet the entry requirements for formal LPN training
- Choose the type of credential you want to earn (certificate/diploma or associate’s degree)
- Enroll in a state-accredited LPN program
- Pass the NCLEX-PN exam
- 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 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!
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
|State||Total HHA Employment||AVG Hourly wage||AVG Annual Salary||Employment per 1,000 jobs|
Salary by employer type
|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|
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.