Becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) is a rewarding career choice for those looking to enter the growing medical field. Depending on their program, students can complete their education requirements and enter the workforce within as little as two years. Practical nurses also have many career and education opportunities in the nursing field, and many registered nurses began their medical profession as an LPN or LVN.
This guide provides step-by-step instructions on how to become a licensed practical or vocational nurse, as well as the average salary, job outlook, and career advancement opportunities.
What Is the Difference Between an LPN and an LVN
The only difference between an LPN and an LVN is where an individual practices nursing. In California and Texas, they use the title LVN for licensed vocational nurses, while the rest of the country uses the title LPN for licensed practical nurses.
Both LPNs and LVNs work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and physicians, and they are all required to pass the NCLEX-PN exam before entering the workforce. Depending on the state you work in, you may have slightly different responsibilities regardless of which title you have. For example, some states allow LPNs/LVNs to administer medication to patients or intravenous drips while other states don’t.
What Do LPNs and LVNs Do?
The primary responsibility of practical nurses is to provide basic nursing care to patients under the supervision of a registered nurse or physician. Specific practical nursing duties can vary from state to state, but in general, LPNs and LVNs have the following responsibilities:
- Monitor basic patient health
- Change bandages and wound dressings
- Insert catheters
- Record patient histories
- Document care provided
- Assist RNs and physicians with various tests and procedures
- Provide hygiene care, such as bathing
How to Become an LPN/LVN
Becoming an LPN may be easier than you think. While considering a program in your area, it’s a smart idea to book an appointment with an admissions counselor. They will be able to answer all your questions about schedules, fees, and program admissions requirements. Use our other resources to help you select a program that fits your needs.
1. Earn a Diploma, Certificate, or Degree
One thing to consider is how quickly you want to enter the nursing field and consider whether or not you have future plans to become an RN. Oftentimes, earning a diploma or certificate is the fastest way to start working as an LPN/LVN. However, credit earned from these programs does not count towards your education, meaning you will have to earn a degree to advance your career. If you eventually want to become an RN, earning an associate degree is the best option to advance your future career.
Once you have decided what type of program to attend, you will need to find a state-approved practical nursing program. While each state has its own LPN requirements, the typical classes you will complete are:
- Medical terminology
- Human growth and development
- Anatomy and physiology
- Nursing care
To attend a practical nursing program, applicants must have a high school diploma or educational equivalent. Some states and schools may require you to pass an entrance exam before being accepted into the program.
Additionally, some states may allow students to get a head start by completing prerequisite courses in chemistry, biology, mathematics, etc., so it’s important to check the specific requirements of your school or program.
2. Pass the NCLEX-PN
After earning an LPN/LVN diploma or certificate, students must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) before being employed as a practical nurse. This exam is taken on the computer in an approved testing facility and is a progressive test, meaning the subjects, questions, and difficulty adjusts as the student answers questions. Because of this, no two test takers have the same exact exam, and you can receive as little as 85 or as many as 205 test questions. The NCLEX-PN must be completed within 5 hours. If you do not pass the exam, you must wait 45 to 90 days before retaking the test.
3. Seek Employment as an LPN/LVN
Once you have completed an approved practical nursing program and have passed the NCLEX-PN exam, you can accept a job as an LPN/LVN. If you don’t know where to look for a job, most practical nursing schools and programs offer career support to help you locate jobs close to where you live. If you are looking for per diem shifts as an LPN/LVN, you can sign up with Clipboard Health to find work.
4. Seek Additional Training and Professional Certification Programs
After becoming an LPN or LVN, you can obtain additional certifications to distinguish yourself from other candidates or work in specialized roles. There are many professional certification programs available to practical nurses, which include:
- Long-term care
- IV therapy
- Hospice and palliative care
5. Consider Career Advancement Opportunities
Many RNs started their careers as an LPN or LVN to quickly enter the medical field and explore different options. For some people, it may be less of a financial burden to be gainfully employed as a practical nurse while attending an RN program. In other cases, an experienced LPN/LVN may find more employment opportunities, along with an increased earning potential, as an RN. Regardless of your situation, take the time to consider whether you want to pursue additional education to advance your nursing career.
Practical Nursing Salaries and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 730,000 people are employed as a licensed practical or licensed vocational nurse as of 2018. This career field is expected to grow by 11% from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than the average of other occupations. By 2028, the number of practical nurses is expected to increase by 78,100 employees for a total of 807,000 LPNs/LVNs.
It’s expected that the overall need for healthcare services, and the need for practical nurses in residential care facilities and home health care, will increase as the baby boomer population, or those born between 1946 and 1964, ages.
As of 2019, the median annual pay for LPNs and LVNs is $47,480, though this can vary based on where you live and your experience. For hourly workers, the average hourly rate is $22.83.