How to Become an LPN

Overview

Reviewed By Holli Sowerby, EdD, RN
Nurse listens to a boy's heart

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a vital member of a high performance healthcare team. Any time patients enter a healthcare facility, LPNs may assist the registered nurse or other healthcare provider by measuring and recording blood pressure, weight, height, pulse, temperature and rate of respiration of the patient. Without this initial documentation of a patient's vital signs, healthcare providers would lack the context they need to make the most accurate diagnoses and recommendations.

The tasks that LPNs are authorized to perform vary considerably by both state and employer, and in some states, LPNs are known as LVNs (licensed vocational nurses). These professionals assess patients, monitor vital signs, and assist with personal care and procedures such as catheterization and wound care. Some states permit LPNs to give prescription medication, operate devices such as ventilators, initiate and maintain intravenous therapy and conduct basic laboratory tests. Doctors, registered nurses and advanced practice nurses supervise the direct care provided by LPNs, relying on them to help deliver appropriate, timely and compassionate care.

Work Environment

Extended-care or long-term nursing facilities (such as skilled rehabilitation hospitals and nursing homes) are the most common employment settings for LPNs. They also work in general care hospitals, medical offices, community health centers, and in patients’ homes. Nursing services are often provided around the clock, so LPNs will have a variable work schedule that often includes nights, holidays and weekends.

Requirements

Education

Aspiring LPNs need a high school diploma or GED to apply for an LPN educational training program, typically a 12-month program found in technical and vocational schools and community colleges. These programs award diplomas or certificates rather than degrees. The most reputable programs will be accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). This accreditation signifies that:

  • A program's curriculum properly prepares students to be LPNs
  • Its faculty members are well qualified to teach
  • Most students pass the subsequent NCLEX-PN licensing exam.

It is also important to consider if credits earned during LPN education will transfer if you decide to continue your education.

LPN programs are often structured in a hybrid format with classes taught both online and in traditional classrooms. Clinical rotations in several nursing practice specialties and simulation and/or practice laboratory experiences are included along with courses such as biology, nursing theory and pharmacology.

Training

An LPN’s hands-on training may be carried out in a simulation laboratory, practice laboratory, or in his or her educational program’s clinical rotations. Job duties and employer policies vary widely. Training after licensure is usually conducted at the workplace under the supervision of another LPN or RN. The training period usually lasts several weeks.

Licensing and/or Certification

LPNs are licensed by the state in which they practice. To obtain a LPN license, the state may require background checks and proof of education. Every state administers the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCLEX-PN) exam, which candidates have to pass in order to obtain their license. Licenses must be renewed periodically and usually require written proof of active nursing practice or continuing education.

LPNs have several specialty options available to them. Many LPNs pursue certification in intravenous therapy through the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses. NFLPN also offers certification in specialties such as gerontology and foot care. The National Association Directors of Nursing Administration in Long Term Care (NADONA/LTC) offers a long-term care certification.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Successful LPNs must have physical strength, flexibility and endurance in order to meet the challenge of delivering sometimes strenuous patient care for long periods of time. Problem-solving skills are essential, as is the ability to communicate well – both verbally and in writing. Employers seek out LPNs who are responsible, dependable and able to prioritize and manage the care of multiple patients. Empathy, patience and good interpersonal skills are also important when dealing with patients and their families.

Opportunities for Advancement

LPNs desiring a higher salary and more responsibility typically make a move from patient care to an administrative role, especially in long-term care facilities. When it comes to advancing their healthcare career, most LPNs opt to become registered nurses (RNs). Making this leap requires more education. So-called “bridge” programs are becoming popular to meet this need. An LPN’s pathway to becoming an RN could be through an associate’s degree in nursing (LPN to ADN/RN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (LPN to BSN/RN). Bridge programs sometimes permit the substitution of work experience for class credit. With fewer acute care facilities hiring LPNs, many are continuing their education to advance to the role of RN.

If you would like to gain the necessary education to become an LPN, we highly recommend that you check out our free School Finder Tool located HERE.

Salary and Job Outlook

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The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that LPN wages range from $15.21/hour ($31,640/year) to $28.22/hour ($58,710/year), with a median salary of $20.15/hour ($42,490/year). LPN compensation is higher in more populated regions of the U.S. where there are many large healthcare facilities. Those employed by home care agencies and assisted living communities generally earn a higher salary than LPNs who work in hospitals.

Most LPNs work with elderly people, and since the U.S. population is aging quickly, the demand for these nurses will grow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, LPNs will see their job opportunities expand by about 16 percent (a significantly above-average rate) through 2024. Fewer hospitals are hiring LPNs; these jobs are expected to be primarily in residential care and home healthcare environments caring for older patients.

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Further Reading

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