Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Licensed practical nurses (known as licensed vocational nurses, or LVNs, in California and Texas) play an integral role in the healthcare system. While LPNs aren’t certified to provide the same level of care as registered nurses, they still perform many key responsibilities and care functions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were just under 725,000 licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses working in 2016, and the field is expected to grow by 88,900 positions through 2026. More than one third of all LPNs work in residential care and nursing facilities, while another 16 percent are employed at hospitals.
Use the following guide to learn more about the career and how to become a licensed practical nurse.
Career Outlook for Licensed Practical Nurses
|Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)||National Average|
|Projected Job Growth||12.2%||7.4%|
Best States for Licensed Practical Nurses
What is a Licensed Practical Nurse?
LPNs provide many different supervised and unsupervised basic medical services, including taking patients’ blood pressure, inserting catheters, administering certain types of medication, recording vital signs and helping patients bathe and dress. They also clean and manage different medical devices and equipment.
Oftentimes, LPNs work directly with registered nurses and doctors. They keep records, and they also provide an essential link between patients, their families, and other more experienced members of medical care teams. LPNs who work in long-term residential care facilities typically work very closely with elder and disabled patients. They may provide bedside care and comfort, monitor vital signs and catheters, and assist more qualified medical personnel.
The duties an LPN performs are much different than those of registered nurses. RNs are highly trained medical professionals with a minimum educational obtainment of a bachelor’s degree, and many registered nurses hold advanced degrees as well. While RNs perform many of the same functions as LPNs, they also are certified to assess patients’ conditions, administer treatment, and develop care plans. The level of care LPNs are allowed to provide varies from state to state, the BLS reports.
Licensed Practical Nurse Skills
Step One: Earn Your Education
Many nurses become LPNs as a stepping stone on the path to becoming registered nurses. However, some find the career a perfect long-term fit, perhaps in part because the nursing education requirements are less stringent than some other nursing professions, making it a more accessible goal. Many LPNs also find that the career is less stressful than nursing professions that require a higher degree of patient care responsibilities.
That is not to say becoming an LPN takes no effort or skill, however. Like all nurses, licensed practical nurses must complete a nurse educational program at an accredited school. Practical nursing programs are common educational offerings at community colleges and vocational schools, and they usually take about a year to complete.
Educational training for LPNs typically includes a mix of classroom study, lab work and supervised clinical practice. Programs often include study in the following subjects:
- Human anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology and mathematics of medical dosages
Some programs may also include study in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, holistic care, medical-surgical nursing and pediatrics.
An important part of LPN programs is supervised clinical practice, where students integrate the knowledge they gain in the classroom and labs into real-world care settings. Clinical work at nursing schools usually includes study in fundamental nursing concepts, parent-child nursing, mental health nursing and related topics.
LPN education programs typically culminate in a certificate or a diploma. These programs help teach prospective LPNs the concepts of competent care, develop the critical thinking skills they’ll routinely deploy in a variety of care settings, and foster additional opportunities for personal and career growth.
Lastly, LPNs must past the NCLEX-PN, or National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurse, before they can gain employment in any state.
Step Two: Earn Your Certification
In addition to fulfilling educational requirements from an accredited college or school, LPNs must also successfully pass the NCLEX-PN. This test not only demonstrates a candidate’s proficiency in relevant core nursing practices, but also provides a level of protection for the public. In many states, NCLEX-PN licensure must be regularly renewed by completing continuing education classes.
The NCLEX-PN is the only test LPNs need to take to receive a license to practice from their state board of nursing. However, there are other certifications that can be earned in order to expand an LPN’s knowledge and the procedures they are allowed to perform.
- NCLEX-PN: This computerized test is split into four categories that address major client needs: safe and effective care environment; health promotion and maintenance; psychosocial integrity; and physiological integrity. Test-takers must answer a minimum of 85 questions and a maximum of 205 during a five-hour timeframe. The exam is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
- IV Therapy Certification (LPN, IVT): LPNs who successfully pass this examination can administer or access intravenous fluids in some states. Many nursing schools incorporate IV therapy courses into their educational offerings, and organizations such as the National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service also offer the LPN, IVT certification. Certification typically is valid for three years.
- Long Term Care Certification (LPN, CLTC): This comprehensive certification covers the entire human lifespan, with a focus on geriatrics. Certification is valid for three years from the date it’s issued and can be earned from several organizations, including NAPNES and the National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration in Long Term Care.
Step Three: Continuing Education Requirements
It is important for nurses to remain abreast and competent of care practices and procedures in their field. For this reason, continuing education is a key component of most nursing professions, including licensed practical nursing. Continuing education also can allow LPNs to broaden their career prospects, or to qualify for leadership positions within their field.
Continuing education requirements for licensed practical nurses varies by state. Many states — such as Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii and Idaho, to name a few — don’t require LPNs to complete any continuing education credits. Others states are more stringent and require LPNs to complete approximately 14 to 30 continuing education credits every two years in order to renew their licenses. Some states also require LPNs to log a certain amount of employment hours as well.
LPNs should check with their state boards of nursing about the continuing education requirements for their home state.
- Licensed Practical Nurse, Nurse.org, https://nurse.org/resources/licensed-practical-nurse-lpn-lvn/
- LPNs are crucial members of the long-term care team, 360 healthcare staffing, https://www.360healthcarestaffing.com/lpn-jobs-in-long-term-care/
- Registered Nurses, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-2
- Practical Nurse Training Program, Ohio Medical Career College, http://www.omcc.edu/prolpn.html
- Practical Nursing Program, LaGuardia Community College, https://www.laguardia.edu/LPN/
- LPN Continuing Education Units, PracticalNursing.org, https://www.practicalnursing.org/lpn-continuing-education-units-ceu
- NCLEX-PN Test Plan, National Council of State Boards of Nursing, https://www.ncsbn.org/2014_PN_TestPlan.pdf
- IV Therapy Outline, National Association of Licensed Practical Nurses, http://nalpn.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/IV-Therapy-Outline-4-2018.pdf