A licensed practical nurse earns $45,000 a year after completing a one-year training program. Find out how to advance or start working in LPN nursing.
Below, you will find a career guide for a licensed practical nurse. It explains what this type of job requires from you and leads you through the steps necessary for obtaining the license. This information will help you decide whether this occupation fits you.
It is important to point out, that while in most of the states the term “licensed practical nurse” (LNP) is used, California and Texas have another term for the same type of healthcare professional – a “licensed vocational nurse” (LVN).
What is a licensed practical nurse?
Working as part of a team of health professionals, an LPN/LVN typically checks a patient’s vital statistics and administers basic care. To get to this level, a person needs to complete a year-long state-approved training program and pass the NCLEX-PN exam.
LPNs and LVNs are responsible for providing basic medical care. The most important point to take into consideration is that they always work under the direction and supervision of registered nurses and physicians. If you are wondering what an LPN nurse is typically busy with during her working day, here are some of the options:
- clean wounds and replace bandages
- insert and clean catheters, oxygen suppliers, and other equipment
- help patients to take a bath or get dressed, as well as perform other daily routines
- monitor vital signs (for instance, check the blood pressure)
- keep records on patient’s health and report patient status to nurses and doctors
- take care of babies, feed them
The range of duties varies dramatically based on work settings and the state in which the nurse is employed.
Some states give LPNs more freedom, while others limit their responsibilities. For instance, while in some areas, licensed practical nurses are allowed to give medication or start intravenous drips, in other states, these tasks are considered to be beyond the limits of their competence. Also, in some areas, an LPN or LVN with proper training can supervise other LPNs and LVN, as well as unlicensed medical staff.
In 2017, around 38% of LPNs and LVNs were employed by nursing and residential care facilities, according to LPN nurse information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hospitals employed around 16% of LPNs and LVNs. Some 13% of nurses worked in offices of physicians, while the same percentage worked providing home healthcare services. Only 7% worked for the government.
How much does an LPN nurse earn?
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the summer of 2017, the median annual wage for LPNs and LVNs reached $45,000 ($21.65 per hour). The median annual wage has been steadily rising since 2007 when a nurse made around $39,000 a year.
Salaries vary dramatically depending on a variety of factors, from the size and type of health care facility to the place it is located and the education of the nurse.
There are quite a few personal traits that may help a nurse perform his or her duties more efficiently. As a nurse’s responsibilities involve communication with other people, the people skills are of the uttermost importance. Excellent nurses are compassionate and supportive, as they have to work with people who are sick and, therefore, need to encourage them, in one way or another. Experienced nurses also tend to be very good listeners, possess excellent attention to detail and be observant so as not to overlook any critical change in a patient’s state.
Patients’ sufferings are part of many healthcare professionals’ lives. Sometimes, they may even have to make life or death decisions, so it is vital to possess an outstanding stress tolerance and the ability to solve problems under pressure. Nurses typically collaborate with physicians and other nurses, so their willingness to be part of a team is key. Such tasks as helping unsteady patients walk are also part of the responsibilities of an LPN meaning the employee needs physical strength and stamina.
You cannot fully realize what a licensed practical nurse is and why it is so challenging, in terms of emotions and health, until you actually try working in the real-life settings.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, there were 724,500 jobs for LP nurses in the US. The Bureau estimates that throughout the following ten years, the country will need 88,900 nurses more. In other words, the demand will increase by 12%, which is faster than the average for all occupations.
Steps to obtaining a license
By definition licensed practical nurse is someone who is not allowed to work unless he or she holds a license. To get one, you need to complete a training program and successfully pass the exam called National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nurse.
Choose the right type of credential for you – a diploma, certificate or degree
The choice depends on your plans. While giving you a chance to join the workforce sooner, a diploma or certificate will not be of great help if you later decide to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree. The training programs where you receive a diploma or certificate are typically shorter, but you will not be able to use credits from them towards further education. So, if you suggest that you may decide to get to a higher level someday, an associate’s degree seems like a smart choice.
Choose the school and the program
In each state, there is typically a variety of training programs to choose from, as they are offered in many educational institutions, from vocational or technical schools to hospitals, junior and community colleges. If you are a citizen of New York, Florida or Ohio, you may have a really tough choice, as there are more programs in these states than elsewhere. An important point to consider is that the program should be a state-approved one.
What about the length of your program of choice? While some accelerated programs last as little as seven months, it typically takes one or two years to get ready for the exam.
Also, you may consider an online program. We should point out, though, that any online program does have a practical part where your physical presence is required. The practical part may constitute around half the whole program.
Other questions that may help you make the decision:
- What is the NCLEX-PN pass rate of the training program?
- Is the cost more or less than average?
- How much supervised practical experience do you get?
- Do you complete all the prerequisites and requirements?
- Is there an entrance exam and are you ready for it?
Complete the program
Each training program consists of two major parts: educational courses and practical clinical experience under the supervision of experienced and competent professionals.
Some of the subjects you are going to study are anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, nutrition, clinical terminology, as well as peculiarities of nursing care of adults and children.
Pass the exam
You have probably heard about the National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nurse, the exam without which you will now be able to obtain a license and the right to work as an LPN/LVN. NCLEX-PN is a computerized examination organized by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. You typically take the exam as soon as you complete your training program.
The NCLEX-PN comprises from 85 to 205 test items on such areas as health promotion and maintenance, physiological and psychosocial integrity, as well as safe care environments. The test should be completed in five hours. If a person does not pass, he or she has to wait 45-90 days before making one more try.
Additionally, you may consider earning a certificate in a specialized area (like gerontology or intravenous (IV) therapy, for instance). These additional credentials may help you find a better employer.
In many parts of the country, working in LPN nursing suggests that you have to obtain continuing education credits throughout your career.
There is a variety of advancement opportunities for an LPN meaning that you will not have to be stuck in a dead-end job all your life. The list of options includes getting a bachelor’s or master’s degree, becoming a registered nurse, as well as getting to supervisory positions. You may also consider earning credentials in a specific area, like IV therapy, gerontology, or pharmacology).