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Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)


If you’re looking for job security, good compensation, and fulfillment, then a career in healthcare as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) might just be what you’re looking for.

The following guide will explore all the career aspects of an LPN – from education to job outlook – so that you can know all the facts before deciding if a career as an LPN is right for you.


What is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Licensed practical nurses play a vital role in the care of the patients as they bathe them, dress them, help them eat, and much more. LPNs assist doctors and registered nurses by helping patients and their families understand how to take care of their sick relative and the procedures that will take place, as well as maintaining a clear line of communication with the rest of the healthcare tea and keeping detailed records for the doctors and RNs to look over.

Licensed practical nurses can work in their positions for the rest of their career. They also have the option to progress in their healthcare career by either becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP) or BSN-RN (Registered Nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing). A position as an LPN is a great step in the right direction if that’s the path you’re looking for.


What does a licensed practical nurse do?

Whether it’d be a doctor’s office, nursing home, or hospital, licensed practical nurses are essential to the world of healthcare. LPNs help patients in a variety of circumstances, such as feeding, bathing, checking their vital signs, and administering their medication as needed.

When families need to know how to take care of sick family members and what the procedures are, it’s usually the licensed practical nurses who inform and educate the family and answer any initial questions they may have.

One of the most important skills a licensed practical nurse can have is communication skills. LPNs will often interact with patients and their families, as well as with other medical staff. They must be able to effectively communicate important information to the appropriate people. Another skill that licensed practical nurses should have is compassion, which usually comes from a genuine desire to care for others. LPNs will have to convey important information to patients, sometimes good news and sometimes bad, and they must be able to do it in a way that puts the patient at ease. Good bedside manners is a must.

Licensed practical nurses must possess strong organizational skills. In a field that is demanding and fast-paced, LPNs will juggle many responsibilities including the safety and care of patients. LPNs that have good organizational methods in place will avoid making simple mistakes during their fast-paced day.

Last but not least, licensed practical nurses must have strong stomachs and be able to tolerate bodily fluids of all kinds, blood, and every sort of smell and touch they will come in contact with as they care for patients. If you faint or gag at the sight or smell of any medical situations involving undesirable smells and/or substances, then this might not be the job for you.


Why is a licensed practical nurse so important?

Generally serving as the eyes and ears of the registered nurse and doctor in charge, licensed practical nurses make some of the most valuable members in a medical setting. They collect patient data, which is then used to form a care plan for the patient in need.

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities an LPN might have include:

  • Caring for wounds and changing dressings
  • Administering medicine
  • Taking vitals
  • Assisting patients with their mobility

Licensed practical nurses are responsible for providing patients with basic medical care. General responsibilities will depend on an LPN’s training and whatever the state regulations dictate. For example, all licensed practical nurses are responsible for basic tasks such as inserting catheters or changing bandage dressing. However, other responsibilities like starting IV drips or administering medicine will depend on their training and whatever the state will allow. Licensed practical nurses work under registered nurses and doctors. In certain states, experienced licensed practical nurses can supervise unlicensed medical staff and CNAs.


How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse

To become a licensed practical nurse, you must complete an accredited program. How many classed you take at a time (full-time or part-time) and the requirements your specific program sets are all factors in how long it will take to obtain your LPN certification.

On average, most people will finish an LPN program in one or two years. However, you may be able to find accelerated programs that will help you obtain your certification in as little as seven months.


6 Steps to Earning Your Certification

  1. Earn your high school diploma before applying to an LPN program
  2. Be accepted into an accredited LPN program. You can find programs in vocational and community colleges.
  3. After completing your certification program, apply for Authorization to Test. You can do this through your local nursing board and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
  4. Sign up for your NCFLEX-PN exam after having been authorized to test. Test sites are located all over the country. Schedule your test ASAP, as the spots fill up quickly. Give yourself plenty of time to study when scheduling your exam.
  5. Results for your NCFLEX-PN exam should be available within 48 hours of taking the test, for the most part. You should receive the official results and your license in the mail if you passed the exam.
  6. Apply for jobs and start your career as a licensed practical nurse in the amazing field of healthcare!


How to Advance Your Career

If you’re looking for upward mobility, a career as an LPN will make that a little bit tougher than other advanced nursing degrees. However, it’s not impossible. You can receive extensive training and certifications in certain areas that will showcase your specialized skills. A few of the certifications you can earn include:

  • Long-term and hospice care certification
  • IV certification
  • Advanced life support certification
  • Patient counseling certification


Choosing an LPN Program

If you want to start a career in healthcare as a licensed practical nurse, you have many options in front of you. Not everyone can afford the high prices of college these days, so if you’re looking for affordable fees and a certification that matters, look no further than local vocational schools and community colleges. Many of them offer accredited LPN programs that will give you the same set of skills as an expensive school.

You can choose to attend a program that hasn’t received accreditation. However, when applying for jobs in the future and when you’re looking to advance your career, a certificate from an accredited program will go a long way. Accredited programs maintain a standard of excellence and education that you may not get from programs without accreditation.


Licensed Practical Nurse Education Requirements and Training

There are a variety of education requirements depending on which path you take and which career you choose in the healthcare industry. For example, registered nurses have to complete an associate degree in nursing whereas an LPN can find a job with simply a high school diploma and a certificate from a state approved non-degree education program. These certificate programs can take about a year to complete and are usually found in technical and community colleges. Prospective LPNs must then pass a licensure exam from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing if they want to practice in the United States.


LPNs: Diploma and Certificate Programs

As you prepare to earn your LPN licensure, you will need to complete certain courses and clinical experiences. The list below offers a sample of courses you may encounter. The details will vary depending on the program you signed up for.


Sample Classes

  • Pharmacology for Nurses: It’s important for nursing students to learn about pharmacology (the study of uses, effects, and action of drugs). Fundamental pharmacology classes will introduce to their students field concepts and emphasize client education, information literacy, client safety, cultural awareness, and compliance with therapy.
  • Mental Health Nursing: Through lectures and clinical practice, students will be introduced to concepts relating to behavioral, mental, and emotional disorders. As LPNs will encounter patients with varying degrees of mental health, it will be important to learn and study theory relating to psychosocial nursing, mental illness, and mental health. These skills and knowledge will prepare students to provide care for patients suffering from mental illnesses.
  • Fundamentals of Practical Nursing: Generally offered as the first course in an LPN program, students will learn from both lectures and hands-on lab work. Students will be exposed to nursing theory, nursing processes, and the use of critical thinking and cultural awareness in the context of healthcare.


The Length of an LPN Program

A lot of LPN programs can be completed in as little as one year, maximum two. Programs generally require students to complete 46 credits of nursing coursework and practicums. If students need to complete general education courses, then the total number of credits required for graduation may be as high as 72 credits total. Other factors affecting your graduation timeline include the program’s structure and if you’re a part-time or full-time student.

There are some programs that offer accelerated options. However, this is rare as most LPN program curriculums are sequential, limiting how quickly a student can progress through the program.


LPN Program’s Clinical Component

Each state has their own requirements for the amount of clinical hours that a student in an LPN program must complete. The hours general fall somewhere in between 700 to 1,000 hours of onsite clinical experience. Clinical hours will generally be staggered throughout the program. They will start with fundamentals such as:

  • Communication
  • Basic nursing procedures
  • Assessment Skills

Some of the more advanced clinical work includes:

  • Medication administration
  • Caring for patients with chronic illnesses
  • Caring for patients in acute care settings

Prospective LPNs can generally complete their practicums in various settings like nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and hospitals.


LPN Career Outlook

As with most healthcare related jobs, licensed practical nurses have a great career outlook. According to some experts, growth in the next couple of years will be in the double-digits – maybe even as high as 25%!

As healthcare facilities try to fill in spots, this job growth will not only help LPNs be in higher demand but also command higher salaries. Part of this growth is due to people living longer but facing an increasing amount of chronic health problems which need to be taken care of.

If you want a fulfilling career with a great future but don’t want to spend years and years in school, then a path as an LPN might be what you’re looking for.

You don’t need to acquire huge amounts of student loan debt to become an LPN. You can complete an LPN program in as little as a year and start earning money right away. If you want to continue to advance your career in the medical field, you can further your education and receive training in specific areas of need if you want more money and opportunities in your career.

There is a big difference in the median starting pay of an LPN and an RN (sometimes as high as $20,000). However, a lot of LPNs find their work more fulfilling as they can provide comfort to families and patients in their time of need and can interact more closely with them.


Salary and Employment

Your geographic location as well as the area of the healthcare system you’re working in will affect how much you’re earning and what your benefits entail. Since the demand for LPNs is increasing and not all positions can be filled, you can volunteer for extra hours and receive overtime pay, which will earn you about 1.5 times your normal salary. If you are hired for a full-time position, you will get sick days as well as holiday pay. Some healthcare facilities even go as far as granting bonuses and giving nurses the option to enroll in profit sharing programs.

As mentioned before, geographic location affects your overall salary. LPNs usually earn a median annual salary of about $44,090. Some LPNs can earn as much as $50,000 as their median annual salary – again, this is based on location. These median salaries don’t include holiday pay, overtime, bonuses, or other benefits – which means you will generally earn more. If you decide to go back to school and further your education, some facilities may even offer financial assistance. Consider these benefits as you look for the right place to work as an LPN.

If you want to earn even more money, then you should take the next step and become a registered nurse (RN). As an RN, you can earn advanced certifications and become a specialist in different areas – you can become a psychiatric nurse, burn nurse, hospice nurse, orthopedic nurse, hospice nurse, informatics nurse, etc.

If you decide to become an RN, you can earn up to $90,000 a year and use it as a stepping stone on your way to obtaining a master’s in nursing and becoming a nurse practitioner, which offers even higher salaries and opportunities for upward mobility.

The following are the top paying states for licensed practical nurses. If you don’t live here but like the pay, you might want to consider relocating.

  • Connecticut: $24.30 per hour ($50,731 a year)
  • Massachusetts: $22.72 per hour ($47,257 a year)
  • New Jersey: $22.50 per hour ($46,800 a year)
  • Maryland: $21.89 per hour ($45.531 a year)
  • District of Columbia: $21.85 per hour ($45,448 a year)

West Virginia offers the lowest salary per year for LPNs, paying $14.25 per hour or $29,640 a year. If you live in West Virginia and want to pursue a career as an LPN, you might want to consider relocating.


Top 3 Licensed Practical Nurse Specialties

Licensed practical nurses can be found in a wide variety of settings. If you’re looking for advancement opportunities and/or focusing on specific areas, you can obtain certifications and training in various specialties. With over 20 certifications available for LPNs, advancing your career isn’t hard. The following are some of the most common certifications available for LPNs:

  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support
  • Basic Life Support
  • Certified Correctional Health Professional
  • Certified Hospice and Palliative Licensed Nurse
  • Gerontology
  • IV Certification
  • Long-Term Care
  • Neonatal Advanced Life Support
  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support
  • Pediatric Emergency Assessment and Stabilization
  • Wound Care Certification

If you obtain a certification, you will become more attractive to employers as you look for a job in your field and are likely to be placed in an area where you specialize. Here are some of the top specializations offered to LPNs by the National Association of Practical Nurse Education and Service (NAPNES):

  1. IV Therapy Certification: Certain states offer IV therapy education during the course of their LPN programs. These programs will allow LPNs to sit for the certification examination. Some states will offer didactic IV therapy classes. LPNs who are IV therapy-certified will be able to identify the role of fluid and electrolyte imbalance in homeostasis, understand the pharmacology aspect of IV therapy, demonstrate their knowledge of the various IV fluids, operate IV equipment, calculate the flow rate if infusions, know how to carry out venipuncture, and identify potential complications from IV therapy. Each state has their own individualized scope of practice laws, so become familiar with them.
  2. Long-Term Care: LPNs seeking a long-term care certification will be competent in the specialized care of chronically ill patients as well as patients across the entire lifespan. LPNs will learn concepts such as therapeutic and modified diets, a review of anatomy and physiology, and skills in geriatric and long-term care nursing. This certification used to be the Gerontology Certification but, according to NAPNES, it has been changed to the Long-Term Care Certification.
  3. Pharmacology: LPNs who are certified in pharmacology will be able to demonstrate that they are competent above the minimum standard required for licensure. Some of the concepts in pharmacology certification include safety precautions, adverse and allergic reactions, mechanism of action, procedures of administration, IV fluid rates, medical math, expected side effects, drug classifications, medication assessment, and dosage calculations.

Other types of certifications provided by different organizations include breastfeeding support, cardiac catheterization, corrections, hospice, nephrology, research, urology, and wound care.


Licensed Practical Nurse Resources


Licensed Practical Nurse FAQs

1. What’s the difference between LPN and RN when it comes to education?

LPNs should have a high school diploma, complete an LPN program (which is between 1-2 years), and pass a state licensing assessment paper. RNs have to get a bachelor or associate degree from approved nursing schools.

2. What’s the difference between LPN and RN certification process?

After completing an LPN program, students must pass a licensure test called the NCLEX-PN. After passing the exam, LPNs will receive their official results and license in the mail. RNs have to obtain a certificate, associate, or diploma from their program and pass the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain their license. Both LPNs and RNs can receive certifications of specializations in different areas.

3. What’s the difference between LPN and RN workplace setting?

LPNs can find jobs in a variety of settings such as community care facilities, medical and surgical hospitals, nursing care facilities, home health care facilities, and physician offices. Other work settings include blood banks, dialysis centers, outpatient clinics, correctional facilities, and psychiatric hospitals. A lot of LPN positions are found in rehabilitation and long-term care settings, whereas only 17% of LPNs work in hospitals. RNs, on the other hand, are generally employed in medical and surgical hospitals.

4. How do the responsibilities differ between an LPN and RN?

Licensed practical nurses will take care of the fundamental responsibilities. LPNs may not be able to do certain things RNs can, such as making important decisions regarding a patient’s treatment or starting their IV. RNs follow the directions set by a physician and makes the treatment plan for the patient, whereas the LPN will help implement this plan. RNs supervise and schedule the work of an LPN.

5. What’s the job outlook for LPNs vs. RNs?

LPNs will see anywhere from a 16% to 25% increase in job growth over the next couple of years. The growth will be seen mostly on home healthcare settings and residential care facilities. RNs will see a similar job growth. This is partly due to an aging population that is increasing in their need for health care as well as nurses retiring.


Helpful Organizations, Societies & Agencies

Still have questions about what it means to be an LPN? How to get started? What being an LPN could mean for you? If that’s the case, then check out the following links. They will direct you to professional associations that are there for you – whether you’re just getting started as a licensed practical nurse or are a veteran in the healthcare industry.


Licensed Practical Nurse Scholarship


List of Licensed Practical Nurse Programs

Ready for a fulfilling career in the world of healthcare? Then what are you waiting for? Enroll today in a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program near you and start making a difference in your life and the world around you.

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