Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the nursing shortage in the United States is stronger than ever. LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurses) particularly remain in high demand in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home care, and a variety of other health care environments, with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting job opportunities for LPNs will rise approximately 9% from 2019 to 2029.
Even though you know that you’re ready and raring to help, you have some questions. Such as, do LPNs make as much as Registered Nurses (RNs)? What is the difference between LPN and RN programs? And do the salary expectations fit your lifestyle? In this article, we take a look at everything you need to know about salary expectations for LPNs and your roles and responsibilities as an LPN, so you can make sure that this career path is right for you.
Many factors affect how much you have the potential of earning as a Licensed Practical Nurse or a Licensed Nurse Practitioner. While those who come with experience do have the potential for higher earnings right off the bat, this is not the only factor contributing to a higher starting salary.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for LPNs was $48,820 in May 2020. Depending on contributing factors such as education, experience, and type of facility, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,570 per year.
This wide range in salary for an LPN can be attributed to several factors that determine how much you will ultimately earn as an LPN. Just as with any level of nursing, an employer will place a premium on those who have more experience and/or have completed additional certifications and education, as these candidates will possess additional valuable skills. The following are four of the most important factors that will determine your salary as a Licensed Practical Nurse:
A higher salary than average usually comes with experience, and this is no exception for an LPN. While specialization and education level may be accepted in exchange for lack of experience, the number of years already worked in the field can be extremely valuable.
According to statistics, the average annual rate of an LPN’s salary increases by approximately 4% annually over the first ten years of a person’s career. Having said this, an LPN’s salary will often peak after this period and may only have the potential for an increase with a change in employer or further education for certification as a Registered Nurse. For this reason, it is not common for LPNs to go on to train as an RN, using the several LPN to RN bridge programs that are available.
Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse involves completing an accredited college diploma or degree program in practical nursing. In the United States, an LPN diploma program will take a minimum of one year to complete and includes a combination of coursework and clinical experience. To become a Licensed Practical Nurse, successful graduates must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN).
Furthering your education beyond this initial training and licensing exam is a great way to boost your entry-level salary and allow you to perform a wider range of patient care services than would normally be offered by an entry-level LPN. When an LPN can be entrusted to perform emergency care services when physicians and RNs are out of the room, this is an incredibly valuable skill to potential employers.
Some of the most popular specialized certifications that an LPN may seek include the following:
Regardless of experience or education level, the employer type will play a major role in determining an LPN’s salary. While most LPNs find employment in hospitals, an increasingly high number are finding work in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other senior-focused care centers. And while hospital care may seem like it has the most earning potential as an LPN, the average earnings for an LPN in a hospital setting is $19 per hour. In contrast, the average hourly wage for an LPN in a home care setting is $23 per hour, with the average earnings in a correctional facility coming in close behind at $22 per hour.
Last but not least, geography is the final factor in determining a Licensed Practical Nurse’s salary. While there are multiple reasons why geography plays a factor in determining the salary of any position, the cost of living and the demand for LPNs in that area will play a large role in determining the average salary.
Of course, it’s important to note that those areas with an increased average annual salary may come along with a drastically increased cost of living, which should be considered before you quit your current job and move there. According to 2019 data accumulated from the BLS, the highest LPN annual salaries have been reported in the following states:
To get a higher salary, LPNs should consider taking the above-specialized certifications in addition to their initial education and licensing requirements. As discussed above, many LPNs will go on to receive training to become an RN through LPN-to-RN educational paths. These programs are specifically designed for licensed practical nurses looking to further their education and career by becoming an RN.
Using your LPN education and experience as a starting point, an LPN-to-RN bridging program offers the in-depth curriculum that you need to advance to an RN at an accelerated pace compared to starting your training from scratch. In California, the salary increase from a Licensed Practical Nurse to a Registered Nurse has been reported to rise by as much as 90%.
LPNs are responsible for a wide range of tasks in the field of patient care and must use their skills, knowledge, and learned education to be successful in this field. Communication skills are exceptionally valuable as a Licensed Practical Nurse, as you will be responsible for interacting with patients and their families, solving any concerns or issues that may come up as quickly as possible.
In terms of the duties and responsibilities that LPNs are legally required to perform, this depends on the state’s scope of practice laws. Each state board of nursing regulates what LPNs are and are not allowed to do, with these regulations often varying slightly by state. These regulations may also vary slightly according to the employment setting. However, the roles and responsibilities of an LPN will generally include the following:
It’s important to note that LPNs often work under the supervision of a physician or an RN and must only perform certain tasks under their direction and/or supervision.
The role of a Licensed Practical Nurse is highly in demand in several industries all across the United States. While a large number of LPNs work in healthcare facilities such as in a hospital, outpatient surgery center, or physician’s office, many will also find work in the following areas:
While a Licensed Practical Nurse and Registered Nurse’s title may seem similar, their job duties can vary greatly. In settings that hire the employment of both LPNs and RNs, RNs are legally required to oversee the work of LPNs. Of course, this model varies by healthcare setting.
In the case of a hospital setting, an LPN will be required to assist an RN on a particular floor by covering such tasks as medicine administration (not including IV medication), ADL, and wound care, while the RN focuses on communication with and updating physicians, medical charting, care plans, and administering IV medications. However, in a setting such as a nursing facility, the LPN will be responsible for all of the above tasks, excluding the administration of IV medication, while the RN is responsible for overseeing the entire facility.
The training and education that an RN must undertake are significantly longer and more comprehensive than an LPN or RPN (Registered Practical Nurse). Due to this extensive training, RNs will possess a comprehensive knowledge of a range of patient needs and treatments, making them better equipped for handling the complex needs of their patients.
A Licensed Practical Nurse and a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) are similar in the way that they are both health providers who work in the nursing profession. However, there are several differences between these roles concerning education, the scope of practice, and salary expectations.
Just as an LPN must work under the supervision of an RN, a CNA must work under the supervision of an LPN or RN. This means that while LPNs can provide basic nursing care to patients under their particular scope of practice, a CNA will assist an LPN or an RN in their daily routines to provide care for patients. CNAs will often answer phone calls, assist patients with basic ADLs, serve and feed patients meals, and make beds.
To become a CNA, you must complete a short post-secondary training course and pass the competency exam in their state of practice. In 2019, the median salary for a nursing assistant was reported as $29,660, in contrast to the $47,480 reported as the median salary for an LPN.
According to Salary.com, the average entry-level licensed practical nurse salary in the United States is $42,461 as of March 29, 2021. However, this salary range will typically fall between $38,609 and $47,537. As mentioned above, this salary range can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors. In the case of an entry-level LPN, these factors will primarily focus on education, certifications, employer, and state of practice.
The highest 10 percent of those working as an LPN are reported as earning more than $65,520 per year. While this pay rate depends on a large variety of factors, those who seek employment in California are most likely to earn a salary of $60,000 or more. While the highest LPN salaries will often have to do with demand, they may also be correlated to a high cost of living. California, in particular, has both an increased demand and an increased cost of living.
As discussed above, the potential for salary advancement for an LPN will generally peak at around 9 to 10 years of experience without considering a different employment path. While education and certification as an LPN will allow you to only work in the field of Licensed Practical Nursing, there are several more options available for career advancement with additional training and education, with many educational institutions providing pathways for faster certification.
An RPN most often takes the following career paths by those who wish to advance their career:
To advance to a career as a Registered Nurse, an LPN must first earn a bachelor’s degree in this field. Many fast-track programs are available for those currently employed as an LPN who wish to complete a bachelor’s degree to work as an RN.
Not only do RNs have the potential to specialize in specific areas that may appeal more to their interests, but they will be able to receive a substantial increase in their annual salary. Once an LPN has earned their degree, they must then sit for the national exam called the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) to be qualified to work as an RN.
While working as an LPN, you may find that you particularly enjoy caring for new mothers and babies and have found an interest in working in the field of nurse-midwifery. To work in this challenging field, an LPN must first gain a bachelor’s degree and become a licensed RN to pursue their master’s degree as a midwife.
Successful graduates must then achieve certification in nurse-midwifery, which can be earned through the American Midwifery Certification Board. While this is certainly an educational commitment, it can be highly rewarding, both personally and financially. As of March 29, 2021, the average Certified Nurse Midwife salary in the United States was $112,158, which is significantly higher than the average salary of all occupations in the US.
Becoming a Recreational Therapist is a great option for LPNs who have found a passion in working with those who have disabilities, injuries, or other health conditions and wish to collaborate with a medical team to achieve the best results.
By using techniques such as sports, exercises, and the arts, Recreational Therapists focus on improving each unique individual’s quality of life. A bachelor’s degree in this field must be earned to become a recreational therapist, followed by certification from the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation. Upon successful graduation, this certification can be achieved after the completion of an exam and internship.
Another great career path for LPNs is a career as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer/ This career path allows the LPN to continue to work directly with patients in hospitals or doctor’s offices, but by using medical equipment to perform medical imaging of the body.
A career as a sonographer also allows you to specialize in a topic of particular interest to you, including specialization in the field of cardiac health and fetal ultrasounds. To become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, candidates must earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in sonography, followed by certification through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.
A travel nurse is a career path that may be exceptionally appealing to those who love to travel. LPNs who work as travel nurses not only work in the United States but have opportunities to work as international nursing staff all around the world. These job opportunities will often last from one month to 13 weeks and will regularly send you overseas to work in a hospital or medical clinic.
Travel nurses are not traditionally employed through one employer but belong to a nursing agency to quickly supplement nursing in areas where there are shortages. There are plenty of excellent benefits to travel nursing beyond the ability to travel frequently. Travel nurses can pick their own assignments, are offered competitive pay, and receive full health benefits. In some cases, travel nurses are also eligible for tax-free employment.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to use your LPN diploma outside of the traditional setting or want to make a little extra money, a career as a nursing writer may be for you. There is always a demand for professional writers who have achieved certification in a particular field, with the field of nursing being no exception.
LPNs can put their expert writing skills to additional use by offering their services on a freelance or full-time basis to blogs, magazines, publishers, newspapers, and more, who are looking for experienced nurses to create valuable content. Interestingly enough, nursing writers are also employed in the entertainment industry, aiding screenwriters in providing information to make their scenes more accurate or believable.
LPNs are not only destined to work in hospital settings, even though this is where the highest need is often found. With only 15 percent of LPNs currently being employed in hospitals, there are several other medical facilities in the nursing job market that hire LPNs across the US. Let’s take a look at some of the most common medical facilities that hire Licensed Practical Nurses:
With 38% of Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses working in nursing and residential care facilities, this is the most common employment setting for LPNs. Our aging population has left no shortage of nursing home residents, including those with serious long-term ailments.
Licensed Practical Nurses work alongside other healthcare and administrative professionals, including Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), to meet the medical and personal needs of their nursing home residents.
The role of an LPN in a nursing home is focused on direct bedside care, which is done under the head RN’s supervision. Direct bedside care includes the day-to-day care of the patient, including personal hygiene. This job can be very physically demanding, as it often involves having to lift the patient out of bed or into a different position.
Along with the basic ADLs, an LPN is also responsible for taking the patient’s vital signs, including temperature, blood pressure, checking heart rate, oxygen level, and respiration. While the LPN cannot administer an INV, they must monitor the IVs, administer medicine, insert catheters, change bandages and dressings, and any other necessary acts that fall under their authority to make the patient more comfortable.
Working in a physician’s office is another common career path for LPNs, and makes up 13% of the 721,700 jobs that were held by Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses in the United States in 2019. Work in a physician’s office may come at a slower pace than in other medical settings.
While LPNs who work in physician’s offices may administer shots or administer other medications as needed, this career path also largely focuses on administrative tasks. Administrative tasks that are assigned to an LPN often include checking patients in, managing communication, handling referrals, and gathering information about symptoms or ailments
Outpatient surgery centers perform surgeries that do not require patients to stay overnight in a hospital, which includes such common procedures as tonsillectomies, gallbladder removals, cataract surgeries, and some cosmetic surgeries. Due to medical technology advancements and the lower cost compared to inpatient procedures, outpatient surgery centers can employ an increased number of LPNs.
While LPNs are not permitted to give any type of drug through an IV line (depending on the state), they are authorized to give immunization shots if they have completed the necessary certification. LPNs employed in immunization clinics do so on a full-time or often seasonal basis, allowing patients to receive essential care without the need to travel to doctor’s offices or hospitals.
Due to the nursing shortage currently facing the US, there has never been a better time to become a licensed practical nurse. The COVID-19 pandemic has left an increase in demand for LPNs and RNs in hospitals, nursing homes, and immunization centers.
With the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) recently releasing a policy brief citing what personnel should administer the COVID-19 vaccine, it has been confirmed that it can be safely administered by licensed practical nurses.
If you are considering a career as an LPN or are currently an LPN but are considering a career change to a Registered Nurse, now is the time to do so. With the option of a partly online LPN program, there are several ways to fast-track getting your Licensed Practical Nurse certification. If you decide to further your career after completing this program, you can sign up for an LPN to BSN program.
A salary as a Licensed Practical Nurse has the potential to reach well over the US national average for overall annual earnings. It is an incredibly rewarding career for those who love working with people.