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What Is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?

Rebecca Munday
Updated May 3, 2023
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Find out what licensed practical nurses (LPN) do, where they work, how much they make, how you can become one, and why you'd want to.
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Home nurse helping patient with medicationCredit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Are you looking for a shortened path into the nursing field so you can make a difference in patients’ lives? You can become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), also called a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), and start your career in 1-2 years.

LPNs provide basic patient care and comfort under the supervision of registered nurses (RN). Learn what LPNs do, where they work, how much they make, and how to become one. Find out if this career is right for you.

How Long to Become:
1-2 Years

Job Outlook:
6% growth from 2021-2031

Average Annual Salary:

Sources: BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics

What Does an LPN Do?

Certification Optional

Licensed practical nurses work under the supervision of registered nurses. Most LPNs work with older adults in hospice care, assisted living, skilled nursing, or home health.

They may also work in rehabilitation and help patients with basic care needs such as moving, bathing, eating, and dressing.

LPNs provide basic patient care including taking patient histories, monitoring vital signs, examining and treating wounds, and giving medications. They can start and check IVs, but they cannot start IV medications or IV push medications.

Nurse taking patient's blood pressure

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Key Responsibilities

  • Monitoring vital signs
  • Examining and treating wounds
  • Giving medications
  • Taking patient histories and updating patient records
  • Communicating with RNs and other healthcare providers

Career Traits

  • Physical stamina
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Technical skills
  • Stress management

Where Do LPNs Work?

Most LPNs care for older adults in home health, assisted living, and skilled nursing settings. Many LPNs may also work in physicians’ offices and other outpatient settings.

Home Health

LPNs provide patient care and comfort to patients in their homes. LPNs dress wounds, monitor vital signs, give patients medications, and work with RNs to create and carry out care plans.

Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities

Most LPNs work in these settings. They monitor vital signs, check and treat wounds, keep patient records, and report patient changes to RNs. They may also supervise certified nursing assistants (CNA).

Offices of Physicians

LPNs take patient histories, monitor vitals, update patient records, and report to RNs and physicians. LPNs work fewer hours in this setting because most physicians’ offices are open only for eight hours on weekdays.

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Why Become an LPN

Becoming an LPN has a few pros and cons. As an LPN, you’ll have limited autonomy, but you may have advancement opportunities after you gain years of experience, even without becoming an RN.

Advantages to Becoming an LPN

  • check-circlefastest ways into the nursing fieldOne of the
  • check-circleLess expensive nursing education
  • check-circlePotential for advancement with experience or further education
  • check-circleAbility to build relationships with patients and impact their lives

Disadvantages to Becoming an LPN

  • x-circleLimited autonomy
  • x-circlePhysically demanding with a high risk of injury
  • x-circleLong hours, especially in hospitals and residential care facilities
  • x-circleEmotionally demanding with high risk for burnout

How to Become an LPN

You must complete an LPN/LVN program, pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN), get your LPN/LVN license, find employment, and consider earning relevant certifications to become an LPN.

LPN/LVN programs consist of 45-50 credits and take 1-2 years to complete, depending on whether you go to school full-time or work while you go to school part-time.

After you complete the program, you need to pass the NCLEX-PN, so you can get your LPN/LVN license.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) uses the NCLEX-PN to test your care coordination skills under the supervision of RNs, and make sure you have the clinical knowledge and reasoning to be successful as an LPN.

After you get your LPN license, you can apply for jobs in skilled nursing, outpatient care, home healthcare, or residential care. After you complete the below experience requirements, you can apply for certification in:

LPN Concentrations and Specializations

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) can choose between various specialties. Some of these specialties such as gerontology even offer certification, which may lead to higher-paying positions as an LPN.


Geriatric or Gerontology LPNs work in nursing homes, physician offices, and hospitals. They recognize abuse and neglect, educate patients and their families, take vital signs, and create and carry out care plans with RNs and physicians.



Rehabilitation LPNs work in assisted living facilities, patients’ homes, or hospitals to help patients bathe, dress, and regain as much movement as possible after injury or surgery.


Palliative Care/Hospice

LPNs who work in palliative care or hospice care for patients with terminal illnesses. They provide pain management, comfort, and guidance for the patient and family about quality-of-life decisions.


Source: The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey

How Much Do LPNs Make?

Licensed practical nurses make an average of $24.93 an hour, according to data from The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in February 2023. LPNs make an average salary of $51,850 a year. The highest-paid LPNs make more than $63,790 annually. The lowest-paid LPNs make less than $37,150 a year.

BLS projects 6% job growth for LPNs between 2021-2031. BLS projects 58,800 job openings for LPNs/LVNs each year.

LPNs may earn more than average based on their years of experience and skills. LPNs with 10-19 years of experience may earn 4% more than average, according to Payscale data from February 2023.

LPNs with more than 20 years of experience may earn 7% higher salaries than average. LPNs can earn more than average if they have skills such as hospice, home care, telemedicine, risk management, and quality control.

Frequently Asked Questions About LPNs

How long does it take to become an LPN?

You can become an LPN in 1-2 years after completing an LPN/LVN program with 45-50 credits, passing the NCLEX-PN, and getting your LPN license. Depending on how many credits you complete in a semester, you may earn your degree faster or slower than average. For example, if you work while in school, you may take longer to become an LPN.

What’s the difference between an LPN and an RN?

The main difference between LPNs and RNs is LPNs have a more limited scope than RNs. LPNs often work under RNs to carry out care plans created by physicians, nurse practitioners (NP), and registered nurses. RNs work with physicians and other healthcare professionals to manage patient care.

What exactly does an LPN do?

An LPN provides basic care and comfort for patients, including dressing wounds, giving medications, and taking vital signs. They also take patient histories, answer patients’ questions about their conditions and treatment plans, and communicate with RNs, NPs, and physicians about patients.

What is an LPN’s salary?

An LPN makes an average annual salary of $51,850, according to BLS data from February 2023. LPNs make an average of $24.93 an hour. Your salary as an LPN may vary depending on your state, skills, and years of experience.

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Page last reviewed February 24, 2023

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