How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?
Becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN) offers a quicker path to a nursing career than a degree. LPNs can enter the workforce after a year or less of training.
Many LPNs later transition into higher-paid registered nursing roles by completing their college degree and passing the licensing exam. Explore this guide to find out how to become an LPN and learn about typical work settings and employment outlook.
How Long to Become:
The Certified Hospice and Palliative Licensed Nurse (CHPLN®)
What Is a Licensed Practical Nurse?
LPNs provide basic patient care, such as administering medication and monitoring vital signs, under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN). They work in an array of medical settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, physician’s offices, and private homes.
Becoming an LPN requires successful completion of a year-long, state-approved diploma or certificate program followed by a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). Passing the NCLEX-PN is a requirement for licensing in all states.
LPN earnings and job prospects vary by specialty area, workplace setting, and location. The median salary for LPN is $48,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is slightly above the median annual wage for all occupations. The BLS projects that LPN jobs will grow 6% from 2021 to 2031, which is as fast as average. LPNs with in-demand specialties in areas like gerontology or intravenous therapy can earn higher than average salaries. LPNs working in government positions tend to earn the most.
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Steps to Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse
While program and licensure requirements depend on the state, all aspiring LPN must complete an accredited practical nursing program and then pass the NCLEX-PN exam. Once you gain work experience, you can boost your earnings by obtaining board certifications or continuing your nursing education to become an RN by earning an associate or bachelor’s degree.
Earn an LPN/LVN Certificate From an Accredited Program:
Unlike most nursing roles, you do not need a college degree to become an LPN. Instead, you need to enroll in a state-approved and accredited program, often available at community colleges and vocational schools. Students can check program accreditation through their state board of nursing and the national Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.
An LPN degree can take between 1-2 years to complete. The program typically consists of courses in nursing fundamentals, pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, and biology, along with hands-on clinical experiences.
Pass the NCLEX-PN Exam to Receive LPN Licensure:
All states require a passing grade on the NCLEX-PN exam before you can become licensed and begin your nursing career. Once you have completed your LPN program and meet your state’s eligibility requirements, you must register for the NCLEX-PN through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and pay the $200 application fee. The test contains 85-205 questions covering areas such as patient care, health promotion and maintenance, safety and infection control, pharmacological therapies, and physiological adaptation.
Once LPNs enter the workforce, they gain experience providing basic medical care such as monitoring vital signs and helping patients with daily tasks while under the supervision of an RN. Specific duties depend on the state and the work setting. In some states, LPNs may also administer medication, conduct laboratory tests, and collect medical samples. According to the BLS, the most common employers for new LPNs include nursing homes and residential care facilities, hospitals, home healthcare services, and physicians’ offices.
Consider Becoming a Certified LPN:
While not a specific requirement for employment as an LPN, earning a certification can enhance your earnings and position you for career advancement. The process for certification generally involves verifying licensure, documenting LPN work experience, and demonstrating knowledge in the specialty area through testing.
LPNs can pursue certifications in several specialties through state agencies and professional associations. Popular LPN certifications include the Certified Hospice and Palliative Licensed Nurse (CHPLN) credential from the Hospice and Palliative Care Association and the IV Therapy or Gerontology Certification from the NALPN Education Foundation.
Licensed Practical Nurse Education
Although state and program requirements vary, the path to becoming an LPN is similar regardless of where you live or study. You must first earn your diploma and obtain licensure before you pursue employment.
Earning an LPN offers one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to enter the nursing field. Unlike other nursing careers which require a two-year associate degree or four-year bachelor's degree, you can complete an LPN in about one year and quickly enter the workforce.
Working as an LPN provides a good option for nurses who want to explore the field before deciding to become an RN and investing in a college degree.
At least 18 years old, high school diploma or GED, minimum 2.5 GPA, transcripts, drug test and criminal background check, CPR certification
40 credits including coursework in nursing fundamentals, nursing ethics, anatomy, physiology, human growth and development, basic nutrition, and population and specialty courses; 500 clinical hours,
Time to Complete
Basic patient care, patient assessment and monitoring, record keeping, and communication
Licensure and Certification
All states require LPNs to hold a professional license to practice. After completing an approved program, LPNs must pass the NCLEX-PN and meet any additional state licensure requirements. LPNs must renew their state licenses every few years by earning continuing education credits, meeting other competency requirements, and paying renewal fees. Each state establishes its own renewal timeline and specific regulations for maintaining LPN licensure.
Although LPNs do not earn as much as RNs who hold advanced nursing degrees, they can obtain voluntary certifications that demonstrate advanced knowledge in specialized areas. These credentials can help LPNs advance in their careers and raise their earning potential.
After acquiring work experience, LPNs can earn specialty certifications in a variety of fields, including hospice and palliative care and IV therapy, and gerontology. LPNs often pursue certifications that focus on particular work settings or specific nursing roles, such as the correctional health professional credential, organ transplant coordinator, or developmental disabilities certifications.
Working as a Licensed Practical Nurse
LPN positions are available in response to nursing shortages, nurses retiring, and the growing demand for healthcare services by the aging baby boomer population. A good way to begin your employment search is to check out the job listings posted by professional organizations and career services. Many LPN programs offer career planning and placement services.
LPN salaries range from $37,150- $63,000 a year. The BLS projects about 58,800 openings every year from 2021-2031, especially in residential long-term care and home healthcare settings.
While LPN compensation lags behind RN salaries, LPNs can boost their earnings depending on their experience, workplace setting, and the location.
While all LPNs receive the necessary training to provide basic medical services and patient care, specific duties depend on the type of employer. LPNs working in nursing homes typically care for patients’ hygiene needs and monitor their vital signs. Medical and surgical hospitals require LPNs to perform medical assessments, record patient data, and conduct treatments approved by the supervising doctor.
Home healthcare, one of the top employers for LPNs, relies on these nurses to visit patients in their homes where they conduct assessments, administer medications, and coordinate clinical management with supervising RNs and doctors.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse?
How long does it take to become an LPN?
An LPN program provides one of the quickest pathways to a nursing career. Most students complete their training in 12 months, but the total length of time varies by program and the number of credits students complete each term.
Do LPNs need to pass the NCLEX?
All licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses must graduate from an approved LPN program and pass the NCLEX-PN exam to earn their state license and practice legally in the U.S. The NCLEX-PN determines if LPNs and LVNs have the necessary knowledge and skills to enter the workplace and practice safely.
How hard is it to become an LPN?
Many students find the pace of the typical LPN program challenging but manageable with the right attitude, time management skills, and study habits. Many schools look for students who have successfully completed prerequisites in general science and math, indicating adequate preparation for coursework in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biology, chemistry.
Is it smart to become an LPN before RN?
Many nurses choose to enter the workforce right after earning their LPN diploma to determine if a nursing career is a good fit before becoming an RN. Working as an LPN can build your nursing experience and help you earn money to pay for the college degree required for RN roles.
Page last reviewed on February 24, 2023
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