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LPN & LVN Nursing Requirements

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If you are considering starting your career in nursing, one of the easiest ways to begin is to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN). Becoming an LPN/LVN requires you to complete an accredited educational program that lasts approximately one year.

Note that both LPNs and LVNs work under the direction of RNs. Most states in the U.S. refer to these workers as LPNs, but in California and Texas, they are referred to as LVNs. However, LPNs and LVNs both take the same practical nursing NCLEX licensing exam.

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Each state’s nurse practice act is different. Depending on the state where you choose to practice, LPNs and LVNs can be limited to performing certain tasks depending upon their state of residency. In some states, LPNs can administer medication and start IVs, but may not be allowed to perform these duties in other states.

Many LPNs and LVNs work in their field for one or two years, and then eventually return to earn their bachelor’s degree. This path is a good option if you would like to explore the career first to see if it is a good fit before committing to a longer program.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can I do as an LPN/LVN?

    Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) receive training in basic nursing care. While they cannot practice independently, they are considered a valuable part of the healthcare team. Their typical duties include assisting physicians and RNs with procedures and tests, operating medical equipment, administering and monitoring medication, taking vital signs, and maintaining patient records. They might also assist patients with bathing and dressing and care for infants.

  • Is an LPN/LVN a good job?

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for LPNs/LVNs to grow by 11% through 2028, which indicates opportunities in the profession. Nurses, as a whole, have been and continue to be in demand. Nurses spend a good part of their workday on their feet. The job can be stressful, but highly rewarding.

  • Should I Become an LPN or a CNA?

    As entry-level healthcare positions, becoming an LPN or CNA can open doors to nursing. Both focus on patient care and require a high school diploma and completion of a state-approved education program that does not culminate in a degree. LPNs must pass a licensing exam, but CNAs do not. In general, LPNs earn higher salaries than CNAs.

  • How long does it take to become an LPN/LVN?

    An LPN/LVN certificate program usually takes 1 year to complete, including 500 to 750+ hours of requisite clinical experience depending on state requirements. Factors affecting the timeframe include full- or part-time enrollment, the number of clinical hours required by the school and state, and whether students need to fulfill any general education requirements.

What Does an LPN/LVN Do?

Working under the supervision of a doctor or RN, LPNs/LVNs perform basic medical duties, such as:

  • Assessing patients’ health and conditions, including taking their vital signs
  • Reporting patient status to their supervising physician or RN
  • Maintaining patient health records
  • Listening to and discussing patients’ care and concerns
  • Applying and changing bandages and inserting medical devices like catheters and, in some states, IVs
  • Helping patients with bathing and dressing
  • Administering medication if authorized by their state
  • Work Setting and Skills

    According to the BLS, nearly 40% of LPNs/LVNs work in nursing and residential care facilities. The remainder find employment in hospitals, physician offices, home healthcare services, and government agencies.

    Successful LPNs/LVNs possess empathy, compassion, and patience. They also need physical and mental stamina as the job mandates hours of standing, walking, lifting, and bending. Other important qualities include interpersonal skills, effective listening and speaking, the ability to handle stressful situations, and attention to detail.

    How to Become an LPN/LVN

    LPNs/LVNs must complete a state nursing board-approved program leading to a certificate or diploma. Most students finish the programs, offered at community colleges and technical schools, in about one year.

    The typical LPN/LVN curriculum includes courses in anatomy, biology, chemistry, psychology, and nutrition. Students also gain knowledge and skills in emergency medical technology, first aid, and nutrition. LPN/LVN programs prepare graduates to pass the National Council Licensure Examination in practical nursing, commonly known as the NCLEX-PN, which states require for licensing.

    In addition, LPNs/LVNs can earn post-graduate specialty certifications in areas like IV therapy, long-term care, and pharmacology. The National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service offers several certification options, which can increase earning potential, job prospects, and opportunities to work in an area of interest.

    LPNs/LVNs must hold licenses from their state nursing boards to practice, as detailed below.

    Licensing Requirements for LPNs/LVNs

    State nursing boards issue LPN/LVN licenses, which must be obtained prior to beginning work. Eligible applicants need to show completion of a state-approved educational program. Candidates may be asked to submit fingerprints for a background check, along with references. LPN/LVN licenses renew every few years, depending on specific state requirements.

    While each state imposes its own licensing requirements and processes, all administer the NCLEX-PN examination, which test-takers must pass to earn their licenses. The primarily multiple-choice questions cover safe and effective care, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity.

    The other type of state-administered exam is the NCLEX-RN, which applicants must pass to become licensed as a registered nurse (RN). LPNs/LVNs often work for a couple of years before continuing their education to become an RN.

    The majority of U.S. states have implemented (or are in the process of implementing) Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) legislation, which allows LPNs/LVNs and other healthcare providers to practice in any NLC state under a multistate license. Benefits include telehealth and online nursing education facilitation, the ability to cross borders to assist during disasters or crises, and the elimination of separate and costly licensing processes in different states.

    LPN/LVN Salary and Job Outlook

    According to the BLS, LPNs/LVNs earn a median annual salary of $47,480, with a faster-than-average projected job growth of 11% through 2028. The expected growth stems from the aging baby boomer population and the prevalence of chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity.

    The top industries reflect these trends, showing that 13% of LPNs/LVNs work at skilled nursing care facilities, with the remainder employed at physician offices, home healthcare services, hospitals, and retirement communities or assisted living facilities. Job prospects expect to increase for LPNs/LVNs in rural and medically-underserved areas and for those with certification in gerontology and IV therapy.

    Texas, California, and New York employ the highest number of LPNs/LVNs.

    Career Advancement for LPN/LVNs

    LPNs/LVNs can expect numerous career advancement opportunities, including focusing on caring for the elderly, in physician offices, at private medical and surgical hospitals, at mental health or general nursing care facilities, and in home healthcare facilities.

    Another common path to career advancement consists of earning a degree that prepares graduates to apply for their RN license. Many LPNs/LVNs enter LPN-to-RN or LPN-to-BSN programs, both of which allow advancement to careers as RNs.

    Students in LPN-to-RN programs acquire the skills and earn the credentials needed to take the NCLEX-RN exam. These programs prepare professionals to become licensed RNs with more responsibility and potentially higher wages.

    LPN-to-BSN bridge programs also prepare students for the NCLEX-RN exam, but culminate in a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). A BSN opens doors to more opportunity, pay, and advanced practice nursing education programs and careers. Flexible, online options allow nurses to continue working while completing their programs.

    Differences Between LPNs and RNs

    As mentioned above, LPNs/LVNs seeking to further their career often pursue RN licensure. The differences between LPNs/LVNs and RNs include their level of education, ability to practice independently, job duties, salaries, and work settings.

    While LPNs/LVNs earn a median annual salary of $47,480, RNs bring home significantly more, making $73,300 per year. LPNs/LVNs often work under the supervision of an RN, while RNs, practicing independently, supervise other nurses and medical staff.

    An RN’s advanced training allows them to work in more varied settings and specializations, such as emergency rooms, oncology, pediatrics, and surgery. LPNs often work in long-term care facilities and hospitals providing basic patient care. However, LPN/LVNs have begun to shift away from long term settings and more are now practicing in ambulatory care or community-based settings, including rehabilitation, assisted living, home care, and urgent care centers. RNs with a BSN enjoy even more practice options with concentrations in anesthesiology, midwifery, orthopedics, and psychiatric/mental health.

    Reviewed by:

    Reviewed By Theresa Granger, Ph.D., MN, NP-C

    Theresa Granger, Ph.D., MN, NP-C
    With over two decades of teaching and clinical practice as a family nurse practitioner, Dr. Granger is an expert in nursing education and clinical practice at all levels of education (associate, baccalaureate, and graduate). She has published and lectured extensively on nursing education and clinical practice-related content. Her expertise ranges from student advising and mentoring to curricular and content design (both on ground and online) to teaching and formal course delivery. Dr. Granger is one of the founding faculty members of the University of Southern California’s first ever fully online graduate family nurse practitioner program.

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