Careers in Healthcare have played an integral role in the caregiving of patients who have become infected with COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic sparked an increase in demand for a number of specific medical careers, especially those working on the front lines of the response. Between rising inpatient services, testing sites and emergency needs, healthcare workers…
What do you want to become?
How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse
Alternative Career Titles:
Licensed Practical Nurse Job Description: Licensed Practical Nurses provide basic care to patients while working under the direction of both Registered Nurses and Physicians
Licensed Practical Nurse Salary (Annual): $47,480
Licensed Practical Nurse Salary Range: $34,560 to $63,360
How Long To Become a Licensed Practical Nurse: 2 years
Licensed Practical Nurse Requirements: Post-Secondary Non-Degree Program and License
Become a Licensed Practical Nurse
A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) is responsible for providing a wide range of basic healthcare services, including monitoring patient health by taking vitals and administering care such as changing bandages or inserting catheters. These Nursing Career professionals also keep healthcare records up-to-date and help patients perform functional activities like helping them to bathe or dress.
Furthermore, LPNs record patient statuses and document any concerns they may have, reporting this information back to a Registered Nurse or Family Physician. Depending on a Licensed Practice Nurse’s workplace setting, they may also instruct family members and relatives on how to care for the patient, collect samples for testing or help feed the patient. This career in healthcare is extremely hands-on and can be unbelievably rewarding!
“My career started in a nursing home as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) prior to going to enrolling in LPN school,” Robin Barnett, LPN, a Licensed Practice Nurse practicing in Tennessee, explained. “I’ve worked in many settings, the longest being a private duty home care facility, working in pediatrics with ventilator patients. In the past, I’ve also worked on a medical and surgical unit of a hospital, multi-physician office, urgent care clinic, camp, and on a temporary travel assignment in a clinic in Alaska.”
The Difference Between LPN and LVN: Although a career as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) have identical educational requirements (including the passing of the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN exam), their difference is solely in state-preferred titles.
For example, California and Texas designate these professionals as LPNs once licensed, whereas the rest of the U.S. uses the term LPN. However, some minor responsibilities may still vary between the two roles depending on an employing facility.
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Education & Training
To enter a career as a Licensed Practical Nurse, professionals must complete an approved educational program and obtain a state-approved license to practice. Typically, these training programs are offered through community colleges, vocational schools and hospitals. They take approximately one year to complete, but can take more or less time depending on the student’s preexisting schedule and obligations.
Once enrolled, these programs mandate classes in nursing, biology, pharmacology and clinical experience. These topics provide information that is essential to providing quality healthcare to patients.
“I went to a vocational school for 18 months, and attended Monday through Thursday between clinical or classroom settings,” Barnett recalled. “My program was considered part-time. The program itself was difficult, but we had a great teacher and a small class.”
After completing a state-approved educational program, prospective Licensed Vocational Nurses must take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Obtaining a certification in CPR is also beneficial in this field, and can help a professional stand out during the hiring process.
“There are also certifications in wound care, geriatrics and more that LVNs can pursue,” Barnett said. “I always maintain my basic life support (BLS) certification. In the past I have completed certifications in neonatal resuscitation (NRP) and pediatric advanced life support (PALS) as well.”
To advance in a career as a LPN, professionals may choose to become certified through specific professional associations in areas such as gerontology and intravenous (IV) therapies. These certifications demonstrate that a Licensed Practical Nurse has an advanced level of knowledge regarding a specific subject. Certifications can result in increased wages.
Furthermore, Licensed Practical Nurses are able to advance their careers by obtaining a supervisory position. They can also choose to enroll in another, more advanced educational program to become a Registered Nurse. To achieve this, Licensed Vocational Nurses can pursue a bachelor’s of nursing degree, which typically takes another two to four years to obtain. Other degrees, such as in health information management, could lead LPNs toward alternative nursing careers like that of an Informatics Nurse.
“There are many career choices for LPNs, as demonstrated by all the different places I have worked,” Barnett explained. “There are many that go on to supervise or manage offices. Personally, I would love to advance my career by going back to school to become a Registered Nurse one day.”
Experience & Skills
Licensed Practical Nurses should be able to be up on their feet for long periods of time, moving from patient to patient. They may be required to lift, transition or move patients, and thus physical stamina can be incredibly important in this role.
“The one thing I’ve learned over the years is to listen,” Barnett stressed. “Listen to your patients, their families and other healthcare members to help you learn every day.”
Equally as important in this role, Licensed Practical Nurses should have superb communication skills. This includes the ability to speak clearly and loudly (so that patients hard of hearing can understand), and to relay information in an effective manner. Since interacting with both patients and other healthcare professionals is pertinent to this position, Licensed Vocational Nurses should have strong interpersonal skills as well.
“In this career, I have always tried to remain confident, especially in home healthcare settings,” Barnett shared. “That’s because in these settings, LVNs are usually taking care of someone’s family member, and the professional should focus on making sure they also feel confident in letting me care for their loved one.”
In providing this care, a Licensed Practical Nurse should be able to work well under stressful situations. The care of ill and injured patients can become imminent and sometimes challenging depending upon the individual scenario. Therefore, Licensed Practical Nurses should be level-headed, caring individuals who genuinely seek to provide aide and assistance to their patients, and help them to improve their conditions.
Given the wide variety of circumstances patients can be in, LVNs should furthermore possess empathy, compassion and patience. They should be detail-oriented and able to follow precise instructions. Abiding by standards and protocols will help these professionals to avoid errors.
“In my opinion, I feel any level of nurse and any member of a healthcare team needs to be empathetic and compassionate,” Barnett stressed. “I’ve worked with so many different people over the years, and have seen many personalities. They all fit the role as long as they can be compassionate and empathetic.”
In this healthcare career, most LPNs are employed full-time. They can be required to work evenings, nights, weekends and holidays, as well as shifts lasting longer than 8 hours. Overall, the role of a Licensed Practical Nurse is integral to the success of a practice or facility, where nursing staff are required 24/seven. Healthcare needs can occur at all hours!
“Know that a career as an LVN is busy,” Barnett emphasized. “At times I have worked so many hours in a week that I felt as though all I did was work and sleep.”
The current career outlook for Licensed Practice Nurses is extremely exciting! This is because the field is projected to grow 11 percent over the next decade, a rate much faster than the average of other healthcare career occupations.
This growth is thought to be a result of an aging baby-boomer population that requires increased healthcare services. The increased rate can also be attributed to a growing awareness of chronic conditions (such as obesity, diabetes, or heart disease) which all require the assistance of LPNs in healthcare settings. These professionals are also in high demand as they are now able to assist with procedures that were previously completed exclusively in hospitals but which are now done in outpatient centers.
Today, the largest employer of LPNs includes nursing and residential care facilities, followed by state, local and private hospitals. Other employers of Licensed Practical Nurses are the offices of Physicians, home healthcare services and the government. While there tends to be more open positions in rural and underserved areas, the state with the highest current employment level for LPNs is Texas, followed by California, New York, Florida and Ohio.
“The ease in finding employment truly depends on where you want to work, as some areas tend to have more openings than others” Barnett explained. “One possibility to consider is that LVNs can seek out traveling positions, which is exciting. This is just one of the many opportunities to consider when searching for employment.”
The median annual wage of a Licensed Practical Nurse was $47,480. While the lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,560, the highest 10 percent earned more than $63,360. Additionally, the highest paying employer was the government, followed closely by nursing and residential care facilities.
Other top paying employers were home healthcare services, state, local and private hospitals and the offices of Physicians. The highest paying state within this occupation is Connecticut, followed by Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Alaska.
“I would say that Physician’s offices and hospitals tend to pay LVNs less than other facilities, whereas home health typically pay more,” Barnett advised. “I do feel like I am at a point now where going back to school is probably the best move for me. In other words, I may have hit a ‘cap’ in my wages due to my experience.”
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
The National Association of Licensed Practical Nurses (NALPN) is an organization designed to foster high standards of nursing care and promote continued competence through education/certification and lifelong learning, with a focus on public protection. Additionally, NALPN is committed to quality, professionalism and building strong professional and public relationships.
- Research a career as an Licensed Practical Nurse
- Consider volunteering at a local hospital to gain experience
- Reach out to LPNs and ask to shadow
- Research LPN programs and their requirements
- Enroll in a program
- Network with healthcare professionals to increase opportunities for hire upon completion of an LPN program
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Robin Barnett, LPN
Location: Rogersville, TN
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“My biggest suggestion to anyone interested in becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse is to be extremely open to learning from others. Experience plays a large role in the ability of a Licensed Practical Nurse, but you can only acquire experience through time. Therefore, learning from others can help substitute for time in the position.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“I would say the number one mistake people make when becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse is being too hard on themselves.We all have bad days but we must learn to see and treat people at our best and worst.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What will my earning and benefits potential be like? I feel we should all be well compensated as we are dealing with people’s lives, but many times that isn’t how earnings work. So, when choosing nursing as a career, realize sometimes you have to weigh where you want to work with desired salary, benefits, paid time off and other factors.”
Why did you choose to become an Licensed Practical Nurse?
“I chose to become an LPN after working as a Certified Nursing Assistant. I decided this was the best way to begin to advance my career in nursing.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Credentialing organizations: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, National Council of State Boards of Nursing