How to Become a Licensed Nurse Practitioner (LPN)
What Does an LPN Do?
Duties and Responsibilities of an LPN
LPNs provide basic medical care to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities. LPNs observe and chart their patients, taking note of vital signs, any changes in patient condition, and reactions to medications. They administer medication and, in some states, start intravenous fluids. These healthcare professionals also provide basic treatments, including dressing wounds and taking a patient’s blood pressure and temperature. LPNs are often the first to respond to a patient’s call, communicating with and working under the supervision of physicians and RNs to determine appropriate treatment.
According to the most recent figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following were the top five places that LPNs worked in 2016:
|Nursing home or other residential care facility||38|
|Home healthcare services||12|
Although place of work does not necessarily affect the type of work LPNs do, it may affect their schedule. Many LPNs who work in nursing homes or hospitals work nights, weekends, and holidays. They might be required to work shifts of longer than eight hours.
How Do LPNs Differ From LVNs, CNAs, and RNs?
LPNs, also sometimes referred to as LVNs (licensed vocational nurses), differ from RNs in terms of their education and scope of practice. RNs usually earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing science, which typically takes four years to complete—though it is possible to earn an associate degree in nursing in two to three years. LPNs and LVNs, however, can complete a diploma or certificate program within 15 to 18 months. Finally, nursing assistants typically possess high school diplomas and complete a state-approved program that prepares them to provide basic care, such as bathing, repositioning, and feeding of patients in hospitals and nursing homes. In some states, nursing assistants can earn a licensed designation as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), but this varies by state.
LPN Salary and Career Outlook
Salaries of LPNs
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2017 LPNs earned an average salary of $45,030 a year. Your salary may vary depending on your workplace, however. The BLS reports that in 2017, nurses who worked at nursing homes and other residential care facilities earned salaries averaging $46,280, while LPNs employed at doctor’s offices earned significantly less, averaging $41,270 a year.
The best way to advance an LPN career path is to become an RN. However, LPNs often have the opportunity to work overtime to supplement their income. Some LPNs may also consider earning optional certifications in gerontology (the science of aging) or IV therapy to make themselves more desirable in competitive job markets.
The following states had the highest salaries for LPNs as of 2017:
|State||Highest Salaries for LPNs and LVNs|
Career Outlook for LPNs
According to the BLS, the industry for LPNs is poised to increase by 12% from 2016 to 2026. This rate is faster than the average of other occupations and is due in part to the aging baby boomers who increasingly need healthcare services.
The following states had the highest rates of employment for LPNs as of 2017:
|State||Highest Employment Rates for LPNs and LVNs|
What Education Do I Need to Become an LPN?
The first question most potential licensed practical nurses will ask is about their education. What does it take to become an LPN?
While a college degree is not required, you will need to complete an accredited training program that typically grants a certificate or diploma. These programs are typically offered at community colleges and technical or vocational schools and generally require a high school diploma as a prerequisite. Some programs also require evidence of CPR certification. And a number of programs require a background check.
And although there are some overlapping elements between LPN programs and medical assistant training programs at the associate degree level, licensed practical nursing is its own field and definitely requires specialized training that differs from what medical assistants receive.
Upon successful completion of an LPN program, you will need to take an exam and earn your licensure. Refer to the What Kind of Licensure Do I Need to Become an LPN? section below to find out more.
Most programs take about a year to complete, while others may take closer to 18 months for students who are pursuing their program on a part-time basis.
Individual classes will vary by program, but most LPN students can expect to find the following courses among their required course load:
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Patient Safety
- Introduction to Nursing
- Family Nursing
- Legal and Ethical Principles of Nursing
Online or Hybrid LPN Programs
Online programs are popular with working professionals seeking maximum flexibility, but it’s important to realize that online programs for LPNs are actually hybrid programs, meaning some classes are face-to-face while others are taken online. Be sure to check that your program is accredited, and be suspicious of any program that promises to be entirely Internet-based.
In addition to the flexibility of the online coursework, there are other advantages to hybrid LPN programs. Lectures are often available for viewing, which means you can re-watch them as needed, and online communities of other learners can provide invaluable support. Additionally, according to recent research, students who pursued blended learning performed better than their counterparts who took all face-to-face classes.
Of course, it’s important to know what kind of student you are. In order to be successful at a hybrid program, you will need to be motivated, disciplined, and possess strong time management skills. You will also need to be able to travel to campus for certain classes.
Accelerated LPN Programs
Accelerated programs that can allow you to pursue your goal of becoming an LPN in less than a year are relatively uncommon, but they are a potentially attractive option for some who feel they can learn and retain the curriculum quickly. CNAs who already have some college-level credits under their belts might also be good candidates for this type of program. It is important, however, to make sure that the program is accredited, and to inquire about the pass rate on the NCLEX exam. A pass rate of less than 80% can be a red flag indicating that students are not adequately prepared for this certification exam.
LPN to RN Programs
Much more common than accelerated LPN programs are so-called bridge programs for LPNs wanting to become RNs. Registered nurses have a broader range of responsibilities than LPNs, as well as an increased salary potential. RNs earned a mean annual salary of $73,550 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bridge programs typically take two years and result in an associate in nursing degree. These programs are typically flexible, so working LPNs can take classes (offered both online and on campus) that fit around their schedules. Certain places of employment even offer tuition reimbursement.
What Kind of Licensure Do I Need to Become an LPN?
After graduating from an LPN program, you will need to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses, known as the NCLEX-PN exam.
Registration for the test is a two-part process. First, you need to submit a license application with your state board of nursing. This will ensure your eligibility to take the NCLEX exam. Then you will register for the exam itself.
Although state licensing requirements differ, all prospective LPNs are required to graduate from an accredited program before sitting for the NCLEX-PN exam, which they must pass in order to become licensed. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the body that administers the NCLEX-PN exam, the pass rate for first-time test takers educated in the United States was 85.91% in 2018.
Tips for Finding a Job as an LPN
Now that you have graduated and passed the NCLEX-PN, earning your LPN certification, it’s time to find a job. The following tips will get you started on your job search.
- Consider local nursing homes and other long-term health facilities for older adults. As our population ages, the need for healthcare professionals who can perform basic medical care increases.
- Consider joining the growing telehealth industry. According to the 2017 National Nursing Workforce Survey, 54.2% of LPNs provided telehealth services, including virtual patient care. This marks a 10% increase since 2015.
- Use your LPN program as a resource. Whether you attended a program through a local community college or took classes through an accredited online hybrid program, you should check to see if your school has a career resource center. Ask your professors if they know of any openings. Speak to your classmates about their own job searches – they may have a lead for you, but you won’t know until you ask.
- Finally, use the Internet as a resource, and make search to online job listings that are specifically created for nurses.
Resources for LPNs
Working LPNs and students seeking to become licensed practical nurses have many resources to help them stay updated with the latest news, research, and job opportunities in their field. Consider the following to help you stay up to date:
- The National Organization of Licensed Practical Nurses is a national professional organization for LPNs and LVNs. This group offers accredited continuing education courses, monitors legislation impacting its members, and offers an online career center to LPNs who join.
- The National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service is an association that promotes the education and regulation of practical and vocational nurses. It maintains a members-only educational database for continuing education and also posts legislative updates relevant to LPNs.