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How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse

Caitlin Goodwin DNP, RN has 14 years of nursing experience and is a collegiate educator.

How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse

Interested in learning how to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN)? Becoming an LPN is the quickest route into the nursing field. It is a direct path to nursing that requires approximately one to two years of schooling.

LPNs are nurses who take care of the sick, disabled, or injured. In some states, they are known as Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs). There's no difference between the two titles other than geography. LVNs exist only in Texas and California, whereas all other states call them LPNs.

After completing nursing school, an LPN must receive continuing health education to maintain their license. LPNS can continue on to an LPN-to-RN bridge program to become a Registered Nurse (RN).

LPNs often work under the supervision of RNs. RNs have additional responsibilities that go above and beyond what an LPN is licensed to do, like creating care plans, performing assessments, and specializing in a specific medical area. Becoming an RN requires additional training and education, and thus the salary is higher.

Becoming an LPN opens a variety of opportunities.


Salary of a Practical (Vocational) Nurse

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the job outlook for LPNs is increasing by 16%. The average salary is $43,170 per year, and the hourly wage is $20.76 per hour (Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2015).

Place of Work

LVN or LPNs can be employed at a number of facilities:

  • long-term care
  • nursing homes
  • rehabilitation centers
  • school nursing
  • skilled nursing facilities
  • physician's offices
  • home health
  • hospital teams

Required Education for LPNs and LVNs

Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse is one of the quickest ways to become a nurse. But, the LPN program remains an intensive program of study.

The education to become an LPN cover:

  • anatomy and physiology
  • nutrition
  • pharmacology
  • maternal-child health
  • medical-surgical nursing
  • psychosocial nursing.

They also participate in clinical experience supervised by a clinical instructor at nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and hospitals.

It's important to stay organized, study frequently, and attend all clinical experiences. Unexcused absences and lack of preparation will fail students. Nursing students are required to complete a great deal of reading, nursing skill lab assessments, and attend long clinical days. It's a heavy workload but will result in a reward of becoming a nurse in one to two years.

To become an LPN, one must pass a Board of Nursing approved educational program. Therefore, it's important to know what accrediting body has accredited the educational program you select.

There are proprietary schools (for-profit schools), as well as public colleges that provide LPN programs. Unfortunately, some proprietary schools scam students out of tens of thousands of dollars.

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If you decide to continue for a higher degree, certain institutions require that your LPN school had Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accreditation. The length of education is approximately one year.

LVN or LPN scope

LPNs/LVNs work under the direction of a Registered Nurse and physician, and they supervise nursing assistants and aides. The scope of practice often varies by both state and facility.

LPNs may be able to:

  • infuse intravenous fluids
  • provide respiratory care to patients on a ventilator
  • administer oral medications and injections

However, when administering medications, all nurses need to report adverse reactions.

LPNs perform a variety of important health care interventions. For example, they measure vital signs, insert urinary catheters, and complete dressing changes on wounds.

They perform activities of daily living, known as ADLs, including bathing, dressing, personal hygiene, toileting, repositioning, ambulating, and feeding.

In addition, LPNs must perform patient and family education regarding medical treatments and at-home care.

LPNs (LVNs) are nurses who have a specific and important role in health care.

Passing State Boards

After one receives their diploma as a Practical Nurse (PN) or Vocational Nurse (VN), one must take the National Council Licensure Examination- Practical Nurse (NCLEX-PN) to become a licensed practical nurse. The NCLEX-PN is designed to test the knowledge, skills and abilities vital to the safe and efficient practice of practical nursing. The test is administered by Pearson VUE and developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

The test is a computerized adaptive testing format (CAT), meaning that the test questions adapt to the level of difficulty the examinee can answer. If the test-taker answers correctly on an item of intermediate difficulty, he or she will next encounter a more difficult question. If they answered the question incorrectly, they would next receive an easier question.

The test questions are written to an advanced cognition level and focus on safe effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial and physiologic integrity. Most NCLEX questions are multiple choice, select all that apply, free response medication calculations, arranging steps of nursing procedure, and identification of diagrams or drawings.

If you have more questions, you should visit your state's Board of Nursing to determine the requirements and legal ramifications that come with having a license as a LPN or LVN.

Pursuing the LPN/LVN Career

If you have decided to pursue the LPN/LVN career path, congratulations! These nurses have an incredibly important role in the health care system. Becoming an LPN or LVN can be overwhelming, but here is a list of resources:

Bureau of Labor and Statistics

Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing

© 2013 Caitlin Goodwin


Mason on February 21, 2015:

Typically, I find this type of information very dull, but you made it ineetrsting to me. This took me in and made me really think about the things you wrote. I really like this article.

Caitlin Goodwin (author) from West Palm Beach, FL on February 20, 2015:

I love being a nurse and wouldn't trade it for the world! It's an incredibly worthwhile profession. What were you thinking about doing with your BBA and MBA?

Hiroaki on February 19, 2015:

July 2, 2012 at 4:16 amI was inspired wanthicg RN's work and observing how many seem to enjoy their job! I have a bachelors degree in business administration, but I want to go back to undergrad after graduate school to earn a BSN. I want to have all: A BSN, a BBA and an MBA. My goal is to work full-time as a trauma nurse in the state of Maryland, and work part-time as a mgmt consultant. I'm not sure how to balance the two, but I believe where there is a will, there is a way! Prestin, Maryland Reply

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