Updated date:

How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse

Caitlin Goodwin is a Certified Nurse-Midwife and birth nerd with 12 years in obstetric nursing.

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

LPNs/LVNs often work in long-term care, skilled nursing facilities, physician's offices, home health, or a hospital. They 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, and administer oral medications and injections. When administering medications, it’s important for LPNs to report adverse reactions.

LPNs perform a variety of important health care interventions. 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. LPNs must perform patient and family education regarding medical treatments and at-home care.

LPNs can be school nurses, work in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, and work in hospitals in teams with Registered Nurses and nurses aides. They can work in home health, hospice, and physician offices.

Required Education for LPNs and LVNs

Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse is one of the quickest ways to become a nurse. The education to become a LPN covers a wide variety of nursing content, including anatomy and physiology, nutrition, pharmacology, maternal-child health, medical-surgical nursing, and psychosocial nursing. They also participate in clinical experience supervised by a clinical instructor at nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and hospitals.

The LPN program is a very intensive program of study. It's important to stay organized, study frequently, and attend all clinical experience. Unexcused absence and lack of preparation will result in failure for 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.

In order to become a LPN, one must pass a Board of Nursing approved educational program. Practical nursing programs have a number of different types of accreditation, including the National League for Nurses Accreditation Council (NLNAC). There are 162 NLNAC certified Practical Nursing programs across the nation in 2010 (National League for Nursing Accreditation Committee, 2010).

There are proprietary schools (for-profit schools), as well as public colleges that provide LPN programs. It's important to be aware of what accrediting body has accredited the educational program that you select. If you decide to continue on for a higher degree, certain institutions require that your LPN school had NLNAC or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accreditation. The length of education is approximately one year.

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. There is also a national nursing organization for LPNs called the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses at www.nflpn.org

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 are a list of resources:

Bureau of Labor and Statistics

National League for Nursing Accreditation Committee

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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 Walt Disney World, 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

Related Articles