LPN Career Information
I t can be easy to think of nursing as simply one generic position. In reality, the world of nursing is more in-depth than that, involving multiple designations. Licensed practical nursing, or LPN, is one of the designations. So, what is an LPN?
What is an LPN?
An LPN is:
- A health professional who is qualified to handle bedside care of patients dealing with injuries, illnesses, terminal illnesses, disabilities, etc.
- Able to work under the direction of physicians, registered nurses, and other health care professionals
Although LPN is the most common name for this type of nurse, in California and Texas the official title is licensed vocational nurse, or LVN. If you are still wondering, "What is an LVN?" the answer is simple: An LVN is the exact same as an LPN in terms of educational requirements, licensing requirements, and job description. Literally, the only difference is in the name and the title of the state licensing.
What Does an LPN Do?
LPNs (or LVNs) are trained to perform a very broad range of tasks related to patient care. They tend to be the main point of contact for patients since they take care of the day-to-day tasks involved in basic bedside care. Therefore, patients often trust and relate to nurses more than any other health professionals, such as surgeons or specialists. This is important because it can mean that patients are more likely to become comfortable enough with an LPN to talk about new or recurring symptoms or to disclose important background information, which the LPN, in turn, can pass on to physicians and other health professionals involved in a patient's case.
If you are wondering, "What does an LPN do, specifically?" the list can be extremely long, but here are some of the most common duties assigned to an LPN:
- Cleaning and dressing wounds
- Administering IVs and drips (as prescribed by physicians)
- Basic care, including assistance with personal hygiene
- Monitoring blood pressure, temperature, blood glucose levels, etc. for patients with diabetes, hepatitis, cardiovascular diseases, and more
- Gathering patient information and history
- Collecting lab samples
- Giving injections (e.g. flu shots)
- Performing enemas and monitoring catheters
- Monitoring patients' conditions and responses
- Clerical work (e.g. managing patient files, scheduling appointments, etc.)
What are the Prerequisites for Nursing?
The prerequisites for nursing vary depending on the nursing designation you choose to pursue. LPN (or LVN) is one of two main nursing designations in the U.S. In order to become an LPN, a post-secondary education is required. However, there are a few different options when it comes to LPN programs.
Many vocational schools and career colleges offer short-term, career-focused LPN certificate or diploma programs. Generally, the only prerequisite for these types of programs is a high school diploma or GED. Another option is to take an LPN degree program from a nursing college or university.
What Will I Learn in an LPN Program?
Regardless of what type of LPN program you choose to take, and where you choose to take it, most LPN programs include:
- Various nursing areas, such as medical-surgical, pediatrics, obstetrics, geriatrics, and pharmacology
- Classroom studies
- Hands-on lab experience
- Externship or clinical rotation opportunities
Some of the common areas covered by an LPN curriculum can include:
- Restorative, therapeutic, and preventive care
- Basic bedside nursing
- Infection control
- Tracheotomy care
- Medication administration and documentation
- Common diseases
- Anatomy and physiology
- Patient education
- Legal and ethical responsibilities
How Long is an LPN Program?
The next logical question about LPN training is "How long is an LPN program?" The average training duration for an LPN certificate or diploma program is one year. However, degree programs can take up to two years to complete.
The first portion of an LPN program is generally made up of theoretical training
within a classroom, followed by onsite laboratory training with industry-related
equipment. Most LPN programs end with some form of
real-life training, such as an externship or clinical within an actual medical setting. Some of the most common settings for practical experience include hospitals, health clinics, and physicians' offices.
What is the Cost of LPN School?
The answer depends entirely on the type and location of school you decide to attend and the program level you choose, but the tuition can range from $4,000 to $50,000 or more.
How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse
If you are wondering how to become a licensed practical nurse, then consider that, aside from the educational prerequisites, there are also legal requirements. After graduating from an LPN program (and before you can legally work as an LPN), you must successfully take the NCLEX-PN (National Council Licensure Examination — Practical Nursing) certification examination.
Developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to help ensure that nursing standards remain consistent across the country, the exam can be quite challenging and will require that you spend time and effort preparing for it.
The NCLEX-PN is divided into the following categories:
- Safe and Effective Care Environment
- Coordinated Care
- Safety and Infection Control
- Health Promotion and Maintenance
- Psychosocial Integrity
- Physiological Integrity
- Basic Care and Comfort
- Pharmacological Therapies
- Reduction of Risk Potential
- Physiological Adaptation
- Clinical Problem-Solving Process
- Caring, Communication, and Documentation
- Teaching and Learning
Here are additional important facts about the NCLEX-PN:
- The exam is different within each state, and eligibility for licensure can also vary by state. Some states may also have additional requirements for LPNs.
- You are only legally allowed to work in the state in which you took the NCLEX-PN. If you move to a different state, you must re-take the exam in order to become legally certified within that state.
- The exam uses an interactive format known as "Computer Adaptive Testing." In this format, a computer selects subsequent questions based on answers to previous questions in order to ensure the most accurate gauge of a candidate. The computer will continue supplying questions until it has determined a grade of pass or fail.
- The questions come in various formats, including multiple choice, and fill-in-the-blank. Candidates may also be asked to interpret pictures, tables, and charts.
- The minimum number of questions is 85. The maximum is 205.
- The maximum time allowed for the exam is five hours.
- The official exam scores become available within two business days after the exam has been taken, and are delivered by the official licensing agency within the candidate's jurisdiction.
Prior to booking the NCLEX-PN, the NCSBN advises visiting its website for additional information, including where to find the nearest testing site.
What is the Job Outlook for Nurses?
If you are wondering, "What is the job outlook for nurses?" the answer is described statistically as "very good." * The overall job prospects for LPNs are expected to grow much faster than the average—21 percent in the time period between 2008 and 2018, to be exact.
The reasons for this favorable job outcome for LPNs stems from a few different factors, including:
- A large share of the population is becoming older. As a whole, the elderly population requires more healthcare services since they face a higher number of injuries and illnesses.
- On the whole, the average lifespan is increasing due to improved medical technology. This, in turn, increases the demand for long-term care.
- As baby boomers reach retirement age, many LPNs are retiring and, therefore, leaving the profession permanently. Their positions must be replaced, creating job openings.
Where Do Nurses Work?
Many people assume nursing positions only exist within hospitals when, in fact, the answer to "Where do nurses work?" is much more extensive.
Aside from hospitals, LPNs can find positions within a variety of healthcare settings, including:
- Nursing homes
- Physicians' offices
- Public health clinics
- Home health care services
- Community care facilities for the elderly
- Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals
It can also be easy to assume that LPN is simply one basic position. However, there are literally dozens of different specialties to be found in the nursing profession. Some may be open to graduates of an LPN program while others may be more advanced and require additional education or certification.
Some of the specialized positions within the nursing field include:
- Ambulatory care nurse
- Critical care nurse
- Medical-surgical nurse
- Oncology nurse
- Transplant nurse
- Neonatal nurse
- Pediatric nurse
- Neuroscience nurse
- Addiction care nurse
- Developmental disabilities nurse
- School nurse
- Administrative nurse
How Much Do LPNs Make a Year?
One of the most frequently asked questions about the LPN profession is "How much do LPNs make a year?" While it is a straightforward question, the answer is more complex.
According to 2010 national statistics, the mean annual wage for LPNs is $41,360.* However, the same statistics also show that salaries can vary widely by location and industry:
- The highest-paying industry is nursing care facilities (annual mean wage is $42,590).
- The lowest-paying industry is physicians' offices (mean annual wage is $37,480).
- The states that pay the highest annual salary for LPNs are Connecticut ($53,280), New Jersey ($50,950), and Rhode Island ($50,900).
- The states that pay the lowest annual salary for LPNs are West Virginia ($32,750), South Dakota ($33,910), and Oklahoma ($33,900).
What are the Pros and Cons of Working as an LPN?
A poll by Gallup showed that Americans view nursing as the number one profession in terms of honesty and ethics. It's no surprise that people see nurses in such a positive light, especially when you consider that their job entails helping to save lives. Other pros of the job include:
- You have the ability to make a positive difference in the lives of your patients and their families.
- Working within an in-demand field can allow you to choose from a broad range of job opportunities and can also mean better pay.
- There are many different potential health care settings to work in (e.g. hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, surgical centers, schools, physicians' offices).
- Nursing is a dynamic career, allowing you to meet new people and perform different tasks each day.
- Because the job responsibilities are so broad, and you come into contact with so many different people, you can enjoy continuous learning.
However, as with any job, working as an LPN can have a downside as well. Here are some of the cons:
- As with other health care jobs, nursing can be emotionally draining. Not every patient lives, and dealing with loss is a reality of the job.
- Nursing can also be physically demanding. Shifts are typically 12 hours long and often require you to be on your feet the entire time.
- For the above reasons, there is a high rate of burnout in the nursing field.
- You will be working around many different illnesses and infectious diseases.
- You will have to deal with tasks that can be uncomfortable, such as emptying bed pans.
What Qualities Does an LPN Need to Have?
Aside from any educational and legal requirements, there are certain qualities or traits that can help ensure success as an LPN:
- Emotionally Stable. You will constantly be in close contact with people who are sick and injured, which can be difficult to deal with. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that LPNs have the ability to remain calm and professional, and avoid becoming attached to patients, as this can negatively affect the quality of care a patient receives.
- Observant. LPNs often spend the most time with patients. Therefore, physicians and other health care professionals will be counting on you to notice changes in patients' conditions, even when they are subtle.
- Compassionate. You will be required to interact with patients suffering from terminal illnesses and life-threatening injuries, as well as their families. Showing compassion and understanding will help others deal with difficult realities.
- Humble. There is no room for arrogance in nursing. Not only do you need to follow orders from physicians and other health care professionals, you need to be willing to speak up and ask for help when necessary because there will literally be lives on the line.
If you are still considering becoming an LPN after gaining a more thorough understanding of licensed practical nursing and all that it entails, then your next step is to research the available schools and programs and find the post-secondary education that can put you on the path to reaching your career goals. Browse through this listing of available LPN programs, and take advantage of the opportunity to contact the schools that interest you for further information.