LPN and LVN Career Information
I t can be easy to think of nursing as simply one generic position. In reality, the world of nursing involves multiple designations. Licensed practical nursing, or LPN, is one of the designations.
LPNs hold a special responsibility when it comes to providing healthcare to those in need, and are often the professionals who can leave the most lasting impressions on their patients. The scope of responsibilities held by an LPN can be broad, which provokes the question, "What is an LPN or LVN?"
What is an LPN or LVN?
An LPN/LVN 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?" or "What is vocational nursing?" 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? (What is Practical Nursing?)
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 do nurses do, specifically?" the list can be extremely long, but here are some of the most common duties assigned to an LPN or LVN:
- Cleaning and dressing wounds
- Administering IVs and drips (as prescribed by physicians)
- Basic care, including assistance with personal hygiene
- 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.)
- Monitoring vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and respiratory rate) and blood glucose levels
What are the Prerequisites for Nursing?
The prerequisites for practical and vocational 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 or LVN 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
- Clinical rotation or externship 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 LVN and 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 a practical or vocational nursing program is generally made up of theoretical training
within a classroom, followed by onsite laboratory training with industry-related
equipment. Most LPN and LVN 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 cost of LPN school depends entirely on the type and location of school you decide to attend and the program level you choose. That being said, the average on-campus diploma program will generally cost a few thousand dollars per semester. Degree programs tend to be around $5,000 or more per semester.
Regardless of which school or program type you choose, most schools are able to provide some form of financial assistance to students who meet the eligibility requirements. It's a good idea to speak to a school's financial aid department upon enrollment, as they can provide insight and information about funding options and may even help you complete the application process.
How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse
If you are wondering how to become a licensed practical nurse or licensed vocational 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.
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.
- 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 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 medical job outlook tends to be good, and the nursing career outlook is no exception. Job prospects for LPNs and LVNs 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 nursing outlook are thought to stem from a few different factors:
- 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, LVNs and 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 areas within the nursing field include:
- Ambulatory care
- Critical care
- Addiction care
- Developmental disability
- School nursing
How Much Do LPNs Make a Year?
One of the most frequently asked questions about the practical and vocational nursing profession is "How much do LPNs make a year?"
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. So, how much does a nurse earn in specific working environments?
- The highest-paying industry is nursing care facilities (annual mean wage is $42,590).
- The states that pay the highest annual salary for LPNs are Connecticut ($53,280), New Jersey ($50,950), and Rhode Island ($50,900).
What are the Benefits 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 care for others and even save lives. Other pros of the job include:
- Having the ability to make a positive difference in the lives of your patients and their families.
- Working within an in-demand field, which could allow you to choose from a broad range of job opportunities. It can also mean better pay.
- Having many different potential health care work settings to choose from (e.g. hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, surgical centers, schools, physicians' offices).
- Enjoying the chance to meet new people and perform different tasks each day.
- Having dynamic job responsibilities, which can allow you to enjoy continuous learning.
Now that you have gained a thorough understanding of licensed practical nursing and all that it entails, 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 an LPN or LVN career. Browse through this listing of available LPN and LVN programs, and take advantage of the opportunity to contact the schools that interest you for further information.