Nurse Nhi (Columnist)
If you're a student looking for a healthcare field that uses interpersonal skills, critical thinking, and troubleshooting skills, working as a licensed practical/vocational nurse (LPN/LVN) might be a suitable career option.
Both nursing designations are practically the same, with the title varying depending on your state. The term LVN is used in California and Texas, whereas elsewhere in the U.S., the term LPN is used.
What Is an LPN/LVN?
An LPN is a type of nursing professional who provides basic medical and nursing care under the direction of registered nurses (RNs) and doctors.
They conduct a range of patient care tasks, including monitoring patient health, administering basic patient care, reporting status and changes to RNs and doctors, and maintaining patient health records.
LPN Healthcare Setting
LPNs can work in a variety of healthcare settings including:
- Nursing and Residential Care Homes
- Health clinics and physician's offices
- Prisons and Detention Centres
Oftentimes, LPNs don't work in emergency or critical care settings due to the level of highly acute patients and changing status or unpredictability. In these settings, it is more likely to find RNs and advanced practice nurses operating specialized life supports and running specialized medications.
An LPN's work schedule depends on their work setting. Since healthcare is delivered 24/7 in most settings, they may be working 12-hour shifts rotating between days and nights. Alternatively, in more clinic or office-type settings, they may work 8 hours rotating between weekend or on-call shifts.
- Collect information from patients about their medical, surgical, and family history and risk factors
- Conduct head-to-toe assessments (vital signs monitoring, cognitive orientation, pain, skin integrity, fluid input and output, etc.)
- Documentation of assessment and care intervention
- Communicate concerns with the interdisciplinary team
- Administer patient medications and monitor effects
- Daily hygiene care for patients (bathing, toileting, and dressing)
- Assist with other healthcare interventions such as wound care and bandage dressing changes, catheter and IV-line care, feeding, etc.
Depending on experience, state and institutional policies, and competence level, LPNs could take on more responsibilities with adequate training and support from RNs, nurse practitioners (NPs), and physicians.
How to Become an LPN/LVN
There are various steps to becoming an LPN/LVN before you can find a job and start working.
Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma or GED
If you're a high school or college student, consider taking the prerequisite courses, such as some basic science and math credits. To know which courses are prerequisites, review each program of interest and their specific requirements. Admission to the program might also ask for a particular grade point average and either a high school diploma or a General Educational Development (GED).
Step 2: Apply and Enroll in an LPN/LVN Program
To become an LPN, you must complete a diploma in practical nursing through an approved educational program. These programs typically only take one year to complete and help prospective nurses learn basic nursing skills through coursework and clinical experiences.
Step 3: Pass the NCLEX-PN Exam
After completing your LPN program, graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). The National Council of State Boards of Nursing administers the NCLEX-PN exam, covering key entry-level nursing practice components. This exam will assist students in becoming licensed and qualified for LPN/LVN positions. The exam consists of about 85 to 205 multiple-choice questions, and test-takers have up to five hours to complete the exam.
Step 4: Start Working as an LPN/LVN
Once you pass the NCLEX-PN, you may apply for state licensure and work as an LPN. Requirements can vary by state, so it's recommended to check with your state board of nursing for exact licensure requirements. You may need to complete a background check and submit proof of NCLEX-PN results and your education.
If you wish to practice in a different state, you must transfer your license. If an LVN wishes to work in a state where the term LPN is used, they must apply for Licensure by Endorsement.
LPN/LVN Career Outlook & Salary Expectations
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), LPNs/ LVNs earned a median annual wage of $55,860 in May 2022. Most are employed in the nursing facilities and home care industries. The top-paying industry is personal care services, which paid these professionals a median annual wage of $90,950.
The National employment estimate for LPNs/LVNs across the United States is 632,020 positions in 2022. Of all states, California has the highest level of employment for LPNs/LVNs paying a competitive annual mean wage of $69,930. However, the highest paying state is Washington at a close $69,950.
LPNs/LVNs may also receive benefits such as health insurance, bonuses, incentive payments, retirement plans, and paid time off. Some employers may offer differential pay for night shifts, weekends, or holidays. Private practices or academic institutions may offer different salary structures than hospitals or medical centers.
It is worth mentioning that salary ranges can change over time due to factors such as inflation, demand for these roles, and changes in healthcare policies. Therefore, researching the specific salary ranges and job opportunities in your desired location and consulting reliable sources such as recent job market reports, and professional organizations for the most up-to-date information is recommended.
Q: Can I advance my career after an LPN/LVN?
Many LPNs look for further learning and development in their career and seek to increase their scope of practice and gain more autonomy in nursing. After gaining experience as an LPN, you may consider advancing your career by becoming an RN. If LPNs seek to advance their nursing career this way, they can enroll in a state-approved nursing program to earn their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
With additional education and training, ADN and BSN graduates hold higher competency and independence, thus also substantially increasing employability and earning potential.
Q: Is LPN/LVN better than ADN or BSN?
Whether an LPN/LVN, ADN, or BSN is better largely depends on an individual's career goals, time commitment, and resources.
An LPN program is typically the quickest path to nursing, often taking around one year to complete. LPNs provide basic patient care under the supervision of RNs and doctors. However, their scope of practice is more limited than RNs, and they may have fewer opportunities for advancement.
An ADN program usually takes about two years to complete, allowing graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN to become an RN. RNs have a broader scope of practice than LPNs and can work in more specialized areas of healthcare. They also have more opportunities for advancement.
A BSN program typically takes four years to complete, though accelerated programs exist for those with an associate degree or a bachelor's degree in another field. BSN-prepared nurses are RNs but often have more job opportunities and higher earning potential than ADN-prepared RNs. Many hospitals and healthcare facilities prefer or require nurses to have a BSN, especially for leadership roles. Additionally, a BSN is typically required for those who wish to pursue advanced nursing roles, such as NP or clinical nurse specialist.