A Licensed Practical Nurse, or LPN, is a nurse who works under the supervision of Registered Nurses, doctors, and other health care specialists, providing basic health care. In some states, LPNs are known as LVNs, meaning Licensed Vocational Nurse.
The scope of practice of an LPN or LVN is usually more limited than that of a Registered Nurse, however, the exact duties of these nurses can vary significantly from state to state. Qualifying as an LPN takes less time and study than qualifying as a Registered Nurse, and the promotion options are relatively limited. Because these nurses have fewer duties and responsibilities, they usually have a lower salary than their degree-holding counterparts.
Some people opt to follow an LPN program to get a feel for what the medical profession is like. They may serve as a medical assistant for a few years then pursue an LPN to RN qualification to move up the career ladder. Here, we look at the profession of practical nursing, the expected growth in this profession, and the promotion options for licensed practical nurses.
How much can someone with an LPN certificate expect to make?
To become an LPN, you’ll need to complete a diploma in practical nursing and then pass the NCLEX-PN examination, which will license you to practice as a practical nurse. The NCLEX-PN is a certification managed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and can be taken at test centers all over the country. Once you have that license, you can seek employment at health care institutions all over the country.
What is the average salary and earning potential for an LPN?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary of an LPN is $47,480. Actual pay varies depending on the setting in which the nurse works. For example, an LPN working in a physician’s office has an average earning potential of $43,620. Those working in long-term care facilities earn slightly more than average.
The earnings listed by the BLS don’t bonuses, profit sharing, holiday pay or other benefits. Most nurses do receive some additional benefits that increase their total earnings. Many hospitals also offer education options for LPNs who are looking to advance their careers, giving them the option of earning the NCLEX-RN qualification and becoming a Registered Nurse if they choose to stay in the health care profession long term.
The earning potential of an LPN means they can expect to have a higher income than the national median wage. However, there are other nursing occupations that pay far more. Registered nurses have a broader scope of practice, more responsibilities, and a higher average income. Those who train to a postgraduate level can earn more than twice the average income of a Licensed Vocational Nurse by becoming a Nurse Practitioner.
Which state offers the best LPN salary?
Nurses who wish to increase their earning potential should look into moving to a different area. The pay variance between states can be significant enough that even after adjusting for the cost of living a nurse in one state may find themselves far better off than a nurse in a different part of the country.
The top-paying states for practical nursing include:
- Alaska ($63,850)
- Massachusetts ($60,340)
- California ($60,240)
These states also have higher-than-average pay rates for registered nurses, meaning a person’s long-term career prospects should be promising if they move there.
Another option would be to start work as a vocational nurse, pursue an education to qualify to the ADN or BSN level and become a registered nurse, then relocate to pursue a specialization and enjoy a much higher salary. Since the LPN program does not take long to complete, it’s a quick way to get a nursing job. There are many institutions that offer nursing education programs to help LPN-trained nurses reach the registered nurse level, allowing young nurses to earn while they learn and gain valuable clinical experience.
The average salary for a nurse qualified to the RN level is $73,300, which is a substantial upgrade over the average salaries of LPNs even in the highest-paying states.
Responsibilities of a licensed practical nurse
LPNs provide essential services for the health care profession. They work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, long-term care facilities, clinics, and even in the homes of patients delivering one-to-one care. These nurses provide hands-on, practical care that is essential to the day-to-day operation of a health care facility, allowing doctors and other specialists to focus on other parts of the job.
There are limits to what a vocational nurse can do, and they operate under supervision from a doctor, nurse practitioner, or registered nurse. Each state has its own rules relating to the scope of practice of medical professionals at different levels, but in most states, LPNs are not permitted to “assess, diagnose or evaluate medical care”.
In some states, LPNs are permitted to administer medication under the supervision of a doctor or registered nurse. This is not true in all states, however, and there are many parts of the country where LPNs are restricted to performing patient support roles.
Because of these limitations, many hospitals prefer to have a lot of Registered Nurses on staff. Those who enjoy the nursing profession and want to be able to work with a high level of freedom often choose to continue their training and upgrade their LPN certification to the NCLEX-RN by pursuing a part-time LPN to RN course.
What is the workplace of a licensed practical nurse like?
A licensed practical nurse is needed in any environment where there are patients. This means they can be found in:
- Care homes
- Other residential facilities
- Outreach centers
- Doctor’s offices
- Providing home care services
Because a practical nurse offers hands-on care, they’ll always be in demand and have some freedom to choose the setting they work in. Some LPNs choose to work in a home care role or provide long-term care for the elderly and do not pursue a higher level of education because the practical side of health care is what interests them the most. Others use the vocational nurse title as a stepping stone to more advanced care services.
When someone earns their LPN qualification, this means they’re entitled to call themselves a nurse. LPNs are above nursing assistants in the medical hierarchy. They are respected professionals the qualification they hold is a valuable one.
What is the role of the LPN in the nursing process?
The Licensed Vocational Nurse / Licensed Practical Nurse role is an important role in the field of nursing. These nurses are often the first person a patient sees when they go to a clinic or hospital.
The LPN is responsible for explaining procedures or detailing care plans, measuring vitals, administering medication, and performing other tasks such as bathing or feeding patients. They do not diagnose or prescribe, but they perform a lot of the hands-on tasks that are required for health facilities to operate.
Some LPNs serve as medical assistants and work directly with certain specialists, preparing people for other procedures. Others act as an intermediary between doctors and the public, gathering the metrics required for the doctors to be able to do their jobs.
There is some overlap between the job of an LPN and the job of a Registered Nurse. In many hospitals, registered nurses do a lot of hands-on work in addition to supervising LPNs and certified nursing assistants. The main difference is that those who are qualified to RN level have more experience, more freedom to use their own judgment, and are trained in how to use a wider variety of pieces of medical equipment.
What abilities should a person have to be an LPN?
Those who work in the field of practical nursing are very much on the frontlines. These healthcare professionals deal with patients on a day-to-day basis, and need to be patient, compassionate, and have good communication skills. Because they spend a lot of time working as a part of interdisciplinary teams, they must be able to accurately and effectively communicate both with health professionals and laypeople.
LPNs should be:
- Good communicators
- Calm under pressure
- Possess good attention to detail
- Not squeamish
LPNs work in patient care, meaning they may have to deal with blood, bodily fluids, open wounds and other slightly unpleasant areas of nursing. They may have to handle samples, administer injections, dress wounds, clean up messes and take on other jobs that require being able to cope with less than desirable sights and smells. Not everyone is able to handle this.
In some ways, training as a licensed practical nurse is a good way of figuring out if you’re cut out for a nursing career. Rather than spending four years in college to find out that the sight of blood makes you giddy, you can earn a certificate that qualifies you to do some nursing-related tasks and take the career for a test drive for a while first. If you find you enjoy practical nursing, the option of upskilling to a job with a broader scope of practice and more specialization options is still there.
The job description of a Licensed Practical Nurse may vary depending on whether they work as an in-home care provider, are based in a clinic, or do day-to-day practical nursing at a hospital. Whichever type of job you choose to pursue, you’ll still have the opportunity to specialize at a later date.
Career path for an LPN
Becoming an LPN takes less time than training to be a registered nurse, which is one of the reasons the profession is such a popular route into nursing. The courses and qualifications cost less, and those who enter the field this way will be able to join the workforce more quickly, allowing them to get an idea of what working in a health care setting is really like.
How long does it take to become an LPN?
Completing an LPN diploma usually takes 1 to 2 years, depending on whether you opt to study full-time or part-time. This makes it the quickest route into the nursing profession, since studying for the ADN takes two years of full-time study, and a Bachelor’s Degree takes four years of full-time study.
It’s possible to become a nursing assistant more quickly than this, but nursing assistants have fewer career options than LPNs when it comes to professions, and they also earn a lower salary. The LPN is a recognized nursing title and it’s easier to move up to more specialized roles with further training.
How many hours a week do LPNs work?
Most LPNs will work full-time. It’s common for people in the nursing profession to work three 12-hour shifts a week, regardless of whether they’re qualified to the LPN or RN level. Many licensed practical nurses work weekends, night times and holidays because they’re providing practical care for patients who are very sick and need round-the-clock care.
There are some LPN jobs available that are based on the standard 40-hour work week, with nurses working eight-hour shifts. These are most common in doctor’s offices, schools, clinics, and other similar facilities. Hospitals are more likely to need round-the-clock staffing.
Many nursing homes and residential care facilities need a nurse on staff and available 24 hours a day. This means nurses have the opportunity to take on a full-time or even residential role, serving as a staff nurse for such a facility, under the supervision of a registered nurse.
What is the demand for LPNs?
Demand for skilled nurses is increasing across the board. The United States has an aging population and this means a growing number of people require health care for acute or chronic conditions. In addition, a significant portion of the people who are currently qualified as nurses are now reaching retirement age. As these nurses leave the workforce, we will need newly qualified nurses to replace them.
Practical nursing is a demanding job. Vocational nurses spend a lot of time moving patients and equipment, providing hands-on patient care, fetching and carrying, and generally being on their feet all day. It’s not uncommon for people who are just starting their careers to find this work enjoyable and fulfilling, but for the physically demanding nature of the job to take its toll as they get older.
Senior nurses often look for new roles that require less hands-on patient care. A nurse who has a family and who wants to have more predictable working hours might move into consulting, working in a clinic, or serving in an administrative or educator position. These are all important jobs, but that doesn’t change the fact patient care needs to be done.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2019 and 2029 demand for LPNs will increase by 9%. This is much faster than job growth in the wider economy. As of 2019, there were 721,700 jobs at this level. Licensed Practical Nurses should be able to find work in a variety of settings in almost any state and any city in the United States.
In terms of promotion prospects, LPNs have plenty of options, too. They can look for work in private clinics, work in hospitals or in a home care environment, or they can pursue a higher-level education and earn an associate degree so they can become a registered nurse.
Where to find work as an LPN
Almost every hospital, clinic, doctor’s office, and care home employ licensed practical nurses. This means you can find job advertisements on hospital websites, government websites, and job boards. You may also have the opportunity to apply for jobs as a LPN through the institution you completed your training with.
Many universities run career fairs or have strong links with local health care companies. Those companies are often willing to hire graduates, especially ones that got good grades. Networking is an important part of being successful in any career. Take advantage of any opportunities that your university offers and you’ll find it easy to get a job.
If you’re interested in working as a licensed practical nurse, you should consider where you want to work. These nurses have many options in terms of employment settings and job descriptions. For example:
Working as an LPN in a nursing home
Nursing home LPNs take care of the residents of long-term care facilities. They have a variety of duties, including:
- Admitting new residents to the facility
- Supporting physicians or registered nurses in monitoring the health of residents
- Delegating day-to-day care tasks to non-licensed caregivers
- Supervising non-licensed nursing staff
- Monitoring resident care
- Performing day-to-day assessments of resident health
- Explaining care plans to residents and loved ones
LPNs working in these facilities will usually be supervised by a resident nurse or a nurse practitioner. A resident nurse may report to a doctor on call who reviews and updates resident care plans on a regular basis.
Working as an LPN in a hospital or clinic
LPNs who work in a hospital or a private clinic perform a lot of patient-facing duties. While they are not permitted to prescribe medications or diagnose complex conditions, they do a lot of the hands-on work that is required to look after patients, freeing up registered nurses, nurse practitioners and doctors to do more specialized work.
The duties of an LPN in a hospital or clinic include:
- Initial interviews of patients
- Recording medical histories
- Planning and managing patient care
- Recording vitals
- Escorting patients to their beds/rooms
- Administering injections
- Providing medications that were prescribed by a medical professional
- Verifying the accuracy of patient charts
- Observing and recording the ongoing health of patients and any reaction to medications
LPNs who are employed by a hospital may be expected to work long hours. Many nurses in a hospital setting do a few 12-hour shifts per week. They may be asked to work nights, weekends, or public holidays.
Working as an LPN in a home health setting
The duties of a home health LPN are rather different from those of other LPNs. They are responsible for the day-to-day care of a single patient in a home health setting and their job description includes:
- Monitoring the health of their patient
- Changing bandages or dressing wounds
- Replacing catheters
- Helping patients with bathing, dressing, and toileting
- Feeding patients who have very limited mobility
- Supporting patients with exercise appropriate to their abilities
- Verifying that the patient is taking their medications correctly
- Attending healthcare emergencies as required
Some LPNs visit patients on a regular rotation. In some cases, they may provide live-in care but this is relatively unusual.
Where can you learn more about LPN positions?
If you’re interested in becoming a licensed practical nurse and would like to know more about the position, there are several organizations that you can get in touch with for information and advice. The first organization that most early-career nurses encounter is the Health Occupations Students Association.
HOSA is an organization aimed at future health professionals of all kinds. It offers career advice, education advice, and support for nurses and other health professionals. HOSA can help with career planning and offer advice about scholarships and financial support to help people get started in the profession of practical nursing.
Another useful organization is the American Nurses Association. This association covers nurses of all levels, from LPN/LVN through to advanced practice. The ANA can advise nurses and health care students on accreditation, education and career options, answer questions about qualifications and guide nurses as they choose their next career move.
The main association for LPNs is the National Association of Licensed Practical Nurses (NALPN). This organization aims to be the voice of practical and vocational nurses, offering advice and support for those who are looking to get started in the profession, addressing issues that LPNs face in their day-to-day work, and helping people find their niche in this rewarding career.
How often should you expect to change jobs as an LPN?
Nursing is a career with a lot of mobility and flexibility. Some nurses settle into a new job immediately after graduation, love that job, and stay there for many years. Others switch jobs a few times before they find the LPN position that suits them the best.
Many people who train as an LPN do so because it offers an opportunity to enter the health care workforce quite quickly. It’s possible to qualify as an LPN in a year if you study full-time. Those nurses can then work for a couple of years while studying for an associate degree part-time, then qualify as a Registered Nurse and switch into a more specialized area of health care.
Some LPNs start work in a hospital then decide to move to a long-term care facility or vice-versa. The job roles of LPNs can vary dramatically depending on the environment they’re working in, as can the level of supervision, structure and caseload.
Because the roles can differ so much, it’s not unusual for a nurse to try a few different positions before figuring out which environment they thrive in. One nurse might find a hospital job stressful because of the number of patients they deal with. Another nurse may find working in a long-term care facility stressful because their duties are broader than what they were used to in a hospital.
The beauty of nursing, especially at the LPN level, is that there are lots of jobs available and it’s expected that people might move around a few times to get a broad view of what opportunities are out there.
What are LPN jobs for recent graduates?
Licensed Practical Nurse jobs are relatively junior jobs and most positions are open to people who are recent graduates. You might be able to find jobs in areas such as:
- Occupational health
- Vaccine centers
- Care homes
- Skilled nursing facility
- Private clinics
- In-home care nursing
- Pediatric facility
If you’re looking for an LPN job, you will need to complete a 1-year course and earn the LPN certification before you apply. As a part of the interview process, you may be asked about your long-term goals and what drew you to the nursing profession.
This is your opportunity to sell yourself and show why you’d be a good nurse. Whether you’re a young person starting your first career as a health professional or you’re someone who is a little older and is re-training to be a nurse after a career in a different industry, you can still find employment as a practical nurse.
Employers look for people who are friendly, hardworking, compassionate, and good communicators. LPNs are not expected to have advanced education or a significant amount of clinical experience. They can earn the experience they need for higher-level positions as a part of this job.