Nursing is a rewarding and fulfilling profession, and one that has room for people from all walks of life. The most common route into nursing is for someone to become a Registered Nurse after studying for an associate degree or a bachelor’s of science in nursing, but there is another option for those who would like to try their hand at nursing but who don’t want to spend two or more years studying a degree-level course first.
Would-be nurses can complete a post-secondary course and take a licensing exam to become a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN). In some states, these nurses are called Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs). The LVN program takes less time to complete than an RN program, and those who become vocational nurses have a more limited scope of practice than those who are educated to degree level.
The scope of practice of an LPN or LVN varies from state to state. In most states, these nurses can take vitals, interview patients, and administer treatments as requested by a senior medical professional but they are unable to diagnose, prescribe, or interpret test results. However, they’re still entitled to call themselves nurses and do deliver a lot of the hands-on nursing care that keeps clinics and hospitals running smoothly on a day-to-day basis.
If you’re interested in the practical elements of nursing and are passionate about helping people, becoming an LVN could be a great career move. It’s a quick way to start working in the field of nursing, and there’s always the option of upgrading your qualifications at a later date.
LVNs earn an average salary of $47,480 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is lower than the salary a BSN-prepared registered nurse would be able to expect in most states, but is still far above the national median income, making nursing a financially, as well as mentally, rewarding profession.
What is the job outlook of an LVN?
LVN and LPNs are very much in demand, and it’s likely this trend will continue. The United States has an aging population, with more than 46 million adults being over the age of 65 today, and projections put the population of older adults in the country at 98.2 million by 2060.
In addition to the average age of the population getting older, the number of people living with obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health issues is increasing. These people need support from health care professionals and there is a skills shortage in the nursing profession.
The current intake of registered nurses is reaching retirement age. Many of these nurses are unable to perform the day-to-day health care tasks such as rolling patients, performing assisted transfers, taking measurements or bathing bedbound individuals.
In some clinics, there simply is not enough Registered Nurses and Advanced Practice nurses to perform the skilled duties those nurses are required to do and also perform the day-to-day practical tasks that vocational nurses are trained to perform.
This means qualified LVNs and LPNs are needed in clinics, hospitals, care homes and to work for home health organizations supporting patients on a one-to-one basis. Job prospects are particularly favorable in rural areas and areas that are currently underserved by the medical profession.
Not only are vocational nurses and related workers such as psychiatric technicians in demand for the skills they have today, but they also have the opportunity to progress to more skilled positions and can use the experience they gain while working in practical roles to support their attempts to move up into Registered Nurse or more clinically specialist roles.
Places on BSN programs are difficult to get. The standard of academic achievement required to gain a place at a respected college is very high and students with weaker academic backgrounds may find direct entry onto a BSN difficult.
Earning an LVN or LPN license offers those students the chance to get the foundational skills and knowledge of nursing that will stand them in good stead for becoming a Registered Nurse in the future. Many institutions offer LVN to RN programs that allow LVNs to upgrade their qualifications and take them through the classes they need to complete a degree program. These courses can be studied online and in some cases, the LVN can earn the clinical experience they need under the supervision of advanced practice nurses at their current employer.
Taking the initiative to upgrade your qualifications from an LVN certificate to an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree unlocks opportunities to work with a wider scope of practice, earn higher salaries and work in a wider variety of positions in the health care profession.
Benefits of enrolling in an online LVN program
Becoming a licensed vocational nurse means you can start working in health care settings in as little as one year. It takes much longer to earn a registered nurse qualification. Would-be nurses who find the idea of providing hands-on care appealing could earn the foundational skills of nursing through an LVN program, then consider stepping up to an associate degree if they decide they’d like to have more responsibilities and a broader scope of practice.
Some young people take the LVN route because it lets them try their hand at the nursing profession without spending tens of thousands of dollars on a degree-level education. Some older adults opt for an online LVN so that they can continue working in their current job while they get the education they need for a career change.
What are the main benefits of taking an LVN program online?
A lot of people who are considering a career in nursing find the profession a little later in life and aren’t able to go back into full-time education. For those people, an online nursing program makes a lot of sense and allows them to pursue opportunities they might otherwise be excluded from.
There are practical elements to qualifying as an LVN, so even if someone were to choose to study an online program, they would need to gain some clinical experience hours. This means committing to some practical sessions at a local health care facility or potentially attending a summer school at the teaching institution where they can gain some supervised practice hours.
These practical sessions are an important part of studying for the LVN, but being able to study the theoretical parts in your own time means you have more time and freedom to work, look after your family, or structure your studies around other things.
How do you know if an online LVN program is right for you?
An online LVN program makes sense if you are interested in starting a career as a nurse and are eager to start work in a health care setting. You might be a good candidate for an online LVN if:
- You’re self-motivated and can commit to studying outside of a classroom environment
- The practical elements of nursing appeal to you
- You’d prefer to start working as a practical nurse soon, rather than take an extra year of study on an RN program
- You’re self-funding and want to work while you study
- You are able to commit to attending practical sessions on top of your distance learning
What can you do with a LVN degree?
Completing an LVN program allows you to sit the NCLEX-PN licensure exam. If you pass that exam, you’re entitled to call yourself an LVN (or LPN) and practice as a nurse in the state in which you hold your license.
This means you can work in a variety of health care settings, including:
- Long-term care facilities
- Specialist clinics
- Doctor’s offices
- Home healthcare
The most common settings in which LVNs work are care homes and hospitals. These nurses usually work a 40 hour week, but because the patients they care for require support 24-hours a day nurses may be expected to work a rota that includes some night shifts, weekends, or public holidays.
The role of the LVN is a very hands-on and demanding one. They may be expected to provide assistance with the activities of daily living such as bathing and grooming, have to turn immobile patients, take vitals, provide wound care, insert catheters and keep detailed medical records.
Vocational nurses do not diagnose patients or devise care plans, but they may be the person who is responsible for administering the care plan. This means they’ll have a lot of contact with patients and with other members of the healthcare profession. LVNs must be patient, compassionate, good communicators, and pay attention to detail.
Requirements for an online LVN degree
Studying to become a licensed practical nurse or vocational nurse requires completing a number of science courses, learning about nursing best-practices, and also completing extensive practical training.
Entry into LVN courses is slightly easier and less competitive than the nursing degree programs required to hold the title of registered nurse, but you will still need to show a positive academic history.
Example pre-requisite requirements for LVN courses include:
- Human Anatomy and Physiology + Lab
- Microbiology + Lab
- Chemistry (General, Organic and Biochemistry) + Lab
Depending on the institution, a would-be student may need a C or above (some institutions require higher grades for these science courses).
In addition to the science courses, students looking to join an LVN or LPN course may need the following general education courses at AP level:
- Oral Communication
- Written Composition
- Critical Thinking
- College Level Mathematics
Some institutions also ask LVN students to complete:
- Introduction to Psychology
- Introduction to Sociology
- Cultural Anthropology
If a student is missing some of these prerequisites, they may be able to complete them while studying for their LVN, however, any nursing-focused courses that are a part of the LVN cannot be started until all of the pre-requisites are met.
Students should make an effort to complete the pre-requisites and fully understand the concepts taught in science and math courses before enrolling in an online nursing program, because online study can be demanding and the material is academically rigorous.
What are the entry requirements for an online LVN degree?
In most cases, you’ll need to be at least 17 or 18 years old to join an LVN program. You’ll also need to have a GED. Some of the best LVN programs require a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better. Others have GPA requirements specific to math and science classes.
Individual schools set their own requirements for their LVN programs, so if you struggled in certain subjects and can’t get your school of choice you may be able to enroll elsewhere. Online programs may have more flexible requirements than some of the more traditional brick-and-mortar universities.
In some cases, a program may allow a student to enroll in an LVN program while also doing remedial classes if they are missing certain prerequisites, as long as they make a commitment to completing the prerequisites before the relevant module of the LVN starts.
What requirements must you fulfill to graduate from an online LVN program?
The LVN curriculum covers everything a person needs to know to engage in nursing practice at the vocational level and prepares would-be nurses for more advanced study should they decide to pursue a nursing degree program at a later date. The exact content of a program will vary depending on the institution that offers it, but in general LVN programs include:
- Clinical skills
- The fundamentals of patient care
- Patient education
The academic elements of an LVN course can be studied online, but there will always be some in-classroom or clinic elements required because of the heavy practical weighting of the course.
How do you complete clinicals, practicums, and internships during online nursing school?
Online LVN programs allow students to learn the theoretical parts of their course in their own time, remotely. Students can attend online lectures, write essays, and complete their coursework from home.
Earning the NCLEX-PN license, however, depends on completing the required practicums and earning a set amount of supervised clinical hours. These are still required even for students conducting their studies remotely.
Traditional universities that offer online studies will usually expect students to attend summer school or evening sessions so they can earn the experience required for their national council licensure examination. Online-only institutions, or institutions that accept students from out of state will usually work with a network of hospitals or other health care providers to allow students to complete internships.
If you’re considering becoming a nursing student, you should confirm how the practical element of your nursing classes will work so you’re not faced with unexpected demands on your time or requirements to attend sessions that are a long way from your home.
You may have the option of attending sessions on evenings or weekends, letting you spread the workload of your practical sessions over the course of the year. Alternatively, you could attend an intensive set of practical sessions towards the end of your course. This could be a good option if you work long hours and would prefer to simply book one longer holiday to get some intensive training.
All nursing students are required to earn some practical experience. If you’re able to do it via an internship at a local hospital or residential care facility with an in-house nurse educator who can supervise you, this could help you get the contacts you ned to pursue a job with that organization once you’ve passed your licensing exam.
Cost of an online LVN program
Vocational nursing programs cost less than their degree-level counterparts, making them a more accessible option for those who are self-funding. In addition, since it’s possible to qualify as an LVN within a year, those who take this route will be able to start working in the nursing profession more quickly, recouping some of their investment.
How much does an online LVN program tuition typically cost?
An online LVN program could cost as little as $5,000 from start to finish, although some programs do cost slightly more. This covers the cost of tuition, any required textbooks and materials, and access to training opportunities.
This may sound like a significant sum of money for a one or two-year program, but degree programs often cost ten times as much. Financial aid and scholarships are available for LVN programs, just as they are for degrees.
If you’re hoping to work in nursing but can’t afford the program fees, contact the finance department at the institution you’d like to apply to and ask them for advice. You may be able to get access to a scholarship covering all or part of your program.
Demand for qualified nurses at all levels is very high, and this means you can get most of your education covered by bursaries, loan forgiveness programs and sponsorship. Once you have earned your LVN license, you may be able to request your employer cover the cost of progressing to the next level and becoming a registered nurse.
How long does it take to complete an online LVN program?
Depending on your academic background, you may be able to complete an online LVN program in as little as one academic year. Some programs offer the option of completing your study over a 20 month or two-year period. After completing the academic study, you’ll be expected to take the NCLEX-PN licensure examination before you can start working as a vocational nurse.
Other than program fees, what other costs are associated with an online LVN program?
There are several costs associated with your studies, and you should discuss the total cost of the program with the student finance department at the institution you’re planning to study with before you enroll. Some examples of costs to consider include:
- Application fees
- Continuing enrollment fees
- Module fees
- Examination fees
- Online subscriptions
- Miscellaneous fees for printing, photocopying, stationery
- Travel costs to attend practical sessions
Financial aid is usually available for would-be nurses who are facing financial hardship. However, some study-related expenses may be payable before financial aid comes through. For example, you may have to apply to a course before you receive confirmation about whether you’re eligible for financial aid.
Most online LVN programs have relatively low tuition fees compared to traditional, on-campus study. However, you’ll still need to spend money on textbooks and have access to a laptop so that you can complete your assignments. For some students, these could be the biggest expenses.
Best online LVN programs
The idea of studying for an LVN or practical nursing qualification online is still relatively new, and the heavy practical element of LVN programs means many institutions are still working out the best way to structure their LVN study pathways to allow students to complete as much of their studies online as possible.
There are some institutions that offer LPN or LVN courses online and that have formed partnerships with clinics or traditional universities to allow learners to get the experience they need for their licensing examination.
Which online LVN programs have the best reputation?
Some of the top-rated online LVN programs include:
- Practical Nursing Diploma from Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown SD
- Practical Nursing Diploma from Northwest Technical College, Bemidji, MN
- Practical Nursing Career Certificate from Holmes Community College, MS
- Vocational Nursing Program from Unitek College, Fremont, CA
These programs lead to an LVN or LPN title, depending on the location in which you take your licensure examination.
Lake Area Technical Institute
The Lake Area Technical Institute’s Practical Nursing Diploma is a hybrid online/on-campus course. Students can complete all of their practical nursing coursework online and any general education courses may be completed either on-campus or via any accredited college. Clinical experience sessions must be completed on campus, meaning this option may be unsuitable for those who live outside of South Dakota. The estimated total cost of the program is $12,650. There are full-time and part-time study options available.
Northwest Technical College
The Practical Nursing Diploma offered by Northwest Technical College is a full-time program with a remote study option for the general education element of the course. Students are required to complete practical nursing classes at the Bemidji campus in Minnesota. The program covers 38 credits, with a cost of $190.15 per credit for the nursing courses, and $199 per credit for general education courses studied via the online option. Graduates of the LPN program have the option of applying to continue their education and receive an Associate of Science in Nursing from the college.
Holmes Community College
Holmes Community College offers a Career Certificate in Practical Nursing with hybrid online and on-campus learning. The course is worth 45 credits, and can be completed over five semesters of part-time study. Students can expect to pay $137 per credit if they’re in-state or $247 per credit if they’re out-of-state. General education credits can be completed entirely online, but students must attend some classes in Goodman, Mississippi for nursing education, and complete some clinical experience hours at off-site facilities.
The Vocational Nursing Program at Unitek College prepares would-be nurses to take the LVN certification in California. The program was originally developed as an on-campus course, but was altered to become an online-hybrid program during the COVID-19 pandemic. This means general education courses and some elements of nursing are taught online, while hands-on skills are taught on-campus. Students can complete the course in 12 months. Financial aid is available.
Why is it important to choose an accredited LVN program?
There are many online courses offered that promise to teach students skills they need to work in a health care environment, and that even promise to allow students to study and earn certificates through 100% remote learning. These courses are often low-priced and imply that learners will be able to pursue lucrative careers after completing the course.
While it’s possible to learn certain elements of working in health care online, such as office-based skills, it’s not possible to become an LVN or LPN without completing clinical practice hours and graduating from an accredited course.
There are only two bodies that can accredit nursing education programs in the United States. They are the Accreditation Commission for Education In Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Practical and vocational nursing courses are accredited by the former, while bachelor’s, master’s and postgraduate qualifications are accredited by the latter.
If you want to work as an LVN or an LPN, you’ll have to complete an accredited course in order to take your licensure examination. If you’re concerned about the cost of an accredited course, remember that financial aid is available and that you’re investing in the opportunity to earn a qualification that will allow you to work in a financially rewarding and incredibly fulfilling career.