How Can I Become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?

Explore the career requirements for licensed practical nurses. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Licensed Practical Nurse?

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a medical professional in the nursing field who has completed a certificate or diploma from an accredited LPN program and pass a national exam. They focus on the care of patients who are admitted to hospitals or are receiving medical treatment. Some of their duties include taking a patient's vital signs, updating patient charts, bathing and dressing patients, change bandages, insert catheters and report any concerns about a patient to a doctor or registered nurse. Thirty-eight percent of LPNs worked in nursing and residential care facilities as of 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Seventeen percent of LPNs worked in hospitals.

Degree Required Certificate or diploma from accredited LPN program
Education Field of Study Practical nursing
Key Responsibilities Use medical equipment to take patients vital signs; change dressings and other medical devices; provide for patient comfort and care; record and report patient status
Licensure or Certification Licensure required by all states; certifications available for specific medical specialties
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16%*
Median Salary (2015) $43,170*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Would I Do As a Licensed Practical Nurse?

You may perform tasks such as recording vital signs, administering injections, bathing and dressing patients, and aiding with personal hygiene. You may also monitor equipment, alerting doctors and nurses to changes in readings and outputs. You could perform informative tasks such as teaching new parents how to care for their infant or advising patients about proper diet.

What Education Do I Need?

To become an LPN, you need to complete a training program in practical nursing. To be eligible for licensure, your program needs to be state-approved. The National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (www.nlnac.org) lists accredited practical nursing programs, but be sure to check with your specific state's board of nursing as well. Typically, you need a high school diploma to gain entry into a practical nursing program. The programs can result in a certificate or an associate's degree and are a combination of classroom study and clinical practice under the supervision of hospital staff. Most programs strive to prepare you for the national practical nursing license exam.

How Do I Become Licensed?

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (www.ncsbn.org) offers the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). You must pass this exam to work as an LPN in the U.S. To take the exam, you need to apply for eligibility from your state's board of nursing. Some states require that you demonstrate education and work experience prior to receiving your license, while others require only that you pass the NCLEX-PN exam. Be sure to check your specific state's requirements.

When you have confirmed eligibility through your specific board of nursing, you may schedule a time to take the national exam. With a passing score, you will be a licensed practical nurse able to work in the jurisdiction of the board through which you sought licensure. If you move to another state, you will have to reapply for licensure.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Nursing assistants, physical therapy aides and occupational therapy aides all perform tasks that are similar to the work of a licensed practical nurse. Nursing assistants need to complete an accredited nursing assistant program. Physical therapy assistants and occupational therapy aides do not necessarily need postsecondary training. Physical therapy and occupational therapy aides perform routine tasks, such as answering phones, scheduling appointments, changing linens, cleaning equipment and treatment areas. They may also assist patients with insurance and billing forms, transport patients to appointments, and help patients move from room to room as needed. Nursing assistants perform many tasks that LPNs perform. They may change dressings, help patients bathe and dress, take a patient's vital signs and report concerns to nurses or doctors.

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