LPN: Career Definition, Job Outlook, and Training Requirements

Research what it takes to become an LPN. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) assist registered nurses and physicians by providing basic care for patients. Actual job duties vary, but could include monitoring and reporting on patient health and discussing care options with patients. LPNs typically work full time, and may be required to work night shifts or other odd hours, since medical care is administered around the clock in many facilities.

LPNs are employed in a number of healthcare settings, including hospitals, private physician's offices, nursing care facilities and private residences. Alternatively, they might seek work in laboratories or with insurance carriers. Almost every healthcare facility employs LPNs, because they provide support and allow registered nurses and doctors to see and meet the needs of more patients.

The following chart gives you an overview about the education and licensure requirements for becoming a licensed practical nurse.

Degree Required Postsecondary diploma or certificate
Education Field of Study Licensed practical nursing
Key Responsibilities Monitor patient status and vital signs and report to RN or doctor; provide basic nursing care like changing dressings and catheters; attend to patient comfort, bathing and dressing; maintain patient records
Licensure LPN licensure is required by all states
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16%*
Median Salary (2015) $43,170*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties?

Licensed practical nurses perform their duties under supervision from registered nurses (RNs) and doctors. In this role, you'd prepare patients for health examinations, give alcohol rubs, dress wounds and take vital signs. You'd also be responsible for feeding, changing and monitoring patients, preparing and performing lab tests, and teaching patients and their caretakers how to develop good health habits.

As you build experience, you may be responsible for supervising nursing assistants. Licensed practical nurses aren't able to diagnose or treat illnesses without the approval and supervision of a licensed doctor or RN. However, in some states, they are allowed to administer certain treatments, such as injections or IV treatments of prescribed medications.

What Is the Job Outlook?

As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for LPNs were expected to grow by 16% between 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). A growing elderly population, along with their need for the services of licensed practical nurses, contributes to this rapid forecasted job growth. Employment prospects for LPNs were expected to be quite good, particularly in home healthcare agencies and nursing homes, and also in rural areas. It was reported that as of 2015, licensed practical nurses who worked in nursing facilities earned $45,060 per year on average, and those who worked for home health care services earned an average of $45,460 each year.

What Training Requirements Must I Satisfy?

In order to become an LPN, following high school, you must complete a training program which has been approved at the state level. Many such LPN programs are offered at vocational schools, community colleges and technical schools. They're generally certificate-granting programs, and they take about one year to complete. Your curricula will consist of classroom and laboratory study, and you'll take classes on microbiology, English composition, human anatomy, pharmacology, developmental psychology, drug calculations and medical surgical nursing.

When you've completed your accredited program of study, you must pass a licensing examination in order to work professionally as an LPN. You'll be required to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) which is offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The 4-part, computerized examination will focus on physiological and psychosocial integrity, safe environments and health promotion.

Individual states may have additional licensing guidelines, so it's best to check with the board of nursing in your state for specific requirements. If you'd like to advance your career, keep in mind that as a practicing LPN, you may be able to complete an LPN-to-RN program, which will allow you to become a registered nurse with increased responsibilities and compensation.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are many other allied health professions to consider for those who may not want to become an LPN. For example, occupational therapy assistants work under occupational therapists to help patients with skills needed for daily living and working. Another option is to work as a surgical technologist, which requires completion of a non-degree certificate program, and involves preparing operating rooms and helping doctors during surgeries.

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