Licensed Vocational Nurse: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for licensed vocational nurses. Get the facts about job duties, education and licensure requirements 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 Vocational Nurse?

LVNs may perform basic medical tasks such as taking a patient's blood pressure or monitoring their vital signs. They provide basic medical care by changing bandages, inserting catheters, and may also help a patient bathe or dress. In some states they may be permitted to give a patient medication, while in other states LPNs may not have that authority. LPNs update patient charts, talk to patients about their care, and may help teach a patient or their family how to care for an ill or injured patient once they're discharged from the hospital. Since they work with patients who are ill, injured or disabled they need to be compassionate and have strong communication skills. For more information about entering this career field, see the following table.

Degree Required Post-secondary certificate or diploma
Education Field of Study Vocational nursing
Key Responsibilities Change patient dressings and other medical devices; assist patients with bathing, dressing, bathroom and eating; observe patient and report status to staff; make entries into patient records
Licensure and/or Certification All states require licensure
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses*
Median Salary (2015) $43,170 for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Licensed Vocational Nurse?

Licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), also known as licensed practical nurses (LPNs), play a key role in the care of patients and work in a variety of settings. LVNs are part of the health care team that determines the appropriate nursing care for each patient and are often among the ones who have the most direct contact with the patient. You might gather information about the patient's level of pain, measure and record his or her vital signs, give medications, collect blood samples for laboratory tests and help with personal hygiene needs.

There are many areas of health care you could choose to work in, because any place that provides direct patient care may utilize the skills of an LVN. Hospitals, of course, are a common employer, but you can also find opportunities in settings such as schools, nursing homes and doctors' offices, as well as with occupational health providers. Remember that your work schedule could vary in different settings because some patients may need 24-hour care.

What Types of Skills Should I Have?

Helping people who are sick or need medical care can be a demanding job and require both physical and mental strength. You can learn medical and technical knowledge through a training program, but you should also enjoy working with people. Because some patients may be uncooperative or upset, a caring and compassionate attitude is important. A desire to learn is also valuable because you may be required to complete periodic training to maintain your state license, or your employer may use a continuing education program to help staff keep their skills sharp.

How Do I Become an LVN?

To work as an LVN, you have to earn a license specific to your state. Each state may require additional qualifications, but you typically need to complete a training program approved by the state board of nursing and pass the NCLEX-PN (National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses) administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

There are many options to find an education program that fits your needs, whether through a community college, hospital or technical school, and you may even be able to enter while still in high school. Your education typically lasts less than two years and may result in a diploma, certificate or associate degree, depending on the school. These programs typically include courses in first aid, human anatomy and patient care. The programs also commonly require you to spend time in a clinical setting so you can gain practical experience with the medical technology and patients.

What Salary Could I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual salary for LVNs was $43,170 as of May 2015, but your salary may vary depending on the type of health care environment you work in, the shifts you work and your level of experience. Nursing homes and hospitals, two of the largest employers, reported mean annual salaries of $45,060 and $42,940, respectively. Certification in a specialty may also bring an increase in earnings.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Nursing assistants, occupational therapy aides, physical therapy aides and psychiatric aides all have professions that are similar to LVNs. Nursing assistants follow patient care plans and may help bathe or dress a patient, or take their vitals and update their chart. Like LVNs, they work under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians. Occupational therapy aides, physical therapy aides and psychiatric aides may all be involved in monitoring a patient to see if there are any issues of concern they should bring to the attention of the occupational therapist, physical therapist or psychiatrist. Additional duties for these aides can include cleaning and preparing treatment areas, assisting patients to and from the treatment area and monitoring patients' behavior. Nursing assistants need to complete a short postsecondary program, but occupational therapy aides, physical therapy aides and psychiatric aides do not need postsecondary training.

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