Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) are trained medical personnel who provide basic nursing facilities to treat a variety of medical issues. These nurses typically work under the direct supervision of registered nurses or physicians. Becoming a licensed practical nurse is one of the quickest ways of entering the field of medicine, as it does not require years and years of education. In addition to that, this credential can be used as a stepping stone for advanced studies and higher level nursing positions.
If you want to learn about how you can become a licensed practical nurse in the US, the following guide will provide an in-depth look at the process, along with giving information regarding salary potential and job outlook for this occupation.
What Does an LPN Do?
LPNs perform a variety of basic nursing duties under the direction of senior medical personnel. Typically, they are responsible for tasks such as monitoring patient’s health status by keeping track of their vitals. They also administer basic patient care like changing bandages or inserting catheters. In addition to that, LPNs help patients with basic life tasks such as taking a bath or putting on clothes. They also listen to the worries of patients and relay these to registered nurses or physicians, especially if there is a cause for serious concern.
The duties of an LPN would vary according to their work setting and the state where they are employed. For instance, in some states, LPNs are allowed to give medications or start intravenous (IV) drips, however, in other states, LPNs may not be licensed to perform these tasks. Similarly, in some states, LPNs have the authority to oversee and supervise the work of other LPNs and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs), while in most states, they do not have this authority.
How to Become an LPN?
In order to become an LPN, aspiring nurses will have to fulfill a series of requirements. The following list of steps to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) will shed some light on these requirements.
The first step towards becoming an LPN is to decide what type of credential to undertake. There are three main paths you can choose from – Diploma; Certificate; Degree. A diploma or a certificate is typically the fastest route to get into the workforce. However, it must be noted that credits from these programs do not count towards further education. A 2-year long associate degree might be the best option to go for, as it can help with advanced study options at a later stage.
Once decided on what credential to go for, aspiring nurses will have to look for a program approved by their state. Each state has its own educational criteria for LPNs and approves certain schools offering the required credentials. Most LPN year-long programs are offered at hospitals, community colleges or technical schools and provide an opportunity for supervised practical nursing clinical experience.
Once students have completed an approved LPN/LVN program, they will need to sign up for and clear the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). This is a mandatory requirement for all LPNs in every state across the US. The exam is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and has to be completed within 5 hours.
This is ideal for nurses who want to distinguish themselves and qualify for specialized clinical roles by completing additional coursework or training. Potential certification options for LPNs include gerontology, pharmacology, hospice and palliative care, long-term care, IV therapy and neonatal education.
Graduates of nursing programs who have cleared the NCLEX-PN exam can start looking for jobs in their local hospitals, clinics, outpatient care centers and offices of physicians.
After working as an LPN for a while, students can opt for advanced study programs as the next step in their careers. Programs to go for can be an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Both degree options provide a wider understanding of the field of nursing, along with opening up better career opportunities.
How Much Does an LPN Earn?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Licensed Practical Nurses made an annual mean income of $50,090 in May 2020. The earning potential for this occupation varied according to industry and location.
The top paying industry for LPNs was Junior Colleges, which paid an annual mean wage of $60,570. This was followed by Outpatient Care Centers, which paid an annual mean wage of $56,320, Insurance Carriers, that paid an annual mean income of $56,260 and Scientific Research and Development Services, which paid an annual mean wage of $54,490.
The top paying state for LPNs was Alaska, with an annual mean wage of $67,620, California, with an annual mean wage of $64,090, Massachusetts, with an annual mean wage of $60,400, Washington, with an annual mean wage of $59,780 and Nevada, with an annual mean wage of $59,700 in May 2020.
Please note that the above salary and occupation category data has been extracted from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for May 2020.
Where Do LPNs work?
LPNs can find employment in a number of medical settings, though the largest employer of these professionals is Nursing Care Facilities. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nursing Care Facilities employed 199,760 individuals in May 2020. The second highest employer for the industry was Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly, which employed 53,280 personnel. This was followed by Home Health Care Services, which employed 86,460 individuals, Outpatient Care Centers, which employed 33,540 personnel and Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals that employed 8,430 nurses.
How Long Does it Take to Become an LPN?
The length of an LPN program is typically around 12 months, though it can vary between 7 months and two years. Students are advised to check the program length with the institute they are applying to.
Admission Requirements for an LPN Program
Aspiring licensed practical nurses can find educational programs in community colleges, hospitals, technical schools and even high schools. The requirements for admission would vary from institute to institute. However, most programs would require the applicant to have at least a high school diploma or a GED certificate, with a minimum GPA of 2.5.
It must be noted that most programs would not require any prerequisite coursework to be completed. However, having a strong background in math and science can be very helpful. For some programs, students might also be required to provide letters of recommendation and a resume.
Common Coursework in an LPN Program
LPN/LVN programs are designed to give students a foundational understanding of the processes involved in basic healthcare. These programs explore a wide variety of subjects that revolve around areas like fundamentals of nursing, medications, anatomy of the human body and processes of disease. Courses covered include introduction to nursing, science coursework, patient care, population and specialty courses, geriatric nursing etc.
Advantages and Disadvantages of an LPN Program
The field of nursing offers a huge variety of programs and career paths. Students can choose a career path that fits well with their short-term and long term goals. For instance, those looking for a quick entry into this field, are likely to benefit from LPN/LVN programs. However, those who want to go for advanced positions are better off getting at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
In order to help aspiring nurses make a well-informed decision, we have compiled a list of advantages and disadvantages of getting an LPN degree. Let’s have a look.
Advantages of Getting an LPN Credential
The biggest advantage of becoming an LPN is that it requires only one year of education, as opposed to other nursing programs that can take anywhere between 2 years to 7-8 years. Another plus point of going for an LPN credential is that students can begin accruing professional experience quickly. This credential also gives students a competitive advantage when applying to higher education programs.
Disadvantages of Getting an LPN Credential
While there are many advantages of becoming a licensed practical nurse in the US, there are certain drawbacks as well. For instance, this career path would not qualify aspiring nurses for leadership positions. It also has several limitations to scope of practice as compared to Registered Nurses. In addition to that, LPNs are required to always work under the supervision of a licensed professional, such as a registered nurse or a physician.
Career Outlook for Licensed Practical Nurses
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Licensed Practical Nurses will experience a job growth of 9% in the years from 2019 to 2029. This growth is expected to add around 65,700 jobs in the same time period. The demand for LPNs will be driven by the aging population who will require medical attention on a long-term basis. LPNs will also be needed in residential care facilities and in home healthcare settings to care for old patients. In addition to that, licensed practical nurses will be required to take care of patients with common chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and obesity.
How Much Does an LPN Program Cost?
The cost of an LPN program would depend on several factors, such as the state and location, format of the program and the institute offering it. In addition to that, when determining the total cost of a program, you should also consider the cost of books, medical equipment you will need to purchase, such as stethoscopes and lab coats and other nursing supplies. On average, the tuition cost of an LPN program can vary between $10,000 and $15,000, though it can be higher than that as well. Generally speaking, public nursing schools are less expensive than private nursing schools.