What is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Working as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) is often the perfect stepping stone for building a rewarding nursing career. Also called licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) in Texas and California, LPNs provide hands-on care at the patient’s bedside under the guidance of registered nurses. America’s aging baby boomer population is expected to spike the demand for quality healthcare services. LPNs will also be hired to help newly insured patients under the Affordable Care Act. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the employment of licensed practical nurses will grow faster-than-average by 16 percent through 2024, thus creating 117,300 jobs. Below is a brief job profile to help determine if becoming a licensed practical nurse in the booming medical industry is right for you.

What Licensed Practical Nurses Do

Licensed practical nurses have limited responsibilities to deliver basic care to sick, injured, and disabled patients. LPNs are trained to monitor vital signs, including temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and breathing, to track patients’ health. LPNs administer certain treatments like giving CPR, dressing wounds, inserting catheters, giving massages, and applying ice packs. Many will collect samples for routine laboratory tests. If needed, licensed practical nurses will assist patients in bathing, eating, dressing, and going to the bathroom. LPNs must keep meticulous medical records and report any concerns to registered nurses or physicians. Some states allow licensed practical nurses to provide injections or IV drips. Experienced LPNs may supervise certified nursing assistants.

Where Licensed Practical Nurses Work

The United States employs approximately 719,900 licensed practical or vocational nurses in diverse healthcare settings. The majority, around 38 percent, of LPNs work in skilled nursing and residential care facilities. LPNs often find employment in state, local, and private hospital systems. Other licensed practical nurses work in physician offices, home healthcare services, rehabilitation centers, government agencies, outpatient facilities, assisted living, and substance abuse hospitals. A few more work at insurance carriers and junior colleges. Most LPNs are employed full-time, but one-fifth works part-time. Since patients require round-the-clock care, LPNs usually work irregular night and weekend shifts. Most of a licensed practical nurse’s workday is spend standing, walking, bending, and lifting patients.

How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse

Aspiring licensed practical nurses must begin by completing their high school diploma or earning the GED equivalent. LPNs then participate in an approved post-secondary training program. LPNs can receive their one-year certificates from community colleges, vocational schools, and hospitals. Licensed practical nursing training blends courses in biology, nutrition, pharmacology, and physiology with applied clinical experience. After graduation, LPNs must pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-PN). Check specific requirements with your state board of nursing. Employers often prefer hiring LPNs who complete first aid and CPR training. LPN specialty certifications are also available in Gerontology and IV Therapy with the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses (NFLPN).

Related Resource: Perioperative Nurse

Overall, licensed practical nurses are entry-level nursing professionals who deliver the basic medical treatment patients need for various acute or chronic conditions. Becoming an LPN requires compassion, physical stamina, patience, and great interpersonal skills. On average, LPNs are rewarded with a yearly salary of $43,420. Many registered nurses, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse practitioners start out as LPNs. After gaining experience as a licensed practical nurse, there’s plenty of room for advancement to allow your nursing career to soar.