Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Guide | Salary & Programs 2024

9 Min Read Published May 16, 2024
Confident nurse wearing scrubs holding onto stethoscope

If you're thinking about becoming a nurse, one of the first choices is what kind of nurse should you be? An entry-level option that many aspiring nurses turn to is the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) route.

Licensed Practical Nurses are nurses who perform basic patient care tasks and help to keep patients comfortable. They work under the supervision of Registered Nurses (RNs) and other medical professionals.

If you're looking to start working as a nurse fast without spending a ton of money, becoming an LPN could be the perfect path for you. Read on to learn more about what working as an LPN is like and how to become one. 

 

What Is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?

An LPN or LVN is a type of nurse who is responsible for providing patients with essential care. This includes helping them to eat, dress, bathe, etc. They assist Registered Nurses (RNs) and Doctors in keeping detailed records, maintaining clear communication between the entire care team, and working with patients and their families to understand procedures and how to care for sick relatives.

While many nurses spend their entire careers working as an LPN, this position is also a great stepping stone to furthering your education and enjoying a pay increase by becoming an RN or Nurse Practitioner (NP)

 

Licensed Practical Nurse

Registered Nurse (RN)

Duties LPNs are directly involved in providing basic patient care and ensuring that patients are comfortable and well cared for. There will be times when an LPN administers certain medications and performs other duties such as taking blood pressure, inserting catheters and recording other vital signs. RNs take on more of a management role and are in charge of overseeing LPNs and other healthcare aides. They are also more involved in administering medications, treating patients, creating and coordinating care plans, and working closely with doctors to ensure optimal outcomes.
Education Requirements

Becoming an LPN requires completing an accredited practical nursing certificate program, which is usually offered at community colleges and take about a year to complete. Students can expect to take courses in biology, pharmacology, and nursing while also receiving hands-on clinical experiences.

 

There are three main paths to becoming an RN.

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) -  Takes 4 years to complete
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) - Takes 2-3 years to complete
  • Nursing Diploma or Certificate - Takes 1-2 years to complete 
Testing

Once you complete your practical nursing program, you will receive a certification, but you will have to pass the National Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) in order to become officially licensed and begin your career.

No matter what path you take to prepare for your RN licensure, you will have to pass the NCLEX-RN exam before you are able to begin practicing.

Salary
While salaries vary according to location, the median salary for an LPN is $59,730 per year - according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The good news is that this is a growing field with high demand, and salaries are expected to increase significantly over the next 10 years. The average salary for an RN is $86,070 per year, per the BLS, although this number will vary according to educational background and area. Those with a BSN-RN will enjoy a higher starting pay rate and overall earning potential.

LPN vs LVN

If you have been doing your research and come across the term Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), you are probably wondering how this title differs from an LPN. The truth is, they are basically the same. The main difference is that the term LVN is used in California and Texas, so if you live in one of these states, you will need to look for LVN programs.

Otherwise, both positions require the same certification and licensing process, offer the same pay, and come with similar responsibilities. The exact details of each position can vary according to how different hospitals and facilities delegate tasks, but for all intents and purposes, LPNs and LVNs occupy the same positions.

What Does an LPN/LVN Do? 

LPNs are essential to hospitals, nursing homes, doctor’s offices, and other healthcare facilities. They also work with individuals to provide one-on-one, private care. As part of their daily routine, LPNs provide essential nursing care for patients that can range from feeding and bathing to checking vital signs and administering medication.

LPNs are often the first point of contact for patients' family members and are responsible for explaining procedures and care programs. 

What Skills Does an LNP Need?

Because LPNS interact with RNs, doctors, patients, and their families, it is important that they have solid communication skills and are able to convey important information effectively and compassionately. A good bedside manner is a part of providing care and putting patients at ease. The best LPNs have a genuine passion for caring for others.

As an LPN, you will also need to have strong organizational skills. Nursing is a demanding, fast-paced job where people’s health and well-being depend on their ability to manage information and multi-task. It can be easy to get frazzled and make simple mistakes if you don’t have an organizational method in place. 

Perhaps most importantly, you need to have a certain tolerance for blood, bodily fluids, and all the different things you will see, touch and smell while dealing with the human body. Not everyone is cut out for dealing with these challenges, and it is important to be aware of your limits.

 

How to Become an LPN/LVN

The amount of time it will take to complete your LPN certification depends on which program you choose and whether you decide to go to school full-time.

There are accelerated LPN programs that can help you earn your certification in just 7 months. However, most people finish the program in 1-2 years, depending on how many credit hours they are able to take. 

1.) Earn a High School Diploma or GED

You must have already earned your high school diploma before you can apply for an LPN program.

2. Enroll in an Accredited LPN/LVN Training Program

You can find LPN programs at many vocational and community colleges. You just want to make sure you're attending an accredited program. The main accreditation organization for LPNs is the National League of Nursing Accrediting Agency (NLNAC)

3. Apply for Authorization to Test

Once you have successfully completed the certification program, you will need to apply for Authorization to Test through your local board of nursing and with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing

4. Schedule your NCLEX-PN Exam

After you have been authorized to test, you will need to sign up for and schedule your National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses, AKA your NCLEX-PN exam. There are testing sites located across the country, but spots tend to fill up fast, so you will want to begin the scheduling process as soon as possible. When you register for a date, keep in mind that you will want to allow yourself plenty of time to study. 

5. Wait For Your Results

After you take the exam, you will be able to view your results in as little as 48 hours. If you pass the exam, you will be mailed official results, and your State Board of Nursing will also mail you your license.

6. Start Working as an LPN

Finally, you can start applying for LPN jobs and begin your career as an LPN.

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LPN Salary

The median annual salary for an LPN was $59,730 in 2023, according to the BLS. However, LPNs in certain areas can earn over $70,000 per year.

In fact, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,670, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $77,870. Those numbers don’t include bonuses, overtime, holiday pay, and other benefits.

Certain facilities may offer financial help if you choose to further your education. All of these different benefits are something to consider as you shop around for the right job.

How to Earn More as an LPN

Pay and benefits for LPNs will vary widely according to what area of the healthcare system you are working in and your actual location. In general, LPNs can volunteer for available overtime and earn 1.5 times their normal salary. Full-time positions also come with holiday pay and sick time. Depending on the healthcare facility, LPNs can also earn bonuses and may be able to enroll in profit-sharing programs. 

The best way to earn more money is to become an RN. From there, you can earn advanced certifications and become a specialist in a wide variety of areas, including:

  • Aesthetic nurse
  • Burn nurse
  • Critical Care nurse
  • Hospice nurse
  • Informatics nurse
  • Intensive Care nurse
  • Newborn Nursery nurse
  • Orthopedic nurse
  • Psychiatric nurse
  • Telehealth nurse

Specializations will allow you to earn upwards of $90,000 a year. Becoming an RN can also be a stepping stone to earning your master's in nursing (MSN) or becoming a nurse practitioner, both of which come with higher salaries and access to upper-level positions.

Highest Paying States for LPNs

If you are flexible about relocating, you might consider moving to one of the top-paying states for LPNs, according to the BLS, which include:

State Average Salary
California $36.82 per hour or $76,580 annually
Rhode Island $ 36.28 per hour or $75,470 annually
Washington $ 36.26 per hour or $75,410 annually
Alaska $35.70  per hour or $74,260 annually
Massachusetts $35.29 per hour or $73,400 annually

 

Career Outlook

For those who want to start building a fulfilling career without having to complete extensive schooling, becoming an LPN offers a practical solution.

Instead of acquiring lots of student loan debt, nurses can quickly complete a degree and start earning money. Once they begin working, they can choose to further their education and take on additional responsibilities in order to earn more money and have access to additional professional opportunities.  

While there is a $20,000+ difference between the median starting pay of an LPN and an RN, some people find that working as an LPN is more fulfilling because they are able to interact with patients and their families and offer important care that provides comfort during vulnerable and stressful times. 

Top LPN Programs

There are numerous programs that prepare students to become licensed practical nurses, and our panel of nurses ranked them based on factors mentioned in the methodology. Below are the top 5, but check out our top LPN programs article to see the full list. 

  1. Helena College, Helena, Montana 
  2. River Valley Community College, Claremont, New Hampshire 
  3. Bridgerland Technical College, Logan, Utah
  4. Holmes Community College, Goodman, Mississippi 
  5. Northland Community and Technical College, Thief River Falls, Minnesota 

>> Related: Top Online LPN Programs

Where Can I Work as an LPN?

If you want to use your LPN certification to work in a hospital setting, you may find that you face stiff competition when it comes to securing a position. A lot of hospitals are choosing to limit the number of LPNs they hire and instead delegate duties between RNs and nurses’ aides.

While this isn’t true across the board, areas that are struggling with budgetary issues may not be offering as many opportunities to LPNs.

The greatest area for growth is in long-term care and hospice. As mentioned above, Americans are living longer but experiencing poorer health. This means that they need more help with essential care from a qualified provider.

If you want to capitalize on your certification, look for jobs in private and hospice care or home health care, where you will have the best chance of receiving offers from multiple facilities.

Resources

If you still have questions about what it means to be an LPN, what this career path could mean for your future and how to get started, you have a couple of options:

  1. Check out our LPN to RN guide to find out how you can advance your career with an RN degree.
  2. Visit and contact professional associations, such as:

 

FAQs

  • What is the difference between an RN and an LPN?

    • An RN is a Registered Nurse, while an LPN is a Licensed Practical Nurse. LPNs do not have the full scope of practice that RNs do. 
  • What is the role of a licensed practical nurse?

    • LPNs care for patients with lower acuity and cannot administer IV medications, perform wound assessments, or lead a code.
  • How long does it take to become an LPN?

    • An LPN program can be completed in as little as 1 year. 
  • Does an LPN draw blood?

    • LPNs are allowed to draw blood in most states, although the exact rules vary by state.

If you're interested in becoming an LPN, you might also want to check out these other healthcare careers:

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