Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) work with doctors and registered nurses in administering healthcare. They are in direct contact with patients and with patients' families. Duties include patient intake procedures, for example, taking and recording vital signs such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration and temperature. The licensed vocational or practical nurse observes the overall progress of the patient and reports findings back to the registered nurse (RN) or doctor in charge. LPNs and LVNs may monitor patients' reactions to medication as well as their nutritional intake and state of health. These nurses may also perform clerical duties such as record keeping.
Licensed practical and vocational nurses are generally responsible for the comfort and safety of patients. This may include helping with bathing and other personal hygiene. Another important function performed by LVN/LPNs is education. They teach patients and patients' families about proper nutrition, and how to do such basic tasks as change dressings and administer medications.
LPNs and LVNs are basically the same, as the difference in title relates to the laws of the state in which they practice. In some states LVN/LPNs are permitted to administer intravenous (IV) drugs or start IV drips. State regulations also specify the degree to which the LVNs or LPNs must be directed by RNs or doctors.
How to Become a Licensed Vocational or Licensed Practical Nurse
The first step toward the LVN/LPN career is earning a certificate, diploma or degree from an accredited training program. These programs can be found at vocational schools, community colleges or hospitals, and they combine classroom or online learning with clinical practice under the supervision of licensed healthcare personnel. The subjects include general nursing concepts, anatomy, pharmacology and nutrition.
The coursework needed to pursue a career as a licensed practical or vocational nurse could take a year or more to complete. It is possible to take on-site courses in classrooms and clinics exclusively, or to take a hybrid approach, with some work done independently via online education, with practical and clinical work done on-site.
The following steps can help one become an LPN or LVN, although employment cannot be guaranteed:
- Obtain a high school diploma or GED, which is a prerequisite of most training programs.
- Complete an LVN/LPN training program, which may offer a diploma, certificate or undergraduate degree.
- Pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-PN. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the NCLEX-PN is required for LVN/LPN jobs in the U.S. (bls.gov)
- Do research on other employment regulations or qualifications, which can vary by state.
- Look into the different options in licensed nursing and determine which employment environment is the best fit.
- Apply to entry-level LVN/LPN jobs in one's area.
- Maintain skill levels and keep up to date, often through continuing education.
Post-Education Requirements: Certification and/or State Licensure
The requirements for continuing education for vocational and practical nurses differ by state. The following organizations are among those that can help with the pursuit of continuing education or additional nursing specialties:
- National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses (NFLPN): A professional organization for licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses and practical/vocational nursing students in the United States.
- Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association (DDNA): A group that offers specialized certifications and courses for nurses who want to work with special needs patients and population.
- National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service, Inc. (NAPNES): One of the oldest organizations dealing with the practical and vocational nursing profession, NAPNES advised on licensing requirements for practical nursing in the United States.
- National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses (NBCHPN): NBCHPN offers specialty certification for various levels of hospice and palliative nursing care and administration.
Job Growth and Average Salary
The BLS projects that LVN/LPN jobs could grow at a rate of around 22 percent nationally, between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than the average growth forecast for all U.S. occupations. In May 2012, the median LVN/LPN salary was $41,540, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $30,970 and the top 10 percent earning more than $57,360 nationally. LVN and LPN salary figures may vary, according to location and qualifications (bls.gov).
List of Related Careers
A number of related healthcare careers may interest LVN/LPNs, and some of these occupations may require additional training or experience:
- Acute Care Nurses: Work in emergency and intensive care facilities.
- Dental Assistants: Prepare patients and dental instruments, and keep records.
- Physical Therapist Assistants: Help to administer and document physical therapy routines.
- Psychiatric Technicians: Assist in care of patients with mental or emotional conditions or disabilities.
- Registered Nurses: Oversee patient care and educate patients about health conditions.
- Respiratory Therapy Technicians: Provide support for respiratory therapists and doctors.
Links to Sources and Associations
The following websites offer more information on LVN/LPN careers: