What Is An LPN/LVN?
Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, under the direction of registered nurses and doctors, are responsible for a wide range of healthcare functions and have direct contact with patients and their families. These nurses perform basic medical procedures such as applying and changing dressings, as well as observing patients' health issues and keeping records. They may also gather medical information from patients and their families or instruct family members on how to care for patients.
Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses are basically the same, but different states use different titles. All LPNs and LVNs must obtain a license, which requires passing the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-PN). For additional information, see our LPN/LVN career page.
LPN/LVN Program Information
Courses to help students preparing for LPN and LVN credentials are available from technical schools, community colleges, universities and some hospitals. On-site clinical experience is typically an important component of an LPN training program. Instruction in fundamental nursing concepts and subjects such as pharmacology or biology may be available through classroom education or through online studies.
LPN coursework combines with the in-service opportunities to observe, and in some cases assist with, patient interactions. The typical training program includes such topics as basic nursing practices, infection control, control and documentation of medications, anatomy, and common disease symptoms. Students may take courses focused on the ethical and legal responsibilities of healthcare professionals.
LPN/LVN Program Types
LPN schools typically offer one the following options:
- Certificate or Diploma: Most LPN programs take approximately one year to complete, per the BLS, but the time frame potentially could stretch from 7 to 24 months, according to the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses. Students are usually exposed to theoretical and practical knowledge, as well as hands-on practice with patients.
- Undergraduate Degree: Associate or bachelor's degree options exist, but they typically target those who are already LPNs or LVNs and who wish to earn an advanced nursing degree or prepare for a career as a registered nurse (RN). These programs may be called bridge or career mobility programs.
State nursing boards list accredited schools and approved courses that can help prepare students for the NCLEX-PN exam. It's important for aspiring licensed nurses to investigate the regulations of the state in which they wish to practice.
LPN/LVN Course Descriptions
While various LVN/LPN schools may differ in their approach to the material, the majority of them share a similar core curriculum. Students may choose additional courses according to their career aims. Common courses include the following:
- Nursing Fundamentals: Coursework covers basic nursing principles and skills, including infection avoidance, vital sign evaluation, body mechanics and anatomy, and hygiene.
- General Nutrition: Classes concentrate on the role that food and nutrition can play in both maintaining and regaining health.
- Pharmacology: Courses examine how drugs affect the healing process and how to administer them.
- Pediatric and Infant Care: Students focus on the special healthcare needs of children.
Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses may seek specialized training within the field, such as:
- Acute long-term care
- Intravenous (IV) therapy
- Maternity care
Specific employment situations emphasize different areas of expertise. Students with particular career aims can focus on the skills that would be useful in those work areas.
Possible Career Options For LPNs/LVNs
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2012, the highest levels of employment for LPNs and LVNs in the U.S. were in the following healthcare settings:
- Nursing care facilities
- General medical and surgical hospitals
- Offices of physicians
- Home healthcare services
The largest group of LVNs and LPNs (about a quarter of these professionals) worked in skilled nursing facilities, for example:
- Residential homes for the elderly and infirm
- Recuperation and rehabilitation centers
- Hospices for the terminally ill
LPNs and LVNs could also be interested in related careers. Additional training or experience may be needed for positions such as the following:
Links to Sources and Associations