Studying Practical Nursing

I’m interested in studying practical nursing. What can you tell me?

Practical nursing is a good field for those who enjoy helping others and are able to work hard. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) spend a lot of time caring for patients’ medical needs and comfort. This kind of work requires physical stamina as well as compassion. The healthcare industry is growing and licensed practical nurses have many options for employment. Depending on the workplace, LPNs may work regular hours or work in shifts. In 2010, three-fourths of LPNs worked full time and the remaining one-fourth worked part time or variable schedules. Many LPNs work nights, weekends and holidays. You can begin work as an LPN relatively quickly after high school with a 1-year certificate from a community college or technical school. However, advancement opportunities will be limited without further education. You can take continuing education in specialized forms of care or go back to school to become a registered nurse.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview Kristi Langham

Kristi Langham

Graduate, Certificate in Practical Nursing,Dalton State College

“In order to be a successful LPN, you should have compassion and integrity.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis

Adult Health Coordinator for Practical Nursing,Wallace State Community College

“If you are interested in studying nursing, I would tell you to go for it. I think that a lot of people have the wrong idea about what nurses do and what the lifestyle is like. If you feel called to the profession, you should pursue it.”Read the Full Interview

Licensed Practical Nurse Overview

What exactly is a licensed practical nurse?

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) provide basic medical care to patients under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and doctors. In California and Texas, LPNs are commonly referred to as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs). Licensed practical and vocational nurses perform tasks such as monitoring patients’ blood pressure, changing bandages and helping patients bathe and dress. They work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, nursing homes and patients’ homes as well as the prison system and the military. Nursing homes are the largest employers, with 29% of LPNs working in these facilities.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Sandra Dlaka

Sandra Dlaka

Registered Nurse,City Laser Clinic

“A nurse is more than someone who administers medications and performs procedures. A nurse is an advocate for patients.”Read the Full Interview

Personality Quiz

How do I know if practical nursing would be a good fit for me?

Here is a quick quiz to help you decide if you have the personality it takes to succeed as a licensed practical nurse. Rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well each of the following statements describes you.

I am a caring person and enjoy helping others.

Nursing is a caregiving profession. If you enjoy helping others, it will motivate you as a licensed practical nurse.

I am detail-oriented and pay attention to small things.

Nurses must notice changes in patients’ condition and make sure medications are administered at the correct times and doses. You must be detail-oriented to provide good healthcare.

I am a team player and work well with others.

Licensed practical nurses care for patients in coordination with doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. You will need to work well as part of a team to be a licensed practical nurse.

I am even-tempered and remain calm in stressful situations.

Patients and families are sometimes upset and may behave rudely. You will have to respond calmly and avoid becoming upset yourself.

I am a good listener and understand instructions.

Licensed practical nurses receive instructions from doctors and registered nurses and listen to concerns from patients. You must listen attentively and ask appropriate questions to be a licensed practical nurse.

I am a good communicator and have excellent language skills.

Nurses explain treatments to patients, make notes in patients’ charts, and pass information to other medical staff. You will have to communicate clearly in speaking and writing in order to work in nursing.

I am physically capable and can work on my feet all day.

In a typical workday a licensed practical nurse will stand, bend over patients, lift equipment and help to position patients. In order to work in this field, you must be capable of performing physical tasks for long periods of time.

I am comfortable dealing with people from different backgrounds.

Patients come from all ethnic and social backgrounds. If you are comfortable dealing with a diverse population, it will help you to provide good healthcare to all of your patients.

I am organized and can keep track of many things at once.

Nurses may deal with many patients in a hospital ward, or with a single patient whose treatment is complex. You must be able to keep track of many things at once so you do not forget any details of your patients’ treatment.

I am comfortable taking on responsibility.

Licensed practical nurses affect people’s quality and length of life. If you are not comfortable with that responsibility, nursing may not be a good choice for you.

Get My Score

*Note that this is not a scientific quiz. The result is simply my rough estimate of how well I believe your personality matches that of a successful licensed practical nurse.

By my assessment, a career as a licensed practical nurse is probably not a good fit for your personality. Please go to the Admissions Advisor homepage for a listing of other careers you may want to consider.

By my assessment, although a career as a licensed practical nurse may not be an ideal fit for your personality, if you are willing to adapt in a few areas, you can still find success in the field. Please see the list to the right for information on the areas that you may need to work on.

By my assessment, your personality is a good fit for a career as a licensed practical nurse. Scroll through our site to gain valuable insight into what it will take you to earn the necessary credentials.

Making the Right Choice

Is there anything else I should consider in deciding if becoming a licensed practical nurse is the right choice for me?

In deciding if becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) is the right choice for you, consider whether your state’s limitations on the kinds of job duties and tasks that LPNs can perform are acceptable to you. You should also consider whether you will be comfortable with the background checks and drug testing that any position in the medical field, including working as an LPN, will require.

Limitations on Duties of LPNs

Licensed practical nurses are not permitted to practice independently. They must work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and doctors. Each state has different laws that define the form that this supervision must take and what tasks LPNs are allowed to perform. In some states, LPNs only monitor and record patients’ health and help patients bathe or dress. In other states, they are allowed to administer medications. In general, any changes in a patient’s care must be made at the direction of a doctor or RN.

Background Checks and Drug Testing

Background checks are required by many states, employers and training programs in nursing. A background check is a review of publically and privately available information about a person. Background checks for nursing examine information such as:

  • Conviction or arrest for any crimes
  • History of drug use
  • History of domestic abuse or child abuse
  • Disciplinary action related to Medicare or Medicaid services
  • Social security number verification
  • State and federal fingerprint databases

Many nursing schools and employers require regular or random drug testing for nurses. If you fail a drug test as a student, you will not be permitted to complete the educational program. If you fail a drug test as a professional nurse, you will be reported to the state Board of Nursing and may lose both your job and your license.

Licensed Practical Nurse Professions

What licensed practical nurse professions can I choose from?

Education Required:

Certificate (1 year)

Average Salary:

$66,000

Work Environment:

Doctor’s offices

Job Description:

Office nurses coordinate and provide nursing care for patients in doctor’s offices. They prepare patients for the doctor by bringing patients to examination rooms, recording patients’ medical histories and taking measurements such as blood pressure and weight. When directed to, office nurses perform medical tests. Office nurses also maintain the office by restocking supplies, cleaning instruments and maintaining examination rooms.

Education Required:

Certificate (1 year) plus professional experience (1 – 2 years)

Average Salary:

$71,000

Work Environment:

Hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, assisted living facilities

Job Description:

Charge nurses supervise the care of a group of patients. They direct and schedule the work of nurses and aides and assist in developing plans for patient care. They may also provide direct nursing care to patients. LPN charge nurses summarize concerns and report them to a registered nurse (RN) who supervises their work.

Education Required:

Certificate (1 year) plus professional experience (1 – 2 years)

Average Salary:

$38,000

Work Environment:

Hospitals, urgent care clinics, hospices, medical call centers

Job Description:

Triage nurses determine the order patients are seen in, based on how severe their medical condition is. The triage nurse is often the first person a patient interacts with upon entering a hospital emergency department or an urgent care clinic. Triage is also conducted by telephone in poison control centers, medical advice hotlines, abuse or mental health hotlines, clinics, college health centers, emergency rooms and hospices. By asking questions, a telephone triage nurse assesses the medical condition of the caller and directs the patient to the appropriate form of medical care or information. Some states allow LPNs to work as triage nurses and other states do not.

Education Required:

Certificate (1 year)

Average Salary:

$56,000

Work Environment:

Private homes, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities

Job Description:

Private duty nurses care for clients in a 1-on-1 relationship. They attend to patients in their homes, in nursing homes and in hospital rooms. Families hire private duty nurses directly or through agencies and registries. Private duty nurses record and report changes in their patients’ conditions. They maintain ventilators, breathing tubes and feeding tubes. They also attend to their patients’ comfort and hygiene.

Education Required:

Certificate (1 year)

Average Salary:

$44,000

Work Environment:

Hospitals

Job Description:

Neonatal LPNs care for babies who experience health problems as newborns or shortly after birth. Some common health problems are caused by premature birth, birth defects, infections and surgical problems. LPNs show new parents how to care for their infants, monitor the vital signs of infants and assist in deliveries of babies. For very ill babies, neonatal LPNs may maintain intravenous (IV) fluids and monitor oxygen levels.

Education Required:

Certificate (1 year)

Average Salary:

$40,000

Work Environment:

Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospices, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, medical clinics, doctor’s offices

Job Description:

Geriatric licensed practical nurses provide care for elderly patients. They record patients’ health history and monitor vital signs. They help patients eat, bathe and dress. In some states, geriatric LPNs administer medication and give injections. Geriatric care is complex because patients often have a combination of health issues, which may include memory problems, chronic pain, loneliness and depression.

Education Required:

Certificate (1 year) plus professional experience (1 year)

Average Salary:

$52,000

Work Environment:

Hospitals, medical clinics

Job Description:

Traveling licensed practical nurses fill temporary vacancies in healthcare facilities. They work for agencies that send them to facilities in all states and U.S. territories. A traveling LPN performs the same duties as a regular LPN, such as welcoming patients, maintaining medical charts, restocking supplies and attending to patient comfort and hygiene. Traveling nurses must be licensed in the state that they will travel to before the assignment begins, or else that state and the nurse’s home state must honor each other’s nursing licenses.

Education Required:

Certificate (1 year) plus professional experience (1 year)

Average Salary:

$29,000

Work Environment:

Private homes

Job Description:

Paramedical examiners, also known as mobile phlebotomists, travel to private homes. They work for paramedical services companies and conduct medical examinations that are required for the patient to obtain life insurance. Some paramedical examiners have completed LPN training. Others are trained as registered nurses (RNs), medical technicians, medical assistants, paramedics or phlebotomists.

Job Outlook

What is the job outlook for licensed practical nurses?

The job outlook for licensed practical nurses is excellent. In 2010 there were 752,300 jobs for licensed practical nurses. By 2020 there will be an additional 168,500 jobs, which is an increase of 22%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections for licensed practical nurses. Job opportunities for licensed practical nurses are caused by the growth of the healthcare industry and retirement of people currently working as LPNs. Jobs in healthcare are growing in response to the increasing number of elderly people in the U.S., who will need care in hospitals, nursing homes, doctor’s offices and at home. A large number of licensed practical nurses are expected to retire between 2010 and 2020, causing additional job openings.
Profession Employment Projected Average Growth

Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011

Profession 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

Salary By Percentile

Profession 10th 25th 50th 75th 90th

Education Requirements

How long would it take me to become a licensed practical nurse?

It takes 1 year to become a licensed practical nurse. In this time, you will complete an academic certificate program at a technical school or community college. You will then take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). After passing the exam, you will obtain a license in your state.

Areas of Study

What can I expect to learn while studying to become a licensed practical nurse?

While studying to become a licensed practical nurse, you can expect to learn both knowledge and skills.

KNOWLEDGE

Anatomy and Physiology

Anatomy and physiology is the study of the structure and function of the body. Anatomy examines the body by regions, such as the abdomen, neck or fingers. Physiology categorizes the body according to functional systems. For example, the nervous system processes sensory information and conveys signals to and from the brain. The circulatory system moves blood through the body, transporting oxygen, nutrients and waste products. The immune system allows the body to recognize and defend itself against disease.

Medical-Surgical Nursing

Medical-surgical nursing is the applied study of nursing adults who have acute illnesses, injuries or are recovering from surgery. This field includes principles of how disease affects physiology, the body’s healing processes and response of the body to treatment. Courses in this field address patient assessment, administration of medication and documentation.

Pharmacology

Pharmacology is the science of drugs, including their uses, effects and modes of action. In practical nursing, pharmacology includes classes of drugs, drug action and interaction and principles of medication administration. Drugs are often categorized by their use, such as pain management, fighting infection and treatment of diabetes. Courses in this field cover mathematics for dose calculation and common methods of administering medication.

Maternal-Child Nursing

Maternal-child nursing is the applied study of nursing care for pregnant women, women in labor and newborn children. In addition to medical needs, this field of nursing addresses cultural, spiritual and psychological needs. Topics in this field include factors affecting child growth and development, the needs of the family and specific nursing care for health problems that affect mothers and children.

Psychology

Psychology is the study of mental and emotional processes in the human mind. The fields of psychology most relevant to nursing are abnormal psychology, which is the study of mental disorders, and developmental psychology, which is the study of how people change mentally and socially as they age. Knowledge of psychology is used in nursing to treat patients with severe psychological problems as well as patients who suffer from depression and loneliness.

SKILLS

Chart Maintenance

As you progress through your coursework to become a licensed practical nurse, you will learn how to maintain a medical chart. Every time a patient visits a medical facility, their chart must be updated with information about their medical history, current symptoms, vital signs and current medication. While patients are receiving care at the facility, LPNs record their daily medication times and fluid intake and output.

Medical Equipment Use

You will learn how to use medical equipment during your studies of practical nursing. LPNs use equipment to assist doctors and registered nurses during procedures, such as operating a suction pump during surgery. LPNs also use equipment to prepare patients for transport, such as a power lift to transfer a patient from a bed to a wheelchair. Some equipment is operated for a patient’s comfort, such as adjustable beds and heating pads.

Patient Medical Care

As you study to become a licensed practical nurse, you will gain skills in caring for patients’ medical needs. You will learn to clean wounds and apply bandages. Special care is needed for patients who are receiving intravenous (IV) fluids, oxygen and gastric tube feedings. You will learn how to record the levels of IV fluids and change oxygen supplies and gastric tubes. In the healthcare field, these types of care are called skilled care.

Patient Personal Care

Your curriculum in practical nursing will teach you how to help patients with their activities of daily living. This type of care is called custodial care in the healthcare field. You will learn how to safely assist patients in bathing, dressing, eating, getting out of a bed or a chair and using the bathroom. Listening to patients is an important type of personal care. LPNs spend more time interacting with patients than most other healthcare providers.

Infection Control

In your studies of practical nursing, you will learn precautions to prevent infection from spreading. Infection is controlled in medical practice by proper disposal of needles, cleaning of equipment, proper waste disposal and universal precautions such as always wearing gloves. You will learn procedures for working with patients whose condition is very contagious and patients whose immune systems make them extremely vulnerable to infection.

Academic Degrees

What academic levels are available in the field of practical nursing?

The only academic level available in practical nursing is an undergraduate certificate. Upon completion of the certificate, students have the choice of entering the workforce as licensed practical nurses or continuing their education with a training program for registered nurses.

Select the degree level you are interested in:

  • Certificate

Certificate

A certificate in practical nursing is the educational requirement to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Certificates are offered by community colleges and technical schools and sometimes by hospitals and high schools.

What are the different types of certificates that I can earn?

The only type of certificate available in practical nursing is an undergraduate certificate. Before starting a practical nursing certificate program, you will be required to offer proof of vaccinations and pass a criminal background check. You may also be required to pass a drug test and a physical examination to show that you have the physical abilities to perform the duties of an LPN.

How long will I have to study?

It takes 1 year to complete a full-time certificate program. Part-time programs, which offer classes during evenings and weekends, take 18 months to complete. Certificate programs require from 39 to 78 credit hours.

What types of courses will I take?

While studying for your certificate in practical nursing, you can expect to take courses in human anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, psychology, medical-surgical nursing and maternal-child nursing. Some certificate programs also require courses in geriatric nursing, microbiology, English composition and mathematics.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure?

With a certificate in practical nursing, you can work as a licensed practical nurse. LPNs work in medical facilities such as hospitals, doctor’s offices and medical clinics. They also provide care in residential facilities such as nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and assisted living facilities. LPNs also work in private homes, correctional facilities and the armed services.

What should I consider when deciding on a school?

When deciding on a school to earn your certificate in practical nursing, make sure that the certificate programs you consider are approved by your state Board of Nursing. If the program you complete is not approved in your state for becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN), you may not be able to obtain a nursing license. To contact your state Board of Nursing, you can look up phone numbers and websites by visiting the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

What about getting an online certificate?

No completely online licensed practical nurse certificates are offered. Because practical nursing requires learning hands-on skills, students must attend laboratory and clinical classes in traditional classrooms and healthcare facilities. A few schools offer certificate programs in a hybrid format. Students take courses in theoretical subjects through an online licensed practical nurse program and laboratory and clinical courses through a traditional certificate program. As of 2012, 1 school offers distance learning, in which students take lecture-based courses for their licensed practical nurse certificate online, and they travel to the campus for designated on-campus days.

Once you have become a licensed practical nurse, continuing your education can be done online. A number of schools offer online licensed practical nurse programs commonly called LPN-to-RN bridge programs, which allow LPNs to complete the additional education that they need to become registered nurses (RNs).

Licensing Information

What else should I keep in mind when considering studying practical nursing?

Licensing

In order to practice nursing, you must be licensed in your state. Each state has its own licensing requirements. To find out the requirements in your state, contact the state Board of Nursing or review the state licensing information at the Nursing License Map website. Contact information for each state Board of Nursing is available from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

All 50 states require that you complete an accredited training program for practical nursing and that you pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). States may also require that you pass a background check to determine if you have been convicted of any crimes.

States that are members of the Nurse Licensure Compact will honor nursing licenses from other states. This effectively creates a multistate license for nurses who live in the participating state. As of 2012, 24 states are members of the Nurse Licensure Compact.

Continuing Education

Licensed practical nurses must pursue continuing education in order to maintain their licenses. Each state Board of Nursing has different requirements for how many contact hours of continuing education an LPN must complete and how often, and what providers of continuing education are accepted. LPNs can find continuing education courses at hospitals, community colleges, online schools and home study programs.

Questions & Answers

Select a category to find answers to your questions

Resources

What are some other resources that can help me learn more about studying to become a licensed practical nurse?

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

O*NET Online – Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

American Nurses Association – What is Nursing?

Working Nurse – Nursing Specialties

National Council of State Boards of Nursing

NAPNES – National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service, Inc.

NFLPN – National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses

National Association of Neonatal Nurses

Professional Association of Nurse Travelers