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Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Career Guide

What is a licensed practical nurse?

Licensed practical nurses are an integral part of a broader team of healthcare professionals providing patient care. They work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and doctors, performing various nursing duties that involve direct contact with patients. They focus on offering personal care to patients, monitoring their health conditions, and responding to their medical needs promptly. By doing so, these professionals significantly enhance patients’ health outcomes and overall healthcare experience.

Duties and responsibilities

LPNs perform an extensive range of duties typical to the nursing profession. They administer medications and injections, measure and record vital signs, and monitor patients’ medical conditions. They’re also responsible for dressing wounds, giving enemas, collecting urine and stool samples for lab tests, helping patients with personal hygiene, and providing basic bedside care. These nurses also provide emotional support to patients, help explain treatment plans, and facilitate communication between patients and their families.

They are part of the team that works closely with doctors, RNs, and other medical professionals to plan, implement, and evaluate patient care plans. They use judgment to notify appropriate personnel about any changes in a patient’s condition that require attention. Their responsibilities also involve documenting and maintaining accurate patient records in line with healthcare regulations and protocols.

Work environment

LPNs typically work in various healthcare settings, both clinical and non-clinical. These include hospitals, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, and residential care facilities. They can also be found in private homes providing home-care nursing services, schools as school nurses, or rehabilitation centers caring for patients recovering from injuries or surgeries. Their work environment can be fast-paced and stressful, particularly in emergency or intensive care units that require high levels of patient care.

On the other hand, those working in home care or private practice settings may experience a slower pace with more personalized care responsibilities. It’s important to note that these professionals may be exposed to health risks from direct contact with patients, infectious diseases, and medical equipment. However, observing stringent health and safety protocols minimizes these risks.

Typical work hours

The nature of healthcare often requires around-the-clock patient care, making nursing a 24-hour job. LPNs usually work full-time, and their shifts can include days, evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. The shifts can be 8 or 12 hours long depending on the healthcare facility or the specific patient care requirements.

In some facilities, such as hospitals and nursing homes, these nurses may need to be available for on-call duty. They must be ready to report to work on short notice during emergencies. On the other hand, those employed in schools and certain healthcare clinics may have more regular work schedules, typically during school or office hours. Keep in mind that their work hours can be physically demanding and require good physical stamina.

How to become a licensed practical nurse

This career guide section outlines the process of becoming an LPN. The journey primarily involves obtaining appropriate education, gaining certification, and demonstrating real-world experience.

Step 1: High school education

Completing high school or obtaining your GED is the initial step that provides a foundational knowledge base, including basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, which are essential in this career.

Step 2: Complete a state-approved training program

The next stage involves enrolling in a state-approved practical nursing program, which typically takes around one year. These programs combine classroom instruction with supervised clinical experience. You’ll learn essential skills like nursing, biology, and pharmacology.

Step 3: Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN)

After completing your training program, the next critical step is passing the NCLEX-PN. This exam assesses your ready-to-practice knowledge and is necessary to gain licensure as an LPN. It covers four major areas: health promotion and maintenance, care environments, physiological integrity, and psychology.

Step 4: Obtain state licensure

After passing the NCLEX-PN, you must apply for licensure in the state where you plan to practice. It’s important to note that requirements may vary from state to state, making it advisable to research the specific requirements of the state you plan to serve.

Step 5: Gain work experience

Gaining real-world experience under the supervision of an RN or physician is a key step. It improves your clinical skills and prepares you for the challenges you’ll face in the field. While this could be completed alongside your program or post-graduation, accruing additional experience can be beneficial in building a strong resume.

Step 6: Continuing education and specialization

A licensed practical nurse often continues their education while working. By enrolling in specialized courses, you can hone specific skills relevant to your place of work, such as geriatrics, pediatrics, or mental health. Not only does this increase job competency, but it can also open doors for career advancement.

How much do licensed practical nurses make?

LPN salaries vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Additional credentials, such as certification in gerontology, IV therapy, or pharmacology, may affect earnings. Employers might also value experience in a specialized area like pediatrics or wound care.

Highest paying industries

  • Insurance and Employee Benefit Funds – $58,300
  • Grantmaking and Giving Services – $57,320
  • Scientific Research and Development Services – $56,790
  • Federal Executive Branch – $55,660
  • Outpatient Care Centers – $55,540

Highest paying states

  • Alaska – $63,850
  • Massachusetts – $59,130
  • California – $58,770
  • Connecticut – $58,730
  • Nevada – $58,700

Browse LPN salary data by market

Types of LPNs

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for licensed practical nurses. In this section, we aim to clarify the diverse roles that fall under this profession and the unique set of responsibilities and tasks that set them apart.

Pediatric LPN

Working in the pediatric ward or clinics, these LPNs hold special responsibility in dealing with the healthcare of younger patients – newborns to young adults. Typically, they provide routine care, administer vaccinations, and assist doctors during examinations of patients. Being skilled in communication with children and their parents is an important factor in this specialization.

Geriatric LPN

Focusing on the older population, those specializing in geriatrics assist elderly patients and provide appropriate nursing care. Nursing duties in this field include managing and administering medication, assisting with mobility, and carefully monitoring health conditions. Professionals in this role tend to work more frequently in senior care facilities and assisted living homes.

Surgical LPN

These professionals play a significant role in the surgical care process. Working in surgical environments demands excellent coordination skills, sterilizing and preparing the operating room, handing out instruments to surgeons during procedures, and providing pre and post-operative care. The setting for this specialty can range from hospitals to outpatient surgery centers.

IV therapy LPN

This specialty area emphasizes the handling of intravenous therapy. Professionals who follow this path are skilled in setting up IV lines, monitoring a patient’s response to the therapy, and adjusting patient treatments as necessary. This role demands deep knowledge and skills related to the human circulatory system and infection control measures.

Travel LPN

This specialization involves providing nursing care in temporary contract positions locally, nationally, or even internationally. The healthcare setting can vary immensely from hospitals to nursing homes. Professionals in this role can experience various healthcare systems and practices while exploring new locations and cultures.

Top skills for LPNs

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a licensed practical nurse.

Technical skills

This profession relies heavily on important technical skills, which include being well-versed in medical terminology, having excellent pharmacology knowledge, proficiency in basic nursing skills such as wound care and intravenous therapy, and adeptness in operating medical equipment.

Communication abilities

Effective communication is essential for listening to patients’ needs, conveying medical information clearly to patients and their families, and collaborating with medical professionals to provide coordinated care.

Strong observation

Delivering good care requires constant vigilance. Those in this role must have exceptional observational skills to monitor changes in patients’ conditions, as well as excellent attention to detail to follow medical protocols and administer treatments.

Physical stamina

As the role can involve long hours standing and moving, physical fitness is beneficial. LPNs also regularly assist in lifting or transferring patients. It’s a physically demanding role that requires both stamina and strength.

Compassion and patience

The profession calls for empathy toward patients in distress or pain. It requires a patient and understanding approach to care for individuals’ holistic needs.

Licensed practical nurse career path options

If you’ve already started your career as an LPN, you’ve taken the first major step in a rewarding healthcare profession. Yet, it’s just the beginning of your journey in terms of professional development, as nursing offers vast opportunities for progression and advancement.

After gaining experience, you could aim for an RN position. This role involves a broader scope of responsibilities, resulting in increased compensation. However, becoming a registered nurse requires further education – either an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).

There’s also an option to specialize in a certain nursing sector, such as pediatric, geriatric, or intensive care nursing. Specializations require extra training and education, yet they offer an opportunity to focus on an area you’re passionate about and often come with income growth.

From an overall perspective, the career landscape for licensed practical nurses is ever-changing. Technological advancements, legislation changes, and evolving patient needs all contribute to these shifts. For instance, new tools are changing the way health professionals operate. With advancements in electronic health records and telehealth platforms, clinic and hospital visits are becoming efficient and more streamlined.

The demand for healthcare providers, including LPNs, is rising as the population ages. The elderly have an increased need for healthcare services, reflecting increased demand for this profession. As more people gain access to health care, opportunities for nurses in areas like preventative and community care are expanding. It’s also noteworthy to mention the trend of more LPNs venturing into specialized fields. Comfortable in their roles, these professionals seek further training to specialize in areas like gerontology and pediatrics.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of licensed practical nurses is projected to grow 6 percent through 2031, roughly the average for all occupations.

Licensed practical nurse career tips

Stay current with nursing techniques and theory

You should always stay updated with the latest nursing techniques, theories, and clinical practices. Attending workshops, seminars, and continued education classes is vital to keep your skills up-to-date and practical. Healthcare is an ever-evolving field; hence, making lifelong learning a significant part of your professional journey can greatly support your success.

Nurture communication skills

You’ll be interacting with patients of different age groups, backgrounds, and medical conditions, along with their families and other healthcare professionals. Developing your ability to express yourself and understand others clearly can greatly enhance your success and effectiveness in your role.

Build a professional network

Networking is an integral part of any career, including nursing. Building a solid professional network can help you learn from others, discover opportunities, and open avenues for collaboration and learning. Join professional associations and online communities to start building your network.

  • National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses
  • American Nurses Association
  • Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service

Seek specialization

Specializing in a specific area of healthcare or nursing can boost your career prospects. Whether pediatrics, geriatrics, or mental health, developing expertise in a particular area can lead to growth opportunities, enhance credibility, and make you more attractive to potential employers.

Invest in continuous learning

Investing in your education as an LPN continues after graduation. It’s important to learn and develop your skills throughout your career continually. Here are some specific ways to achieve this:

  • Enroll in continuing education programs related to your field
  • Attend workshops and seminars for professional development
  • Consider furthering your education with a bridge program to become an RN

Pursue certifications

Certifications are excellent ways to validate your specialized skills and knowledge. Some require additional education, training, or passing an exam. They provide formal recognition of professional competence and can boost your employability.

Where the LPN jobs are

Top employers

  • Genesis HealthCare
  • Correct Care Solutions
  • Maxim Healthcare Services
  • Interim HealthCare
  • Amedisys

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Pennsylvania
  • New York

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Nurse.com
  • Monster
  • CareerBuilder


What educational qualifications are needed to become an LPN?

To become a licensed practical nurse, you must complete a practical nursing program. It typically takes one year to complete and can be found at technical schools and community colleges. Upon completion of the program, you’ll receive a diploma and be eligible to take the NCLEX-PN examination, the certification exam for practical nurses.

What skills and qualities are necessary for a successful career as an LPN?

The profession requires strong interpersonal skills to interact with patients, doctors, and other healthcare professionals. You must be organized and detail-oriented to maintain accurate patient records. To excel in this role, you should possess physical stamina, emotional resilience, flexibility, and the ability to handle stress effectively.

In what settings do LPNs typically work?

These professionals can be found in nursing homes, hospitals, doctors’ offices, home health services, schools, and rehab facilities. Their specific responsibilities vary widely depending on their workplace.

What is the difference between an LPN and an RN?

LPNs usually provide basic nursing care under the supervision of registered nurses and doctors. At the same time, RNs can perform more complex procedures, supervise LPNs, and are typically given more responsibilities due to their higher level of education and training.

What is the typical schedule for an LPN?

LPNs usually work full time, and it’s common to work nights, weekends, and holidays, as medical care occurs around the clock. Shifts can also be longer than a typical 8-hour workday, especially in hospitals and nursing homes where 24-hour care is needed.

Are there opportunities for growth and advancement for LPNs?

Yes, there are extensive CPD (continual professional development) options for LPNs, which include further medical training, specializing in specific areas of healthcare, or even advancing to become a registered nurse by obtaining an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing.

What are some of the challenges that LPNs face?

Just like other healthcare professions, LPNs can face challenges like long and irregular hours, dealing with difficult patients and their families, and working under high pressure. There can be physical demands, including standing for long periods, lifting heavy objects or patients, and being exposed to infectious diseases. Emotional resilience is also necessary due to the nature of working closely with people who are sick or injured.

How do the responsibilities of an LPN vary with workplace?

In a hospital setting, an LPN can be responsible for patient care in various ways, from administering medication and recording vital signs to helping with bathing and dressing. In a nursing home, they have myriad duties, including patient record keeping, medication administration, and interacting with the patient’s families. In doctors’ offices, they may be tasked with administrative duties like setting appointments and maintaining records, in addition to patient care.

Can LPNs administer medication?

Yes, LPNs are usually allowed to administer medication to patients, not limited to oral medications, injections, topical medications, and intravenous drugs. However, the exact duties depend on state regulations, the setting, and the level of supervision.