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Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Career Guide

What is a licensed practical nurse?

Licensed practical nurses are vital members of the healthcare team. They work under doctors and registered nurses (RNs) to care for patients. LPNs provide personal care, monitor patients’ health, and quickly respond to their needs, which helps improve patients’ health and experience with healthcare.

Duties and responsibilities

LPNs have many important tasks. They give medications and injections, check vital signs, and watch over patients’ medical conditions. These nurses dress wounds, collect samples for lab tests, help patients with personal hygiene, and offer basic bedside care. They also support patients emotionally, help explain treatments, and communicate with patients’ families.

They work with doctors, RNs, and others to create and follow patient care plans. LPNs need to judge when to inform others about changes in a patient’s condition. They also keep detailed records of patients’ care.

Work environment

LPNs work in many places, like hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and people’s homes. Some work in schools or rehabilitation centers. The work can be busy and stressful, especially in emergency or intensive care units. In home care or private practices, the pace might be slower and more focused on individual care.

Typical work hours

Nursing is a round-the-clock job, so LPNs often work full-time on different schedules, including days, nights, weekends, and holidays. Shifts can be 8 or 12 hours long. In places like hospitals, they might also need to be on-call for emergencies. In schools or clinics, these nurses might have more regular hours.

How to become a licensed practical nurse

If you’re interested in becoming an LPN, here’s the path you’ll need to follow:

Step 1: Finish high school or get a GED

The first step is completing high school or getting your GED. This gives you the basic skills, like reading, writing, and math, needed for nursing.

Step 2: Complete a training program

Next, enroll in a practical nursing program approved by your state. These usually take about a year and mix classroom learning with hands-on experience. You’ll learn nursing basics, biology, and how to give medications.

Step 3: Pass the NCLEX-PN exam

After finishing your program, you need to pass the NCLEX-PN. This exam tests if you’re ready to be an LPN. It covers patient care, health promotion, and how to handle different healthcare settings.

Step 4: Get your state licensure

Once you pass the exam, apply for a license in your state. Each state has different rules, so check what you need to do where you live.

Step 5: Gain work experience

Start working, usually under an RN or doctor. This experience is crucial for developing your skills and preparing for the job’s challenges.

Step 6: Keep learning and maybe specialize

LPNs must keep learning on the job. You might take extra courses in areas like care for the elderly, children, or mental health. Doing so will not only make you a better nurse, but it can also lead to more career opportunities.

How much do licensed practical nurses make?

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

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

LPNs can specialize in various areas, each with its unique responsibilities. Here’s a look at some common specializations:

  • Pediatric LPN: These LPNs work with kids, from babies to young adults. They do things like routine care, give shots, and help doctors during check-ups. 
  • Geriatric LPN: Geriatric LPNs focus on caring for elderly patients, often working in senior care facilities. They help with medications, assist with moving around, and keep a close eye on their health. 
  • Surgical LPN: Surgical LPNs help out in operations. They prepare the operating room, pass tools to surgeons, and take care of patients before and after surgery. 
  • IV therapy LPN: These nurses specialize in intravenous (IV) treatments. They set up IV lines, watch how patients react to the therapy, and adjust treatments as needed. 
  • Travel LPN: Travel LPNs work in different places for short periods. They might work anywhere from hospitals to nursing homes and can travel locally or even internationally. 

Top skills for LPNs

If you’re aiming to be a successful LPN, here are some important skills you’ll need:

  • Technical skills: They need to be good with medical stuff, like knowing medical terms, understanding medications, and being skilled in basic nursing tasks.
  • Communication abilities: Talking and listening well are super important. These nurses need to clearly explain medical things to patients and their families and work well with other healthcare workers.
  • Strong observation: Keeping a close eye on patients is critical. They must be great at noticing patient health changes and following medical rules carefully when giving treatments.
  • Physical stamina: LPNs are often on their feet for long periods and may need to help move patients. Being physically fit helps a lot in this job.
  • Compassion and patience: Being kind and patient is essential. They should care about their patients’ well-being and understand that people might be scared or in pain.

Licensed practical nurse career path options

So, you’re an LPN already? That’s a great start in healthcare! But there’s more to explore in nursing:

Become a registered nurse

After some experience, think about becoming an RN. This job has more responsibilities and pays better. But you’ll need more school, like an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).

Specialize in a nursing area

You could also get into a specific area of nursing like working with kids (pediatrics), older people (geriatrics), or in intensive care units. Specializing means you’ll learn more in that field and it can also lead to making more money.

The job scene for LPNs is always changing, and here’s what’s going on:

  • Tech and health go hand-in-hand: New tech stuff like electronic health records and telehealth (doctor visits through the internet) is making healthcare more efficient. It’s changing how these nurses and other healthcare workers do their jobs.
  • Aging population = more jobs: As more people get older, they need more healthcare. This means there’s a growing demand for LPNs, especially to care for the elderly.
  • Preventive care and community health: With more people having access to healthcare, there’s a bigger focus on keeping people healthy and caring for them in the community. 

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for LPNs are expected to grow by 6% through 2031. That’s about the same as the average growth for all jobs.

Licensed practical nurse career tips

Stay updated with nursing knowledge

Healthcare changes constantly, so it’s important to keep learning. Attend workshops, take extra classes, and stay informed about new nursing methods and ideas to keep your skills sharp and relevant.

Improve your communication skills

You’ll talk with lots of different people in your job, like patients, their families, and other healthcare workers. Being able to clearly understand and be understood is key to doing well.

Build a professional network

Knowing other people in nursing can open up new chances for you to learn and grow. Join groups like the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses, the American Nurses Association, or the Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service.

Think about specializing

Focusing on one area of nursing, like care for kids (pediatrics), older people (geriatrics), or mental health, can really help your career. You’ll become an expert in that area, which can lead to better jobs.

Keep learning

Learning shouldn’t stop after you become an LPN. Keep taking courses, go to professional events, and maybe even think about becoming a registered nurse through a bridge program.

Get certifications

Getting certified in special skills shows you know your stuff. It might mean more training or passing a test, but it can help you stand out when looking for jobs.

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?

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. You should also possess physical stamina, emotional resilience, flexibility, and the ability to handle stress effectively.

In what settings do LPNs typically work?

They 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?

They 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, 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, they 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, they 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 many 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, they 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.