Everything you need to know about becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

The medical world is ripe with nurses of all types, hustling to support staff and patients in ways that are nuanced and unique to their profession.

There is a bevy of different professions to choose from when approaching nursing as well. Registered nurse (RN), post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) nurse, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse, staff nurse, labor and delivery nurse, oncology nurse, telemetry nurse, pediatric nurse, radiology nurse, psychiatric nurse, medical-surgical nurse, intensive care unit (ICU) registered nurse, nurse practitioner (NP), travel nurse, nurse anesthetist. The list goes on.

Today, let’s delve into the world of one of the most basic -— and highly sought after — nursing positions, the licensed practical nurse or LPN.

What is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

A Licensed Practical Nurse is, more or less, an entry-level nurse. They work directly under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or attending doctor to perform basic patient care. You may come across LPNs within several environments, including nursing homes, hospitals, extended care facilities, hospice, offices, schools, and even private home care situations.

This particular career path is in high demand currently. Over 800,000 LPNs practice in the United States and a projection of 9% growth exists within the industry by 2029.

What does a Licensed Practical Nurse do?

Licensed Practical Nurses are in charge of a variety of tasks. Giving injections, tracking vital signs, and rationing medication are just three of the items they handle daily and are their core tasks. Their schedule is full of to-dos like changing catheters or helping patients to the restroom, collecting samples for laboratory testing, recording blood pressure, and ensuring the comfort of their assigned patients. They are even tasked with helping to prepare and outline patient care with families. Often, they act as a liaison between physicians and patients so that everyone’s needs are looked after.

With the baby boomer generation aging further, the need for licensed practical nurses to support staff at long-term care facilities is impending. Because of the drastic, immediate need for nursing support during the pandemic, there are now specialized training available for licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses. This training is targeted to expand their medical prowess and be of better service to the medical community in a health crisis.

How do you become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?

Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse is a much more condensed process than pursuing a niche within the medical industry. As is the case with most medical careers, there is flexibility in the amount of time spent pursuing a degree. Many LPNs start with a general associate’s or bachelor’s degree in science or a related field. Many nursing hopefuls choose to approach their standardized testing — The Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS exam) — early on. The results of this test will determine the individual’s eligibility for any given nursing program. Many students choose to take it in their first or second year of undergraduate studies to gauge their existing knowledge. This allows them the chance to apply to nursing programs sooner and streamline their educational route.

LPN hopefuls are then expected to complete a state-approved educational program over the span of about a year. Many of these programs are taken through technical or community colleges. Make sure the program you choose is state-approved and universally accepted before moving forward, as some accreditations aren’t acknowledged across the state or even county lines.

After securing a diploma, the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) — a standardized test that is valid across the United States — is the next step to a career in this field. This exam has a fee of $200 and requires registration that may include notarization and fingerprint submission. After registration, the state will authorize a certain window of time for the candidate to complete the test. In the event that the candidate does not pass the test, additional fees and regulations may be assessed for repeat tries. This is normally the final step to becoming an LPN, and a license will be mailed out once a passing grade is achieved.

What skills do you need to become a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Nursing is not a career for the faint of heart. Skills expected of this position include not only medical knowledge, but patience, kindness and compassion, a keen sense of observation, and top-notch communication skills. They must be able to think on their toes to help with diagnoses, as they often spend substantially more time with patients and their ailments than doctors and specialized health care providers.

Good listeners who take incredible notes or have steel-trap memories can thrive in a world full of patients and undiagnosed illnesses and injuries.

What is the average salary for a Licensed Practical Nurse?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Licensed Practical Nurses make, on average, $48,820 per year, or just under $23.50 per hour. Right out of school, you can expect to make about $19-$23 per hour, depending on the type of facility you choose to work at. Private and public institutions will have vastly different salary options, and home care and long-term facilities can vary drastically as well.

What is the typical career path for a Licensed Practical Nurse?

The career path for an LPN isn’t always linear. Many LPNs approach their career as a “foot in the door” and choose to pursue other nursing niches after a couple of years operating within this sphere. What’s more? An LPN who is employed at a hospital could choose to transition to long-term facility care or physicians offices, just to have a different set of patients and a more specialized field to serve.

A large number of LPNs later pursue careers as registered nurses (RN), another career with a high projected growth rate (12%) by the end of the decade. If a licensed practical nurse chooses to stay in their particular field, the gained experience will land them more lucrative supervisory positions.

Currently, LifePoint Health (Columbus) and ACE have open positions for licensed practical nurses. These companies have a track record of providing their employees with higher salaries than the national average. Keep your eyes peeled on more lucrative nursing jobs via The Ladders.