Quick Facts :
Licensed Practical Nurses

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Bureau of Labor Statistics, Licensed Practical Nurses, May 2017

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info-icon $45,710 Annual Wage
info-icon 12% Job Growth

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What Is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Licensed practical nurses work in tandem with patients’ registered nurses, performing everyday basic tasks that RNs, as a result of their advanced training, are not expected to do. A common career path for those who think they may want to work in the healthcare or nursing field is to begin in an entry-level position such as a licensed practical nurse or certified nursing assistant (CNA), before gaining more advanced education, experience, and training.

An LPN’s specific duties vary according to the state in which he or she works. For example, in some states, an LPN can start an intravenous (IV) drip for patients, but not in others. Other duties that a licensed practical nurse may perform, according to state laws, include:

  • Assisting RNs in educating patients and family members in caring for specific health conditions or injuries after an appointment or discharge from a healthcare facility
  • Collecting blood, urine, and other samples
  • Performing routine laboratory tests
  • Helping deliver and care for newborn babies

Licensed Practical Nurse: Typical Duties & Responsibilities

Healthcare organizations that employ LPNs are responsible for both monitoring and enforcing state regulations. This can prove a challenge when staff is short and a patient needs immediate help. Some of the routine duties that an LPN may perform in a typical day include:

  • Taking a patient’s temperature, blood pressure, and other vital statistics
  • Completing basic patient care tasks, such as changing a bandage or inserting a catheter
  • Observing the patient for changes in their health, mood, and behavior, and subsequently reporting any concerns to an RN or the physician on duty
  • Recording services performed for patients in their medical charts
  • Preparing patients for their care, describing procedures ordered by their physicians, and listening to any concerns or grievances they have
  • Administering medication to patients as prescribed by their physicians
  • Providing patients with immunizations
  • Obtaining medical histories from patients when they arrive

Nursing attracts people with similar personality traits and attributes. First of all, the typical nursing candidate is genuinely compassionate and has a desire to help human suffering. Additionally, a licensed practical nurse must be exceptionally patient and detail-oriented and an effective communicator. LPNs must have a strong physical stamina, with the ability to stand for long periods of time. Most LPNs work full-time in a stressful environment during which they will have little time to rest.

Steps to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse

1. Complete Educational Requirements

The typical licensed practical nursing program at a community college, technical college, or hospital takes approximately one year of full-time study to complete. Some certification programs can be completed in as few as seven months, while others take longer than one year. Although an LPN does not earn an official college degree, certificate programs have the same requirements for practical hands-on experience as does the type of nursing training that confers degrees. Students enrolled in a licensed practical nurse certification program can expect to complete the following courses:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology, both the lecture and lab portions
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Basics of Nutrition
  • Pharmacology
  • Health and Diseases
  • Multicultural Nursing Topics
  • Maternal and Pediatric Nursing Concepts

Minimal liberal arts courses, such as English and Humanities, are required in a licensed practical nursing certificate program. The internship or practice hours occur upon the completion of required coursework and typically entail several hundred hours of supervised work. These practice hours are usually supervised by an RN, as is customary for a working LPN. The student may be required to locate a health care facility that meets these requirements, although some schools have internship placement programs.

2. Pass the NCLEX-PN Exam

After completing the required coursework and practice hours, students in a licensed practical nursing training program cannot work directly with patients. To do so, they first must pass the National Council Licensure Exam Practical Nurse edition (NCLEX-PN). Instructors and other students may refer to this exam as the “state boards” because it’s administered by an individual state board of nursing. The test determines if an applicant is ready to work as an entry-level licensed practical nurse.

State boards of nursing are the organizations charged with protecting the public from ineffective and unsafe nursing practices. In fact, the entire premise of the NCLEX-PN exam is built around the framework of meeting patient needs. This version of the nursing exam contains the following categories:

  • Health Promotion and Maintenance, with sub-categories for Coordinated Care and Safety and Infection Control
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Physiological Integrity, with sub-categories: Basic Care & Comfort, Pharmacological Therapies, Physiological Adaptation, and Reduction of Risk Potential

In addition, students preparing for the NCLEX-PN exam should expect many of the questions to involve processes instrumental to the practice of nursing:

  • Caring: The patient and licensed practical nurse must work in an environment of mutual trust. To provide the assurance the patient needs, the licensed practical nurse must offer support and compassion to every patient that he or she encounters.
  • Communication/Documentation: Both verbal and non-verbal forms of communication between patients and the LPN are important to health care outcomes. A nurse at this level must be able to communicate effectively with patients, families, registered nurses, doctors, and other members of the patient’s primary care team.
  • Learning/Teaching: A licensed practical nurse must possess the knowledge and skills to educate patients in providing self-care and in changing their own behavior. An LPN works as both caregiver and educator.
  • Nursing Process/Clinical Problem-Solving: The scientific approach to patient care incorporates data collection, evaluation, implementation, and planning.

Each category and sub-category comprises a minimum of 7 percent of the test and a maximum of 22 percent. Most questions are multiple choice and also incorporate some calculations and alternate written formats. The NCLEX-PN uses computer adaptive technology (CAT), which ensures that every applicant completes a unique exam. As test-takers complete the exam, the questions adapt to students’ abilities and deliver topics based upon their profile as they progress.

Students have a maximum of five hours to complete between 85 and 205 questions. Once the student is presumed to have answered 95 percent of the questions correctly, the CAT method allows the exam to stop. Results come by mail and tell the student only if he or she passed or failed.

Licensed Practical Nurse Salary & Employment Outlook

In its May 2015 report, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that the median salary for an LPN was $43,170. A licensed practical nurse at the lowest end of the salary spectrum earned $32,040, while those at the highest earned $59,150.

For comparison purposes, registered nurses earned a median salary of $67,490 during that same reporting period. An RN must have at least an associate’s degree, although the bachelor degree credential is becoming increasingly popular. Nursing assistants earned a median salary of $25,710 in 2015, making the commitment to a one-year licensed practical nursing program a worthwhile investment. According to the May 2015 BLS report, the following industries employ the largest numbers of LPNs:

  • Nursing and long-term residential care facilities, 38 percent
  • Hospitals, including local, state, and private, 17 percent
  • Physicians’ offices, 13 percent
  • Home health care agencies, 11 percent
  • Government, 7 percent

The BLS predicts an annual growth rate of 16 percent for licensed practical nurses between 2018 and 2024. This is a 9 percent higher-than-average growth rate for all occupations and the same rate predicted for health technologists and technicians.

Long-term care facilities are already the largest employer of those with a licensed practical nursing credential. As the population continues to age and the typical family gets smaller, Americans of retirement age and older will require assistance from licensed practical nurses in these facilities as well as in their own homes. The growth of chronic conditions such as diabetes is another reason behind the projected demand for LPNs.

Earning a licensed practical nursing degree is an attractive career choice because of the relatively short training period and the possibility of earning a salary of at least $15,000 higher than the average U.S. income. As is true for RNs, LPNs should understand that this career is not a typical 9-to-5 occupation. Long-term care facilities, hospitals, clinics, and other types of healthcare employers give preference to licensed practical nurses who are willing to work rotating shifts, weekends, holidays, double shifts, and other types of schedules inherent to the industry.