Practical Nursing Schools - What to Expect

Each state and school has its own individual requirements, but the general requirements for admission to an LPN program are similar across the country. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or high school equivalency degree, and possess proficiency in the English language. In addition, all students must pass a drug screening as well as complete the required immunizations to enter a nursing program. Applicants must meet all technical standards, and they must be able to supply information about criminal convictions and substance abuse issues that could impact their ability to work in a healthcare setting or to become licensed. Other prerequisites include:

  • Satisfactory completion of biology or math courses at the high school or college level
  • A physical exam completed by a medical doctor that demonstrates the applicant is healthy enough to meet the demands of the job
  • Certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

Students should check the requirements for admission with their state department of health (or the state regulatory office responsible for nurse licensure) and with the training institution prior to applying to an LPN program.

LPN Program Curriculum - What You Will Learn

To cover a broad range of topics quickly, LPN programs are intense and rapid-paced. Some patient care techniques taught during the program include assisting patients with daily activities such as walking, transferring from a bed to a wheelchair, and standing. Other skills include patient safety and hygiene, such as bathing, oral care, monitoring vital signs, and feeding. These courses are typically covered by LPN programs:

  • Fundamentals of Nursing
  • Therapeutic Nutrition
  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Introduction to Pharmacology
  • General Psychology
  • Pediatric, Geriatric, and/or Maternal Nursing
  • Intravenous Therapy

After successfully completing all the coursework and any externship requirements, students must pass the NCLEX-PN exam: A passing score on the NCLEX-PN is required to work in the field of nursing. The exam is computerized and can require up to five hours to complete. When the student answers a question correctly, the program makes each subsequent question more challenging to ensure the test-taker has acquired a thorough mastery of the material.

Incorrect answers result in the computer generating similar questions on the same topic until the student demonstrates the correct knowledge. The minimum number of questions on the NCLEX-PN exam is 85, and the maximum is 205. State licensing boards receive notification only of students’ pass or fail scores. The categories of questions are the same as those on the NCLEX-RN exam, but are not as challenging. Students should possess an in-depth mastery of these test topics before registering for the exam:

  • Physiological Adaptation
  • Reduction of Risk Potential
  • Pharmacological Therapies
  • Physiological Integrity – Basic Care and Comfort
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Safe, Effective Care Environment – Coordinated Care and Safety and Infection Control

Cost of LPN Programs

The cost of an LPN program varies widely by location and educational institution. Nationwide, the overall cost for tuition is approximately $10,000; however, prices can run as high as $25,000 at a private college or as low as $5,000 at a community college. Students preparing for an LPN program also need to plan for the other costs associated with training, including purchasing books and materials, which may cost several hundred dollars per term. Obtaining the required medical equipment such as a stethoscope, uniform, and other nursing supplies also should factor into the budget when preparing for school. A quality stethoscope can cost up to $150, and an adequate supply of clothing and footwear (nursing uniform) may cost up to several hundred dollars. Students also may be asked to purchase supplies such as a penlight, bandage shears, clipboards, and organizers for clinical work.

If the student requires financial aid to meet all the financial requirements of the program, he or she should consult a financial aid advisor to learn about federal and state programs. Online financial aid resources are also available.

LPN Program Length

Students who study full-time can complete an LPN program in approximately six to 12 months. Many vocational and community colleges offer LPN training programs, as do some colleges and traditional universities. Hospitals and large healthcare organizations often offer their own training programs for students who can commit to employment with their organization upon graduation.

A program typically includes 40 or more credit hours of classroom instruction as well as off-site clinical work, which is when students have the opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge in a closely supervised setting. After meeting all the requirements, students receive a Licensed Practical Nurse certificate and are qualified to take the NCLEX-PN. All 50 states require that nurses pass the NCLEX-PN exam to become eligible for employment.

Clinical Experience and Externship Programs

A hallmark of nursing education is the requirement that all students participate in hands-on, real-world training in a medical setting as part of their program curriculum. Colleges, hospitals, and health care organizations that offer LPN programs develop affiliations with long-term care facilities, hospitals, clinics, and other care centers to provide learning opportunities for students in authentic patient care settings.

When working off-site, students practice their skills and observe licensed nurses performing the same daily tasks for which they will be responsible in the future. All services provided to patients are under the direct supervision of a staff member who holds at least an RN degree. Students receive information about patients in advance, and they are expected to study the patient’s medical condition as well as to have a thorough understanding of the effects of any medications the patient has been prescribed. Supervisors provide students with feedback and maintain an approach focused on teaching and learning.

Job Placement Opportunities and Graduate Support

Some schools that offer LPN programs may formally assist students with job placement after graduation. Career services often maintain a database of both full- and part-time employment opportunities with local and national health care organizations, and they may host job fairs where prospective employers come to meet students and alumni. Career services staff sometimes also assist job seekers with searching techniques, resume writing, job application procedures, interview techniques, and understanding salaries and benefits packages.

Some health care organizations and hospitals that offer LPN training may guarantee employment upon graduation of the program as an incentive for enrollment in their program. Volunteer opportunities and externships with affiliated hospitals and patient care centers are other benefits to look for when choosing any nursing program.

LPN Bridge Programs

Healthcare organizations across the country depend on LPNs to provide quality care to patients. Hospitals, medical clinics, rehabilitation centers, and other types of medical facilities could not function without them. LPNs, however, are not permitted to work independently; it’s an intermediate-level health care role that requires the supervision of a registered nurse.

For many nurses, the LPN role is a stepping stone to a more advanced degree that provides a means of earning a living while gaining meaningful experience in the healthcare industry. Nurses often begin their careers as LPNs, earn practical experience for a few years, and then expand the scope of their practice by enrolling in higher education. Becoming an RN is a logical career progression. Enrolling in an LPN bridge program provides credentialed LPNs with the opportunity to build on their experience and transfer credits earned from the LPN program to an ADN or BSN program.

LPN to ADN

Students who have met the education requirements required to be a Licensed Practical Nurse can enroll in an LPN bridge program and become a registered nurse with an associate’s degree from a two- or four-year college or university. LPN to ADN programs are also referred to as “LPN Mobility,” “LPN Advanced Placement,” and “LPN Transition” programs. Program duration is typically one to two years, and graduates receive an associate of science degree.

At the completion of an LPN to ADN program, students’ nursing knowledge transitions from entry-level to include an understanding of more complex nursing concepts and advanced patient care skills. Program graduates are prepared to fulfill the expanded role and demonstrate the technical proficiency, nursing skills, responsibility, and accountability expected of a registered nurse. Upon program completion, graduates are eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN examination if they meet all the guidelines mandated by their individual state.

LPN to BSN

The LPN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing track is a comprehensive degree program designed for the licensed practical nurse (LPN) who wants to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing. LPN to BSN programs follow the same comprehensive academic plan and requirements as a traditional BSN program except that students who are already licensed and employed LPNs may be granted credits for coursework completed in the pursuit of their LPN certification and for experience earned while working as a nurse.

The academic approach of an LPN to BSN program provides individuals with learning activities that build on prior experience and knowledge, and it provides nurses who wish to improve their career with the opportunities and earning power with a pathway to become a registered nurse. Upon successful completion of an LPN to BSN program, graduates will be prepared to:

  • Function effectively as a member of an interdisciplinary health care team
  • Educate patients and their families about various medical conditions
  • Administer medication under the supervision of doctors
  • Collect and report patient symptoms and progress
  • Supervise and assign duties to other health care personnel, including licensed practical nurses, certified nurse assistants, orderlies, and nursing aides
  • Provide patients with emotional support and assist with rehabilitation
  • Perform diagnostic tests to assess patients’ health problems and needs