Licensed practical/vocational nurse career guide

HomeNursingLicensed practical/vocational nurse

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), as they’re known in Texas and California, complete essential nursing duties in clinical settings. They usually work in a team with physicians and registered nurses (RNs) and are responsible for the fundamentals of patient care. 

Becoming an LPN or LVN is often considered the fast route into a career in nursing, as it has different educational requirements from the RN pathway. In this role, you’ll typically work in hospitals, nursing care facilities, mental health facilities, physician’s offices, or home care services. Tasks could include checking vital signs, ensuring patient comfort, conducting assessments, and reporting to RNs or doctors.

Although the duties can be performed independently, LPN and LVN roles are always carried out under the supervision of an RN or doctor. In these positions, you’ll work with patients of all ages and assist with check-ups, scheduled treatments, and emergency care. 

To become an LPN or LVN, you’ll need to study academic subjects, such as human anatomy, and complete lab work and clinical placements. Positions as an LPN or LVN are available across the U.S. The top-paying states are Alaska, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, and Nevada.

If you’re looking to begin a career in nursing and want to work as soon as possible, a role as an LVN or LPN might be for you. LPN/LVN salaries start at about $35,000 and go up to $67,000. The outlook for employment is good, with moderate growth of 9% predicted between 2019 and 2029.

In this article, we’ll tell you what education, training, and licenses you’ll need to become an LPN or LVN and the salary you could expect. We’ll also explain the career prospects, working environment, and responsibilities of LPNs and LVNs.

Pursuing a career as an LPN/LVN

A role as an LPN is likely to be the first step in your nursing career. If you want to start helping people quickly without studying for a long time, it might be the right option for you. The advantages of going down this route, besides the speed of qualification, are that you’ll be able to start working and grow your skills as a nurse before progressing. This experience can also help you earn a place on a later degree course later. 

There are some disadvantages to pursuing a role as an LVN or LPN instead of starting as an RN. There are fewer responsibilities, which means you need to complete the basic tasks and do many jobs under supervision. LPNs/LVNs are paid less than RNs and have fewer opportunities. 

As LPNs/LVNs always need to work under supervision, hence your position is one of a team of medical professionals, usually working with other LPNs/LVNs, RNs, and doctors. The role involves considerable time with patients, making it a position suited to people with excellent interpersonal and communication skills. LPNs/LVNs are typically busy and on their feet, and need to be hard-working, energetic, and well-organized. 

Most LPN/LVN roles are in nursing homes, followed by hospitals and physician’s offices. You can also work in people’s homes, visiting them to provide care and reporting back to a medical team. The U.S. military, the government, and research facilities also employ LPNs/LVNs. You can find positions with regular hours, but many roles require shift work in the evenings and on weekends.

How to become an LPN/LVN

There are 3 entry-level roles in nursing; you could work as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), as an LPN/LVN, or as an RN. CNAs need to complete a short training program and then obtain a license. LPNs/LVNs provide more extensive care and have to train for longer before getting their license. RNs provide in-depth care and oversee other nurses; they need a degree and a license to practice.

To become an LPN/LVN requires you to complete a program at a nursing college, gain experience, and pass exams. Overall, the process can take between 9 and 12 months to complete. Note that the certificate you earn in a practical or vocational nursing program is not equivalent to a degree. Even though the requirements are less demanding for this entry point into nursing,  it is recommended that you apply only to accredited schools.

The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) is the main body in charge of evaluating nursing schools. You might also see programs that mention local approval, which means it has been approved by the state board. Accreditation is a peer-review process that helps assure the efficacy of schools and their programs.

LPN/LVN programs

The core of the LPN/LVN programs is split into 3 parts – theory, clinical placements, and laboratory work. Overall, you typically need to complete about 1,500 hours over 4 quarters, or you could spread your studying over 7 quarters in a part-time program.

Courses in LPN/LVN programs include:

  • pharmacology
  • mental health
  • medical and surgical nursing
  • maternal and child nursing
  • geriatric nursing 

Requirements for LPN/LVN program applications include submitting evidence that you’ve graduated from high school or have a General Education Development (GED) diploma and are fluent in English. Usually, you submit standardized test scores, such as the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS), in addition to completing a physical exam, immunizations protocol, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training. 

Prospective students can often find these programs through technical schools, community colleges, hospitals, and sometimes, high schools. Tuition for this program can cost between $10,000 to $15,000.

Licensure

To work as an LPN/LVN, requires holding the relevant state license, which you can apply for after completing your education. This license is obtained by sitting for the NCLEX-PN exam, which is specifically for LVNs and LPNs. 

The exam is set by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). It tests your preparedness to practice as a nurse. You’ll need to go through the nursing regulatory body of the state where you intend to practice. Results are usually released within 6 weeks.

Working as an LPN/LVN

The average annual salary for licensed practical/vocational nurses is $49,665, or an average hourly rate of $22.91. The majority of LPNs/LVNs work in a clinical setting, such as nursing homes, doctor’s offices, medical hospitals, U.S. military facilities, research facilities, rehabilitation centers, home care teams, and outpatient centers.

Generally, all LPN/LVN roles involve patient contact. There are positions available in less-traditional clinical settings, such as schools, nurseries, charities, and churches. As well as interacting with patients, you’ll need to work closely with administrative staff and other colleagues, so excellent teamwork is a must. 

Duties of LPNs/LVNs include:

  • monitoring patients
  • collecting samples
  • taking vital signs
  • reporting patient status
  • administering medications

Licensed practical/vocational nurses need to work under the supervision of a doctor or an RN. There are some tasks that LPNs/LVNs can’t complete, such as administering drugs intravenously. In some states, LPNs/LVNs can draw blood after completing the required training. 

LPNs/LVNs need to be able to communicate effectively with patients and other medical staff. Another critical attribute is being organized, as you’ll need to be able to manage a range of duties and set priorities. Patience and a willingness to help can contribute to patient care running smoothly, too. 

Future outlook
future outlook tooltip icon

Future Outlook Projections are taken from the Projections Management Partnership (PMP). The PMP is funded by the Department and Labor, Employment and Training Administration, with direct support from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The PMP provides data-driven projections of future workforce needs.

676,440

Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses total employment

66,300

Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses annual openings
future outlook tooltip icon

Annual openings include jobs available due to both an increase in demand, and regular employee turnover (retirees, career switchers, etc.).

10.7%

Estimated increase in Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses jobs (2018-2028)
future outlook tooltip icon

The estimated increase in jobs (2018-2028) is the increase in total jobs expected and does not consider employee turnover.

Very high job growth-0 Very high job growth-1

Very high job growth
future outlook tooltip icon

To provide context to estimated job growth, we employ a “fire and ice” system, which compares projected career growth to the national average of 5.2%, as follows:

<-10% = 3 ices
Btwn -5 to -9.9% = 2 ices
Between -5% to-.1% = 1 ice
between 0- 5.5% = neutral
Between 5.5%-10% = 1 fire
Between 10-20% = 2 fire
>20%=3 fires

At the state level, we simply sort the states from fastest growing to slowest within the particular career, or 1st to 50th.

The fastest growth states

1.

Arizona

+29%

2.

Colorado

+21%

3.

Idaho

+20.4%

4.

New York

+19.6%

5.

Nevada

+16.9%

6.

Utah

+16.7%

7.

Maryland

+16.2%

Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses salary information by state

Nominal
Real salary
future outlook tooltip icon

The nominal salary is the unadjusted salary paid.

The real salary is adjusted to consider the purchasing power by state. We multiply the nominal salary by a state purchasing parities index to indicate the relative value of salaries by state. For instance, while New York or California might pay the highest nominal salary, these states are relatively expensive and so the real value of the salary is often less than a cheaper to live in state with a lower nominal salary.

BLS
Payscale
future outlook tooltip icon

When available we provide 2020 state level salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing 10th, 50th, and 90th percentile earnings to provide the range of salary experienced by each career. Salary data is aggregated from the actual reported income of the US labor force, and is considered the most trustworthy data source for salary information.

Payscale is a salary survey service meant to provide employers and employees with salary data at local levels to benchmark and compare. While Payscale has a much smaller sample size than BLS, Payscale does update more frequently so data may be considered fresher. Payscale also indicates salaries at a wider range of roles whereas BLS sometimes aggregates numerous professions into one category which may skew salary data. For this reason, we find Payscale to be a good secondary salary indicator. All information received from payscale is via a paid API. You can read more about payscale and their data methodology here.

Highest salary states

1.

Alaska

$66,720

Average salary

2.

California

$62,410

Average salary

3.

Massachusetts

$59,910

Average salary

4.

Washington

$59,720

Average salary

5.

Nevada

$59,710

Average salary

6.

Rhode Island

$58,720

Average salary

7.

Connecticut

$58,420

Average salary

Last five years employment and salary
future outlook tooltip icon

We utilize historic annual BLS salary and total employment statistics to create a trend line which illustrates the job market over time for a particular career.

National

Average Wage Total employment
2016: $44,090 702,400
2017: $45,030 702,700
2018: $46,240 701,690
2019: $47,480 697,510
2020: $48,820 676,440

Advance your career as an LPN/LVN

Each state has a range of requirements for maintaining your license, which usually includes some continuing education (CE) elements. These required learning hours can help you keep up with best practices. If you’re interested in progressing to other roles in nursing, you typically need to complete further education, such as an LPN-to-RN bridge program.

Associate degree in nursing (ADN)

If you’re already an LPN or LVN, you can speed up the process of becoming an RN by taking a bridge program to earn your associate degree in nursing (ADN). These programs usually take 1 to 2 years and require 60-70 credits.

Courses include:

  • clinical judgment and critical care
  • human anatomy and physiology
  • psychology
  • transcultural and community nursing
  • nursing math and pharmacology

Typically, you’ll complete clinical courses and a capstone project in leadership and management. To become an RN after earning an ADN, you’ll need to gain a license by sitting for the NCLEX-RN exam.

Bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)

To advance further in your nursing career, you could earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). You could apply for a BSN straight away, or after completing your ADN, you could choose an accelerated program. It usually takes 4 years to complete or 2 years for accelerated programs.  

In these programs, you’ll learn:

  • clinical reasoning
  • pathophysiology
  • pharmacology
  • mental healthcare
  • acute care
  • population health

Most degrees include at least 500 clinical hours as part of the curriculum. Earning a BSN can mean better career prospects, helping you gain a role with more responsibilities. It has also been linked to better patient outcomes.

Who is this career best suited for?

A career as a licensed practical/vocational nurse is best for those who want to start their career in nursing. It’s the fastest route into the profession, with less time spent training and less demanding requirements. If you think you want a career helping people, this role is an ideal start without a considerable commitment of time or money.

All LPN/LVN roles require working with patients, which means the job wouldn’t suit someone who wanted to work from home. Most positions require shift work that could include evenings and weekends, although you can find jobs with regular hours.

Roles in nursing homes and hospitals typically involve irregular work hours. However, positions in physician’s offices and schools and performing home visits are more likely to have specific hours during the week. If you have family commitments or need to work and study, you could find a role in one of those workplaces.

American Nurses Association (ANA) 

The ANA is dedicated to advancing the nursing profession by supporting nurses through education, licensure, and training.

National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) 

The NSNA works to prepare students for initial licensure as registered nurses and those enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs. They also advocate for healthcare that is evidence-based, affordable, of high quality, and accessible.

Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)

This site is the home of the accreditation board for nurse education programs.