Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN) Careers

| TBS Staff

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Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) are trained healthcare professionals who provide basic medical care, typically under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN).

Essential Career Information
Median Annual Salary $46,240 per year
Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028 11% (Much faster than average)
Number of New Jobs from 2018-2028 +78,100
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements Postsecondary nondegree award
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $62,160
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $33,680

Source: BLS

What is an LPN?

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) are trained healthcare professionals who provide basic medical care, typically under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN).

LPNs and LVNs need a one-year certificate or diploma, which trains students in monitoring patient vital signs and administering basic patient care. They must also pass an exam to earn a license to practice. The average LPN salary exceeds $46,000 a year, with much faster-than-average job growth projected through 2028.

LPNs and LVNs play a critical role in the healthcare system.

Alternate Job Titles

  • LP Nurse
  • LPN
  • LVN
  • Licensed Practical Nurse
  • Licensed Vocational Nurse
  • Pediatric Licensed Practical Nurse
  • Triage Licensed Practical Nurse

What Does an LPN Do?

LPNs provide basic medical care for patients in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and doctors' offices. They check blood pressure and monitor other vital signs, offer basic patient care such as changing bandages, and help patients with daily tasks like bathing and dressing. LPNs also communicate with patients about their concerns and report back to RNs and doctors. They must keep accurate patient records and provide high-quality patient care.

LPNs provide basic medical care for patients in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and doctors' offices.

The specific duties of LPNs and LVNs vary depending on the state and work setting. In some states, they can collect medical samples and conduct routine laboratory tests. Some states also let LPNs administer medication and start IV drips. LPNs and LVNs work closely with RNs and physicians, and in most states, they provide certain care under RN supervision.

Most LPN and LVN jobs take place in nursing homes, residential care facilities, and hospitals. In these 24-hour facilities, LPNs and LVNs often work outside of typical business hours. LPNs and LVNs who work in doctors' offices, by contrast, may work regular business hours. Some LPNs and LVNs work in home healthcare, where they provide care in the patient's home. This job setting may also require irregular hours.


Both LPNs and LVNs must earn a certificate or diploma and pass the NCLEX-PN to earn a state license to practice. They also share the same responsibilities. The only notable difference relates to location. While California and Texas use the title licensed vocational nurse, other states use the title licensed practical nurse.

LPN vs. RN

Compared to LPNs, registered nurses must complete additional training, pass a different exam, and hold a different license. While an LPN only needs a one-year certificate or diploma, RNs need an associate degree and an RN license to practice.

RNs coordinate with physicians to provide patient care, such as recording medical symptoms, observing patients, and administering treatments. RNs also supervise LPNs. Due to increased training and responsibilities, RNs typically make more than LPNs, earning nearly $72,000 a year on average, compared to LPNs who earn around $46,000 a year.

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Become an LPN or LVN

Prospective LPNs and LVNs must complete an approved certificate or diploma program. These programs incorporate classes in nursing, biology, and human anatomy. Students also complete supervised clinical experiences to gain hands-on training. After earning a certificate or diploma, LPN and LVN candidates must pass the NCLEX-PN before applying for a state license to practice.

LPNs and LVNs can work in hospitals, doctors' offices, and long-term care facilities where they often gain on-the-job training. These professionals can pursue career advancement by enrolling in an RN bridge program. Many colleges offer an LPN-to-RN program that prepares graduates for an RN license.

Certificate and Diploma Programs

In every state, LPNs and LVNs must complete an approved certificate or diploma program to earn their license. During this program, students complete classes in nursing practice, health assessment, and pharmacology. Many programs also include clinical skills classes to train students in the tasks required for LPN and LVN jobs.

Additionally, students must complete a practicum or internship to strengthen their clinical training. Students often complete clinical hours in hospitals, nursing homes, mental health inpatient centers, and other healthcare settings.

Completing an LPN or LVN program generally takes one year. Applicants typically must meet minimum GPA requirements and pass a background check. Some programs also require Test of Essential Academic Skills scores, professional recommendations, and patient care experience. Experience as a nursing assistant or medical assistant can help applicants gain relevant experience. LPN and LVN programs may also set prerequisite courses in areas such as human anatomy, physiology, and English.

Professional Licensure

LPNs and LVNs must hold a professional license to practice. After completing an approved certificate or diploma program, candidates must pass a national licensure examination and meet any additional state requirements, such as passing a background check. Some states also require character references.

All LPN and LVN candidates must take the NCLEX-PN. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing oversees the pass-fail examination. The exam tests candidates on safety and infection control, coordinated care, health promotion, and basic care. Candidates must also answer questions on pharmacology, medication administration, and diagnostic tests. Candidates who pass the examination can earn their state license and practice as an LPN or LVN.

LPNs and LVNs must maintain their licenses by regularly meeting competency requirements and paying renewal fees. These professionals can advance their careers and demonstrate specialized expertise by earning voluntary certifications in areas such as long-term care, IV therapy, or palliative care. Many employers also expect LPNs and LVNs to hold CPR certification.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an RN and a LPN?

An RN brings additional training and expertise compared to an LPN. The average RN salary also exceeds the average LPN salary.

What does an LPN do?

An LPN provides basic patient care, including helping patients take medication, monitoring vital signs, and reporting concerns to an RN.

What is an LVN?

LVNs need a certificate or diploma in nursing and a license to practice. Like LPNs, LVNs provide basic patient care, such as administering medication and monitoring vital signs.

What is the difference between LPNs and LVNs?

LPNs and LVNs both hold a state-issued license and perform the same duties. In California and Texas, these healthcare professionals operate under the LVN title, while other states call them LPNs.

How long does it take to become an LPN?

Most LPN programs take about one year to complete. After completing the degree, LPNs must pass the NCLEX-PN and apply for a state license.

How long does it take to become an LVN?

A prospective LVN must complete a one-year certificate or diploma program, pass the NCLEX-PN exam, and apply for a state license.

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