Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse

Written by Eric Titner

Have you zeroed in on the field of licensed practical nursing as your chosen career path to pursue? If so, you’ve made an excellent choice! Licensed practical nursing is a challenging and rewarding field with diverse responsibilities, strong professional growth potential, and opportunities in a wide array of venues. It’s also a growing field, as the demand for licensed practical nurses is increasing across the country in a variety of specializations and disciplines.

That said, if you’re just starting out in your quest to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), you might have some questions. How do you get started and break into the field? What are the requirements for becoming an LPN? What career options are available to those who have qualified to work as an LPN?

Keep reading, as we’ll explore this interesting and important career field and provide some answers to these questions, so you can move forward in your career journey.

Career background

LPNs are highly trained and capable health care professionals who provide a wide range of support and care services to a diverse range of populations in need, from babies and young children to adolescents, young adults, adults, and older individuals. Within these various patient demographics, licensed practical nurses have opportunities for employment in many settings, including hospitals, group homes, doctors’ offices, veteran care and assisted living facilities, nursing homes, health care clinics, and more. LPNs are typically part of an integrated health care team that includes doctors, other nurses, specialists, therapists, and health care support personnel.

Individuals who pursue careers as licensed practical nurses typically demonstrate an interest and desire to provide care to individuals and find fulfillment in helping others. It isn’t uncommon for future LPNs to begin their career paths early, often through volunteer positions or internships in health care settings, which offer valuable glimpses into what life as an LPN would be like.

Job responsibilities for LPNs can vary greatly, depending on experience level and care setting, but can include patient intake, managing and updating medical records and patient charts, patient care management and planning, obtaining vital signs and performing initial assessments, administering medications, helping with basic activities of daily living including eating, bathing, dressing, and toileting, changing bandages, health monitoring, assistance with exercise and therapy programs, and a host of other patient assistance tasks as needed.

Career outlook

If you’re looking for a career field with room for growth and advancement opportunities, then pursuing a position as an LPN can be a great move. According to 2016 data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 700,000 working LPNs across the United States, and that number is expected to rise significantly over the next decade; the field of elder care is expected to see the most significant gains, as medical advancements help individuals live longer than ever before. Another significant reason for the increase in demand for LPNs is the rise in diet and nutrition-related issues that require medical treatment, such as diabetes and obesity.

If you choose to pursue a career as an LPN, you can expect your annual salary to be somewhere in the $32,000–$60,000 range; again, your experience level, the state that you’re employed in, and the healthcare setting you work in will factor into your compensation.

If you’re trying to decide the type of healthcare setting you’d like to work in, consider the fact that industries that employ the highest numbers of LPNs include nursing care facilities, physicians’ offices, medical hospitals, home health care service agencies, retirement facilities, and psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals. Although there are opportunities available in every town, city, and state in the country, in both urban and rural settings, the highest concentrations of LPNs are in the eastern portion of the United States and California.

What it takes

Okay, so if the previous information sounds like a good fit for you, and you’re eager to move forward, let’s review the steps required to become an LPN. First off, requirements vary by state, so make sure you thoroughly review the requirements in the state you decide to pursue employment in.

Typically, LPNs have graduated high school or have earned a high school equivalency diploma, and have completed a degree program or intensive certificate program in nursing. Make sure the educational program you pursue is approved by your state. The good news is that there are a wide range of certified programs in most states, with programs being offered by community colleges, technical schools, junior colleges, and hospitals. These programs typically last a minimum of one year, and include a mix of classroom-based learning and practical hands-on experience under the guidance of an experienced and licensed professional. Admissions requirements for LPN programs vary by institution. The Internet is a great source of information regarding approved LPN education programs in your state, and what it takes to gain admission.

Should you choose to pursue an LPN educational program, expect to be required to complete coursework in nutrition, human growth and development, medical terminology, physiology and anatomy, pharmacology, and nursing care for children and adults. You may also be required to take additional classes in science, mathematics, and English.

The next step towards employment for individuals who complete an approved LPN program is to take and complete the NCLEX-PN—the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses.

The NCLEX-PN exam, administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, is a 5-hour, intensive, computer-based exam that tests the knowledge and skills obtained in an LPN educational program. This multiple-choice exam, which is a core requirement in all states for becoming an LPN, is arranged into four major client needs categories: Safe and Effective Care Environments, Physiological Integrity, Psychosocial Integrity, and Health Promotion and Maintenance.

Across the NCLEX-PN exam, the following fundamental process areas, which are essential for professional practice as an LPN, are tested: Clinical Problem-Solving Processes, Caring, Communication and Documentation, Teaching and Learning, and Culture and Spirituality. If you’re worried about taking such a high-stakes exam, don’t fear—there’s a wide range of test preparation services available to guide you on your journey.

Once you complete your educational program, pass the NCLEX-PN, and obtain licensure, you’re ready to pursue available job opportunities in the field! Keep in mind that there are opportunities to obtain additional professional certification in specialized areas of the LPN field, including long-term care, hospice and palliative care, immunization, IV therapy, pharmacology, dialysis, neonatal education, gerontology, and more, which will help broaden and improve your career opportunities. As health care and medicine is a dynamic and ever-evolving field, LPNs are expected to stay knowledgeable and up to date on advances in the industry.

The bottom line

Hopefully, after reading all of this information about the LPN field and what it takes to become an LPN, you have a better sense of whether or not it’s the right career path for you. If you’re now more convinced than ever that becoming an LPN is right for you, then use the information here to help guide you along your path to career success. Good luck!

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.