A licensed practical nurse career is the fast-track way of entering the exciting and rewarding world of nursing medical careers. There are certainly some advantages to becoming a registered nurse, but in most cases that will take four years and cost tens of thousands more dollars for tuition. By pursuing a licensed practical nurse (LPN) degree, a person can have a fulfilling career in health care in just about a year. In many cases, an LPN will be working alongside a registered nurse, performing many of the same tasks, with many of the same responsibilities, and earning the respect and prestige that accompanies life as a nurse.
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are known in some states as licensed vocational nurses, or LVNs. For ease of reading, this article will use the LPN designation, but keep in mind that LPN and LVN mean the exact same thing. LPNs work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, doctor's offices, clinics, nursing homes, retirement communities, schools, and some private businesses. In most cases, the job will require a person to be on his or her feet all day; sturdy and comfortable footwear is a necessity for the job. Besides technical nursing skills, the most important requirement for a licensed practical nurse career is a compassionate attitude toward others who are in vulnerable situations. Having a competent nurse at your bedside is one thing, but having a competent nurse with empathy and understanding is light years beyond that.
Because so many registered nurses are either specialists in one area or work in a supervisory capacity overseeing other nurses, most of the actual day-to-day, hands-on care of patients falls to LPNs. Common duties will include the recording of vital signs and measurements (such as temperature, pulse, respiration, blood pressure, height, and weight), giving shots (injections) and enemas, turning patients to prevent bedsores, treating wounds, recording the amount of food and liquid a patient takes at each meal, inserting catheters, applying dressings, helping patients with bathing and relieving themselves, etc. In some states, LPNs are allowed to dispense prescription medicines, but in most states, that is not the case.
Nursing goes on around the clock, so many LPNs will be working on second, third, or rotating shifts. Many work Friday, Saturday, and Sunday only, while others (usually with more seniority) will work Monday through Thursday. LPNS working in doctor's offices and clinics will usually have more traditional shifts, but not always. Some LPNs choose to work for staffing agencies with either short- or long-term assignments. Some do this for flexibility, taking a few weeks off whenever they desire, while others use it to "try out" different working environments, as this can often lead to an offer of permanent employment. It's not uncommon for LPNs to travel throughout the year, paying for their travel by picking up assignments from local or national staffing agencies. This may require getting licensed in several states, but the licensing standards are fairly uniform across the U.S.
The education required for a licensed practical nurse career typically takes one year to complete. Many trade schools and community colleges offer these courses. Getting accepted can sometimes be difficult, as there simply aren't enough programs and qualified instructors to meet the demand. It's best to start making inquiries and plans as early as possible. Prospective LPN students will need to pass the National League for Nursing Pre-Admission Examination, or NLN PAX, in order to be accepted. Once they've graduated, they will then need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for LPNs, or NCLEX-LPN. Failure to pass either of these tests will prevent a person from entering into a licensed practical nurse career.
An LPN career is not only fulfilling and rewarding in an abstract sense, but also in a financial sense. LPNs make above-average incomes; as of this writing, most LPNs earn between $35,000 and $50,000 annually. Some earn substantially more, and in most jobs there is ample opportunity for overtime. The U.S. is facing a critical shortage of nurses and the problem is only getting worse, so both job and income prospects for a licensed practical nurse career are excellent for the foreseeable future.
Last Updated: 04/19/2013