Practical NursingComprehensive Career Info and Resources for LPNs and LVNs
With jobs expected to grow 16 percent between 2014 and 2024, practical nursing is a wise career choice for anyone looking to enter the healthcare field and help others. As medical professionals, licensed practical and vocational nurses work under the direction of registered nurses or physicians, and are responsible for both nursing and administrative tasks. This guide provides detailed information on the field, from responsibilities to specialties to information on salary and employment. Prospective students can also find several other resources to help them start a career in practical nursing.
Best Practical Nursing Programs
The top nursing schools listed in this ranking were determined by comparison of three primary, equally weighted, criteria including,
- Student-to-faculty ratio
- In-state tuition
- Graduation rate
- Public and private not-for-profit schools only.
- All schools compared against each other in three primary categories: in-state tuition, graduation rate and student-teacher ratio. All categories weighted equally.
A successful practical nursing career begins with quality education. Whether you’re looking for a certificate/diploma program or an associate degree in nursing, there are several excellent schools and colleges across the US from which to choose. Start reviewing the top-rated options below. AccreditedSchoolsOnline analyzed and compared three major factors – in-state tuition, graduation rate, and student-teacher ratio – to create a list of the best public and private not-for-profit schools for aspiring practical nursing students. Find out if your target school made the list and see what other top schools have to offer.
Practical Nursing Programs
Practical nursing is a varied and dynamic profession that offers multiple entry points and career advancement opportunities. Prospective students interested in the field can learn more about the assortment of academic programs and career opportunities on the following pages.
LPN Programs and Schools
An essential part of the healthcare team, licensed practical nurses care for patients in hospitals, clinics, and private practices under the supervision of registered nurses. Discover the educational pathways that put students on the fast-track to this in-demand career.Read More
Online LPN Programs and Schools
For many, a campus-based LPN program isn’t doable. Online LPN programs offer flexibility and convenience, allowing aspiring practical nurses to earn a degree and still balance work, family, and other non-academic responsibilities. Find out how online LPN programs and schools work and what to look for when evaluating your options.Read More
CNA to LPN
Certified nursing assistants looking for move up the career ladder can do so by enrolling in a CNA to LPN bridge program. Learn more about the differences between CNAs and LPNs and the steps required to move into a practical nursing role.Read More
LPN to RN
Resulting in either an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, LPN to RN programs are a great way for practical nurses to further their education while still working. Read about program options and start working towards a registered nursing career.Read More
LPN to BSN
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing is becoming the new minimum education requirement for registered nurses. Practical nurses looking to become RNs can enroll in an LPN to BSN bridge program and earn their bachelor’s degree in one to two years, rather than four.Read More
Practical Nursing Resource Center
Although an important step, completing an accredited nursing program is just one part of the process. The following resources offer additional step-by-step information on how to become a successful practical nurse.
An in-depth guide on steps to becoming an LPN, including practical nursing programs and information on careers and licensure.
Taking and passing the NCLEX is a requirement for all practical nurses. Find resources and strategies for studying and preparing, and get detailed information about the test so you’re well prepared and ready to ace the exam!
Practical Nursing Programs and Licensing by State
Licenses for practical nurses are issued at the state level. To qualify for licensure, applicants must graduate from an accredited nursing program, pass the National Council Licensure Examination for practical nurses (NCLEX-PN), and meet other state requirements. Learn more about what’s involved in practical nursing programs, as well as individual state licensing requirements, using the map below.
- AL Alabama
- NHNew Hampshire
- NJNew Jersey
Practical Nursing Responsibilities
Licensed practical and vocational nurses provide basic medical and patient care under the supervision of registered nurses. Practical nurses touch every aspect of patient care, from basic patient assistance such as bathing and dressing, to direct, hands-on care such as treating wounds and inserting catheters.
Overall, the duties of an LPN are established and regulated by individual state boards of nursing. Each state has a scope of practice that outlines the boundaries in which practical nurses are allowed to work. This scope of practice varies widely from state to state – some allow practical nurses to administer intravenous medications, for example, while others limit LPNs to bedside care only. Across the board, however, LPNs are not allowed to make independent nursing decisions, change a patient’s plan of care, perform triage over the telephone, analyze test results, or take verbal orders from a physician.
The graphic below outlines the differences in the roles and responsibilities of practical nurses and registered nurses.
Registered Nurse Practical Nurse
NCLEX-RNLevel of nursing autonomy
Acts independently in the nursing role as defined by state's scope of practiceAssessment
Gathers data and applies nursing knowledge to assess a patient’s physical and psychological conditionsNursing diagnosis
Makes independent nursing decisions and develops nursing diagnoses based on the signs and symptoms of the patientCare planning
Identifies patient treatment goals, formulates appropriate strategies, and prioritizes based on patient needsCare implementation
Independently administers prescribed elements of care, including therapies, treatments and medicationsTask delegation
May assign nursing care tasks to other RNs, LPNs and assistive professionals, as defined by state’s scope of nursing practice
NCLEX-PNLevel of nursing autonomy
Works in a dependent nursing position under the direction and supervision of an RN, APN or licensed physicianAssessment
Observes, monitors and reports a patient’s signs and symptoms and reports regularly to supervising physician or RNNursing diagnosis
Not allowed to make nursing diagnosesCare planning
Assists physician or registered nurse to identify patient needs and treatment goalsCare implementation
Follows orders from a physician or supervising nurse to administer medications or provide treatmentsTask delegation
May delegate certain tasks as defined by state’s scope of practice to individuals in assistive positions
Career Paths & Specialties for Practical Nurses
More than 700,000 licensed practical nurses work in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with 55 percent employed by nursing and residential care facilities and hospitals. Yet the LPN field is not restricted to only a few career avenues. The expansive and diverse nature of the healthcare system provides opportunities for LPNs to work across healthcare specialties—from cardiology to nephrology, and home health care to hospice care. Below are some examples of career specialty tracks available to practical nurses.
LPNs may work in long-term care facilities, which include assisted-living, rehabilitation centers, adult day care centers, retirement communities, and skilled nursing facilities such as nursing homes. In these positions, they provide a range of medical and personal services to individuals who are unable to live independently. The type of services varies by facility. In a nursing home, for example, they may assist elderly patients with day-to-day tasks such as bathing, monitor the patient’s health, check vital signs, or handle prescription medication administration.
Hospice and Palliative Care
LPNs working in hospice and palliative care assist registered nurses and physicians to provide end-of-life care to patients, either in their homes or at a hospital. Under the direction of a registered nurse, LPNs provide a range of skilled nursing care duties. They may administer medication, maintain patient records, educate and support the patient and family members, conduct patient assessments, monitor vital signs, and collaborate with the caregiving team on an appropriate plan of care.
In the emergency room, LPNs assume an extensive list of responsibilities under the direction of a registered nurse or physician. For instance, they may assist in the admission and discharge processes, observe and report on patient conditions, conduct patient assessments, and administer prescribed medications and treatment. In some cases, certified LPNs may also manage intravenous therapies, starting and discontinuing treatment accordingly. Accurate documentation of treatment is a major responsibility to ensure that patient care is coordinated and performed correctly.
Labor and Delivery
Labor and delivery LPNs work as part of an interdisciplinary team of healthcare providers who manage not only the labor and delivery process itself, but also the prenatal and postpartum care of mothers and their children. Labor and delivery is a highly regulated field of nursing, and LPNs are limited in their scope of nursing practice. Some hospitals may only allow LPNs to monitor the newborn nursery, while others may expand their duties to assist with admission, delivery preparation, and recovery.
Working under the supervision of a registered nurse or licensed physician, practical nurses provide services to patients in their homes. Those services include standard bedside care such as monitoring vital signs or taking blood pressure readings, as well as more intensive tasks such as giving injections or dressing wounds. They may also help patients walk or move around, and assist them with personal hygiene. In these positions, LPNs may also supervise the work of related professionals, including nursing assistants and home health aides.
In managed care, the role of an LPN shifts away from hands-on care to one of administrative support. Working in managed care, LPNs serve as patient advocates, helping to administer health benefits, implement wellness programs, and assist in care coordination. They may work in rehabilitation centers, manage patient intake in nursing homes, or serve as a transition coordinator at a hospital, helping patients move into long-term care facilities.
One of the fastest growing specialties in healthcare, ambulatory care provides patient services outside of a hospital. This broad field of practice offers opportunities in diverse settings, such as physicians’ offices, rehabilitation centers, and pain management clinics. Responsibilities of LPNs in these positions vary, but may include providing health education to patients, acting as case managers, scheduling appointments, and assisting with medical procedures.
Mental Health Care
In mental health care, LPNs work on multidisciplinary teams to plan, coordinate, and provide services and treatments to patients dealing with mental, emotional and behavioral issues. The responsibilities of a psychiatric LPN span both administrative and patient care – they may assist in developing treatment plans, help provide psychological evaluations on patients, coordinate medical interventions with psychiatrists, and manage insurance billing.
Practical Nursing Salary, Employment, and Other Stats
|Annual Wage (10th Percentile)||$31,640|
|Median Annual Wage||$42,490|
|Annual Wage (90th percentile)||$58,710|
|Occupational Outlook (2014 – 24)||16%|
Practical nursing is one of the largest healthcare occupations in the US, and is projected to experience continued growth over the next decade. Some sectors, such as home healthcare, are expected to see more than 60 percent growth between 2014 and 2024. Even so, research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that there will be a shortage of nurses in the next decade, with some 22 states facing a lack of qualified LPNs by 2025. In some cases the scenario is severe. California and Ohio, for example, are both anticipated to have a shortfall of LPNs in excess of 20,000 to 25,000 professionals.
Faced with an aging population and nursing workforce, the need for qualified practical nurses will only increase. For professionals in the field, this will likely mean positive occupational opportunities across healthcare specialties, and solid career earning potential.
Largest occupational growth by healthcare industry for LPNs/LVNs (2014 – 2024)
- 41.8% Ambulatory Healthcare Services
- 60.7% Home Healthcare Services
- 57.9% Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy
- 39.2% Mental Health Services
- 33.5% Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, OOH
Top paying healthcare industries for LPNs/LVNs (Annual mean salary 2014)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES
Top ten states with highest occupational outlook for LPNs (2012 – 2022)
Source: Projections Central
Top five states with the most
LPNs employed in 2014
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES
Top paying states for LPNs/LVNs
(Annual mean salary 2014)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES
Age breakout for LPNs
- The average age of LPNs in the US is 43.6
- Only 18.3% of LPNs are 30 years old or younger
Source: Minority Nurse
- 107,234 practical nursing degrees were awarded nationally in 2013-2014
- 12% of practical nursing degrees in 2013-2014 were awarded to men (12,772)
- 88% of practical nursing degrees in 2013-2014 were awarded to women (94,462)
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, IPEDS