Practical Nursing

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Comprehensive 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.

Top 10 Best Practical Nursing Programs

Rank School Location
1 Yale University New Haven, CT
2 Columbia University in the City of New York New York, NY
3 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
4 Duke University Durham, NC
5 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI
6 Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN
7 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
8 New York University New York, NY
9 Emory University Atlanta, GA
10 University of Rochester Rochester, NY

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Best Practical Nursing Programs

Top five states

  • Methodology

    ASO’s Best On-Campus Nursing Schools

    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.

  1. Yale University

    New Haven, CT



    Located in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale offers practical nursing degrees at the master's and doctoral levels. The on-campus MSN degree features concentrations in diabetes care, oncology, and gender and sexuality health justice. The university's Ph.D. program attracts learners with a background in research and prepares them for a career in academia.

    Yale offers specialized career resources for nursing degree-seekers, including a custom resume and cover letter guide, an employment outlook, and job-hunting tips. Students can also visit the Office of Career Strategy to learn networking skills.

    Applicants must submit three recommendation letters, GRE scores, and multiple essays. Prospective doctoral learners need a master's degree and transcripts that reflect a minimum 3.5 GPA. Yale covers tuition costs for students who require additional help after exhausting federal grants and loans.

  2. Columbia University in the City of New York

    New York, NY



    Columbia's on-campus practical nurse degrees include an MSN with concentrations in advanced clinical management and mental health nurse practitioner. Courses vary by program, but they may include health promotion, physical assessment, and deviations from health. Students can also pursue a DNP program at Columbia.

    Columbia's School of Nursing offers Stellic, an online platform that allows academic advisors to track their students' academic progress. Degree-seekers can also visit the Center for Career Education to perform practice interviews and receive resume critiques.

    Prospective students without a nursing background can apply, as Columbia offers bridge courses that give learners foundational knowledge and skills. Admission requirements vary by degree, but they typically include prerequisites and recommendation letters. Columbia awards numerous scholarships and grants, none of which require a separate application.

  3. University of Pennsylvania

    Philadelphia, PA



    Penn's on-campus practical nursing programs include bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Students learn on the university's Philadelphia campus. Master's degree-seekers can choose from multiple specializations, including neonatal, pediatric primary care, and women's health.

    Penn offers many career services exclusive to nursing degree-seekers, including workshops covering networking skills, resume writing techniques, and internships. The university's Career Services (CS) website features resources that students can access 24/7, including how-to guides and career interest communities. Learners can also review CS articles covering topics like top nursing employers and academic success tips.

    Application requirements for the master's program include a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. Some graduate concentrations do not admit applicants without 1-2 years of professional experience. Penn's School of Nursing offers departmental financial aid to qualifying learners.

  4. Duke University

    Durham, NC



    Duke offers four practical nursing degrees on its Durham, North Carolina, campus: an accelerated BSN, an MSN, a DNP, and a Ph.D. program. Learners who possess an associate in nursing can complete the BSN in just 16 months. Coursework covers topics like health assessment, the principles of pharmacology, and gerontological nursing. Master's learners can select one of eight specializations in areas such as palliative care.

    Learners approaching graduation can visit the School of Nursing's Career Services website to access information on upcoming job fairs, new job postings, and resume assistance. They can also access an extensive alumni network that allows recent graduates to learn from experienced peers.

    Application requirements at the graduate level include three recommendations, GRE scores, and an active nursing license. Duke prefers applicants with a minimum 3.0 undergraduate or graduate GPA. Both incoming and current graduate degree-seekers can apply for institutional financial aid by submitting the FAFSA.

  5. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

    Ann Arbor, MI



    U-M's on-campus practical nurse degrees educate recent high school graduates and experienced nurses who want to advance their career. The four-year bachelor's program features courses in introduction to psychology, human anatomy, and the context of care. The school also offers MSN and DNP programs. MSN students who plan to pursue the school's DNP should choose the MSN program's leadership track.

    The School of Nursing offers all Career Center (CC) resources through Handshake. Students can log in to Handshake to make a counseling appointment and explore other CC resources, such as career guides and information regarding on-campus and virtual career fairs.

    Admission requirements vary by degree. Prospective MSN degree-seekers must apply to the program and a specialty simultaneously. The university covers tuition for undergraduate learners who enroll in the Honors Program.

  6. Vanderbilt University

    Nashville, TN



    Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt offers a variety of on-campus practical nursing programs, including master of science in nursing, DNP, and Ph.D. programs. The master's program offers specializations in areas such as adult-gerontology acute care, emergency, and nursing informatics.

    Career services advisors provide students with links to top nursing job boards and maintain the school's vast alumni network on LinkedIn. Counselors also offer various virtual resources, such as coaching appointments and workshops. Degree-seekers can learn more on the Career Services website or by downloading the DoreWays mobile app.

    Prospective MSN degree-seekers should possess a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, complete undergraduate prerequisites, and submit three recommendation letters. The DNP program admits applicants with either a bachelor's or master's in nursing. Vanderbilt awards $7,000 per year to full-time MSN students with financial need.

  7. Johns Hopkins University

    Baltimore, MD



    Johns Hopkins' practical nursing programs include MSN, DNP, and Ph.D. programs. The MSN program offers three specializations: entry into nursing, advanced nursing practice, and healthcare organization leadership.

    The School of Nursing's Career Lab works with students to network with potential employers, identify relevant skills, and reflect on career goals. The university's career services advisors provide additional resources, including virtual events and webinars. Additionally, free software, such as Handshake and Vault, allows learners to hone job-hunting skills at any time of day.

    Johns Hopkins accepts applications for the fall, spring, and summer semesters. Degree-seekers pay a flat per-year tuition rate. Approximately 90% of MSN students receive institutional aid, ranging from $10,000 to full tuition.

  8. New York University

    New York, NY



    NYU's practical nurse degrees help experienced nurses attain the latest best practices and advance their career. Learners in the RN-to-BSN program can graduate in just 16 months. They study topics like adult and elder nursing, acute care psychological nursing, and contemporary issues in healthcare. Master's learners can specialize in one of nine areas. They can also further their studies by earning an optional certificate in advanced practice.

    NYU's Wasserman Center for Career Development offers on-campus and virtual career fairs, an internship and job board, and resume critiques. Students can also use the university's Violet Ready website to build 11 essential skills, including networking, resilience, and career awareness.

    Prospective graduate students should possess a New York state nursing license, a minimum 3.0 undergraduate or graduate GPA, and work experience. Other admission requirements include two recommendation letters and a 2-3-page personal statement. NYU awards institutional aid packages to bachelor's and master's students who demonstrate financial need.

  9. Emory University

    Atlanta, GA



    Emory's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing features a variety of practical nursing programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Undergraduates can earn a traditional or accelerated bachelor's. Master's students can specialize in one of 13 areas, including neonatal, family nurse, or women's health. Although most students attend courses on Emory's Atlanta, Georgia, campus, the accelerated BSN and DNP programs both offer a fully online curriculum.

    On-campus and online degree-seekers can use the School of Nursing's Career Services (CS) website to sign up for resume webinars, research job openings in and around Atlanta, and complete mock interviews. Learners can find nearly all CS resources by logging into Handshake.

    Admission requirements for all master's degrees include a Georgia nursing license and a resume. Doctoral applicants must submit two professional references. Emory's institutional scholarships award aid to incoming learners based on past academic performance, military service, and Peace Corps participation.

  10. University of Rochester

    Rochester, NY



    Rochester's practical nursing opportunities include an online RN-to-BSN, multiple nurse practitioner degrees, and an MS-Ph.D. accelerated program. On-campus learners can gain hands-on experience at the Rochester Medical Center or at one of 600 clinical sites throughout New York. Specializations at the master's level include family, pediatric, and adult-gerontology.

    Current students and recent graduates can take advantage of the Green Center's (GC) extensive career resources, including self-discovery tools, career communities, and podcasts. Virtual learners can access GC services through Slack, Zoom, and Handshake.

    Each degree uses different application deadlines, and some degrees admit new learners only once per year. Prospective graduate degree-seekers need a minimum 3.0 undergraduate or graduate GPA, an active nursing license, and at least 1-2-years of clinical experience, depending on the program. New York residents may qualify for a 50-55% tuition reduction.

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.

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.

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.


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

Licensing examination

Level of nursing autonomy
Acts independently in the nursing role as defined by state’s scope of practice

Gathers data and applies nursing knowledge to assess a patient’s physical and psychological conditions

Nursing diagnosis
Makes independent nursing decisions and develops nursing diagnoses based on the signs and symptoms of the patient

Care planning
Identifies patient treatment goals, formulates appropriate strategies, and prioritizes based on patient needs

Care implementation
Independently administers prescribed elements of care, including therapies, treatments and medications

Task delegation
May assign nursing care tasks to other RNs, LPNs and assistive professionals, as defined by state’s scope of nursing practice

Practical Nurse

Licensing examination

Level of nursing autonomy
Works in a dependent nursing position under the direction and supervision of an RN, APN or licensed physician

Observes, monitors and reports a patient’s signs and symptoms and reports regularly to supervising physician or RN

Nursing diagnosis
Not allowed to make nursing diagnoses

Care planning
Assists physician or registered nurse to identify patient needs and treatment goals

Care implementation
Follows orders from a physician or supervising nurse to administer medications or provide treatments

Task 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.

  • Long-Term Care

    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.

  • Emergency Room

    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.

  • Home Healthcare

    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.

  • Managed Care

    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.

  • Ambulatory Care

    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

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.


Annual Wage (10th Percentile)$31,640
Median Annual Wage$42,490
Annual Wage (90th percentile)$58,710
Occupational Outlook (2014 – 24)16%

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)


Top ten states with highest occupational outlook for LPNs (2012 – 2022)

  • 34.5% Utah
  • 30.1% Arizona
  • 27.6% Texas
  • 26.7% Virginia
  • 25.7% California
  • 25.3% North Carolina
  • 24.6% Georgia
  • 24.6% New Hampshire
  • 24.2% Colorado
  • 23.7% Florida

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)

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

Education statistics

  • 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

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