Higher Education Options for Licensed Practical Nurses
Licensed Practical Nurses, or LPNs (known as a Licensed Vocational Nurse in California and Texas) work on the front lines of health care under the supervision of registered nurses in an ever-growing and dynamic health care environment. The path to becoming an LPN can take several routes, depending on the student’s current education and desired specialty, if any. The requirements and salary may vary by state, but all LPNs must have some post-high school education to ensure the best possible care for patients. This guide is designed to inform prospective LPNs about the requirements, career possibilities and the avenues to achieving a career in nursing. Find out if nursing is a good choice for you and identify the LVN/LPN nursing programs near you.
- Find LPN Programs Near You
- What Is an LPN?
- Who Pursues an LPN Program?
- The Path to Becoming an LPN or LVN
- Types of Degrees Available to LPNs
- Bridge Programs to the RN
- Earning Potential for Practical Nurses
- Next Steps: Earning Your License
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Find LPN Programs Near You
LPN programs are available in every state, though they vary widely in price and program availability — even those in the same city. We’ve combed through the research to find some of the best LPN and LVN programs in the country. Use our tool to find one that fits your schedule and your wallet.
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What Is an LPN?
Licensed Practical Nurses care for injured, ill or convalescing patients or persons with disabilities under the supervision of a registered nurse. LPNs work in settings that include hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, private homes, group homes and similar settings.
Among other tasks, LPNs are qualified to perform the following:
- Administer prescription medications.
- Evaluate nursing intervention outcomes and discuss with other health care team members.
- Collect samples from patients such as blood and urine.
- Sterilize equipment.
- Make appointments and keep patient records.
Who Pursues an LPN Program?
An LPN program is a fast-track route to a rewarding career in health care. It is also a method for certified nurse assistants to take their career to the next level, or for those transitioning from a different career. The sample profiles below will provide a closer look at reasons to pursue an LPN nursing program.
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The Aspiring Nurse
An aspiring nurse can get to work quickly with a high school diploma and a nursing certificate they can earn in about a year. Some high schools offer vocational programs, allowing graduates to start working after graduation and earning the state’s board certification. This is a quick-entry option for those who are ready to get to work and gain professional experience quickly. From there, practicing LPNs can go on to earn an RN or BSN with additional education.
The Certified Nurse Assistant
The fastest route to a health care career in nursing, nursing assistants can train in just a few weeks or a few months, depending on the individual state’s requirements. Programs include classroom and hands-on clinical experience. It’s a good idea to look for a CNA program that provides a bridge to LPN, as some course work may count for both programs or abbreviate the time in the LPN program. A CNA has course work and practical experience that can only help in the future.
The Career Changer
A career as an LPN is a popular choice among those looking for a change. And when the career changer already has some college credits, the road to nursing can be a relatively short one. Many people can apply general education credits to the prerequisite requirements in an LPN program, shortening the program to less than a year. Graduates need to pass their state licensure exam and then are able to practice nursing in a licensed facility.
The Path to Becoming an LPN or LVN
The path to becoming an LPN or LVN can vary, depending on where you earn your diploma or degree. Vocational and technical schools offer exclusively nursing-related curriculum that puts graduates on a quick path to their careers. Students can often accelerate their learning to graduate even faster. At a community college, students are required to take general education classes, which provide additional credit hours and add time to the duration of the program. However, the tuition is generally lower and students earn credits they may be able to transfer to a university later. Students can attend an LPN or LVN program on campus or earn an LVN online.
|Vocational/Technical Schools||Community Colleges|
|Curriculum Focus||Courses are almost exclusively hands-on, practical LPN/LVN experience for immediate entry into the profession.||In addition to LPN coursework, may require general education classes, providing a more well-rounded education.|
|Degrees/Credentials Awarded||Diploma||Certificate or associate degree|
|Typical Duration of Program(s)||9 to 18 months||18 to 24 months|
|Learning Format||On-campus Online/hybrid Evening and weekend classes often available Accelerated learning options||On-campus Online/hybrid Evening and weekend classes often available General education classes usually can be completed entirely online.|
|What’s Unique?||Career-focused education with flexible scheduling options for busy adults.||Lower tuition costs and the opportunity to transfer credits toward a bachelor’s degree.|
Types of Degrees Available to LPNs
The education required to begin a career in nursing depends on the amount of education the aspiring nurse wants to complete. A diploma or certificate program allows a quick entry into the field, but with minimal opportunities to pursue additional education and career advancement. An associate degree program takes longer to complete but offers a more versatile curriculum that could serve the nurse well in future educational endeavors. There are other benefits and disadvantages for each degree type, as outlined here.
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|Diploma or Certificate||Associate Degree|
|Curriculum Focus||Career-focused education limited to LPN skills and knowledge only.||Supplements LPN coursework with general education classes.|
|Duration of Program||9 to 18 months||18 to 24 months|
|Benefits||Offers a quick entry into the health care workforce Training is provided by professionals in the field||More versatile academic credential Credits may transfer toward a bachelor’s degree|
|Disadvantages||Limited education Some employers prefer to hire applicants with a degree Credentials typically won’t transfer should the individual pursue further nursing education||Longer time commitment Admissions process might be more rigorous|
Beyond the LPN: Bridge Programs to the RN
Licensed practical nurses who want to further their education can do so by becoming a registered nurse, and many schools offer a bridge program to make the process seamless. In an RN program, students learn more complex treatments and nursing assessments as well as advanced pharmacology, physiology and pathology, allowing them to take on greater responsibility in the health care setting. Because they have more advanced training, RNs tend to earn a good deal more than a LPNs.
An LPN to RN bridge program is a good opportunity for those who want to become leaders in their organizations or pursue a graduate degree in nursing.
To be admitted into an LPN to RN program, applicants must hold a certificate or diploma from an accredited LPN program and hold a current LPN license. Depending on the state, the applicant may also have to have a number of clinical hours or work experience hours. The time to graduation varies depending on what type of LPN degree the applicant earned, and the school and program of application. Students can usually earn an LPN to RN in 12 to 24 months.
Students can earn an RN degree online, on a traditional campus or in a hybrid program, which provides both online and on-campus class options. Because graduates must have some practical experience, online programs do require clinical rotations at an approved health care facility near the student. Prospective RNs should talk to their school of choice prior to enrolling to ensure that the program will fit their personal and professional schedule.
Earning Potential for Practical Nurses
The heath care field is growing rapidly and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the need for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses will grow by about 25 percent from 2012 to 2022. Because of this need, salaries are generally competitive. And the more education one obtains, the more the nurse can potentially earn. Our map below shows the high, median and low salaries for LPNs or LVNs in several states.
Next Steps: Earning Your License
After fulfilling the educational requirements, aspiring LPNs will need to pass the NCLEX-PN exam to begin work as licensed practical nurse. This five-hour exam has a varying number of questions, depending on how many questions the test-taker answers incorrectly. The number of questions increases if a candidate answers a question incorrectly, up to a total of 205 questions. About 72 percent of aspiring nurses passed the test in 2014.
Those preparing to sit for the NCLEX-PN should plan to begin studying about six months in advance. The most successful candidates find a study group to work with, in either an informal setting or in a more structured class.
A number of resources are available for those who are taking the test. A test outline is available on the National Council of State Boards of Nursing website. This outline is updated annually, so candidates should ensure that they have the most current outline possible. NCSBN also has a candidate bulletin to help test-takers prepare for the layout of the assessment. Flash cards and study books are also available online from a number of retailers. Study Guide Zone has several practice question sets as well as a video with helpful tips.
Organized study courses are available through ATI Testing, Hurst Review Services and other online and local test prep organizations. These courses encourage candidates to use lists, pictures, diagrams and flash cards of some of the major areas of study to ensure they have a good knowledge base of the test topics. They also teach test-takers to focus on textbook answers, rather than answers that draw from personal experience. Some of the most challenging concepts include lab values, prioritization, delegation and infection control.
Ongoing Support for LPNs
The National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service is dedicated to promoting and defending the practice, education and regulation of LPN and LVNs.
The National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses fosters high standards of nursing care through education, certification and lifelong learning and is dedicated to elevate the profession of practical and vocational nursing.
The California Vocational Nurse Educators is a strong supporter of vocational nurses in the state of California, producing conferences and seminars for continuing education and providing legislative information to its members.
The American Nurses Association is a professional organization for registered nurses, promoting high standards of practice and promoting the rights of nurses in the workplace.