How to Become a Vocational Nurse

Vocational nursing can be a fulfilling career with opportunities to advance. Learn how you can become a vocational nurse.

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by Ellery Weil

Published August 15, 2022

Reviewed by Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, CCRN, RN

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How to Become a Vocational Nurse
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For those interested in healthcare and who want a career that's in high demand and involves working directly with patients, becoming a vocational nurse might be a good fit. Vocational nurses, also known as licensed vocational nurses (LVN) or licensed practical nurses (LPN), work directly in patient care in hospitals and other healthcare settings, usually under direct supervision from a doctor, nurse practitioner (NP), or registered nurse (RN).

Vocational nursing typically requires two years of postsecondary education and passing an exam to become licensed.

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Ready to start your journey?

What Does a Vocational Nurse Do?

Vocational nurses are at the front lines of patient care, working directly with patients to aid in various procedures and ensure patients are as comfortable as possible during treatment. One reason vocational nurses are sometimes called "practical nurses" is because they provide direct, hands-on care.

Becoming a vocational nurse is often the first step toward a more advanced nursing career. For vocational nurses who want to advance in their field, further education can lead to becoming an RN or NP.

Vocational Nurse Responsibilities

  • Monitoring patients' vital signs, such as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and breathing rate, keeping records and reporting significant changes to the attending physician
  • Doing everything possible to ensure the patient's physical comfort, including bathing and dressing the patient and escorting them to the bathroom if needed
  • Basic nursing duties, such as changing bandages, inserting and removing catheters and intravenous (IV) fluid drips, and any similar duties as needed

Vocational Nurse Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

What Are the Steps to Become a Vocational Nurse?

Unlike some types of nursing, vocational nursing does not require a four-year degree. After completing high school (or getting your GED diploma), a future vocational nurse takes a two-year course or training program and then takes an exam (the NCLEX) to become licensed before getting a job.

Step 1: Earn a Diploma or GED Certificate

Before you begin your vocational nursing training program, you will need a high school diploma or GED certificate. You need to prove that you have the necessary skills in reading, mathematics, and biology to begin the program.

Vocational nursing is a trade that does not require a four-year degree and is often taught at community colleges.

Step 2: Complete LVN Training Program

Both public and private institutions offer LVN training programs. These courses of study are offered in person, online, and in hybrid settings. There are both full-time and part-time programs available, although part-time programs typically take longer to complete.

Students must apply for vocational nurse training, with different requirements and application procedures at different locations. Your local community college may be a good place to learn more about options for vocational nurse training, or you can do research online.

Step 3: Pass the NCLEX Exam

The National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX) is an exam that all nursing students must pass before becoming fully licensed and accredited nurses. The exam is offered to nursing students in the U.S. and Canada and costs $200. Vocational nurses specifically take the NCLEX-PN, or NCLEX for practical nursing.

The NCLEX is offered in person at designated testing centers and can be taken year-round. However, students must register in advance. Students can prepare for the NCLEX by studying both exam-specific materials and the materials from their training courses.

Step 4: Get a Job as a Vocational Nurse

Vocational nursing is a career with a lot of potential for specialization and advancement through further education. Depending on where you work, you might specialize in:

  • Pediatrics
  • Emergency medicine
  • Obstetrics

Or any other distinctive branches of vocational nursing. Further qualifications and specializations can lead to a more advanced nursing career. Certifications and higher degrees can lead to more earning potential.

Step 5: Consider Continuing Education or Specialization

While a fully licensed and qualified vocational nurse has a variety of job opportunities, some vocational nurses may want to consider further education to advance their nursing career. This could be training for a specialty within vocational nursing, like mental health nursing, or a full nursing degree.

Getting a degree in nursing after your vocational nursing training can lead you to become an RN, which can lead to more specialized work opportunities and higher pay.

What to Know Before Becoming a Vocational Nurse

Accreditation

When you're choosing a vocational nursing program, it is important to ensure that it is from an accredited institution. Accreditation ensures that your vocational nursing qualifications from the program are legitimate and meet appropriate standards. Employers and licensing boards only recognize accredited degrees.

Cost

The cost of online education for a vocational nursing training program can vary widely. Prospective students should also consider the NCLEX exam fee and hidden program costs. It is also important to consider the cost of materials and lost income due to your studies.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), vocational nurses in the United States earned a median annual wage of $48,070 in May 2021. Not all states pay the same rates for vocational nurses, however, with salaries varying between big cities and smaller towns. The highest-paying state for vocational nurses is California, where the average vocational nurse takes home $65,140 per year.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Vocational Nurse

What qualifications do you need to become a vocational nurse?

To become a vocational nurse, you need to complete an LVN training program, which is generally less time-consuming and often less expensive than a traditional four-year degree program.

You also need to pass the NCLEX, the licensing exam for vocational nurses. Once you have completed your training program and passed the NCLEX, you can apply for jobs as a vocational nurse at a hospital, nursing home, medical laboratory, or other healthcare facilities. As a qualified vocational nurse, you may choose to pursue further education and advanced qualifications.

What is the fastest way to become a vocational nurse?

Generally, the fastest way to become a vocational nurse is to take a full-time vocational nursing course before passing your NCLEX qualifying exam. A full-time vocational nurse training course can be completed in as little as one year through a community college.

After your training, study as thoroughly as possible for your NCLEX exam to ensure that you only have to take it once. Once you are licensed, you can immediately start looking for jobs as a vocational nurse.

How do I become a vocational nurse without a degree?

You do not need a bachelor's degree to become a vocational nurse. Vocational nurse training programs are typically 1-3 year associate degree programs. Many community colleges offer vocational nurse training programs, although there are other schools and programs, including privately-funded programs, where you can undertake vocational nursing training.

You need to complete this training program and then pass the NCLEX licensing exam to become a fully-qualified vocational nurse.

Can I become a vocational nurse with an online degree?

Vocational nursing programs are generally associate degree or non-degree educational training programs. While some of the most popular vocational nursing programs offer traditional in-person classes, there are also online and blended learning vocational nursing programs available from several outlets.

If you are considering enrolling in an online vocational nursing program, it is important to research reputable programs. Make sure that the one you choose is accredited and has a good track record of preparing students for successful nursing careers.

How much money can I make as a vocational nurse?

Vocational nurses in the United States typically earn salaries in the mid-five figures. Vocational nurses earned a median salary of $48,070 per year in May 2021, per the BLS.

However, vocational nurse salaries vary significantly by location and which state you're employed in. The top five highest-paying states for vocational nurses are California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania. In California, the average vocational nurse earns $65,140 per year.

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