How to Become an LPN

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by Staff Writers

Published on November 4, 2021 · Updated on May 13, 2022

Reviewed by Elizabeth M. Clarke, MSN, FNP, RN, MSSW

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Ready to start your journey?

If you love caring for others and want to take advantage of a booming healthcare industry, a career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) could offer a good fit. Between 2020 and 2030, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 9% job growth for LPNs, who earned a median annual salary of $48,820 as of May 2020.

LPNs provide basic patient care by monitoring vital signs, inserting catheters, changing bandages, and gathering patient histories. They collaborate with other healthcare professionals, including registered nurses (RNs) and doctors, to create patient care plans.

Becoming an LPN is among the quickest paths into the healthcare field. Read on to learn more about how to become a licensed practical nurse.

What Are the Requirements to Become an LPN?

You can become an LPN in 12-18 months. The following section covers the steps you need to complete before you can practice.

Complete a high school or GED diploma.

All LPN programs require a high school or GED diploma at minimum for admission. While rarer, some schools may require a minimum GPA as well.

Complete an accredited practical nursing program.

To become an LPN, you must earn a diploma in practical nursing. Community colleges usually offer these programs, which usually take one year to complete. For LPN programs, look for accreditation from the National League of Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation.

The best programs help prospective nurses gain practical experience by offering clinical and practicum experiences.

Earn a passing score on the NCLEX-PN.

To become licensed, practical nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). Testing sites across the country offer this exam, but spots fill up fast. When choosing an exam date, make sure to allow yourself plenty of time to study for the NCLEX-PN.

Keep learning.

As the healthcare field continuously evolves, continuing education is key to success as an LPN. Make sure you stay current on trends in the field. If you wish, you can also pursue an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing to qualify for a career as an RN, which can increase your earning potential.

What Does LPN Training Look Like?

All accredited nursing programs prepare students to pass the NCLEX-PN. As such, most programs cover similar material. Most programs blend classroom learning and practical experience through clinicals and simulation labs. Coursework may cover basic nursing skills, pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, and psychology.

Learners should expect to spend three semesters studying full-time to earn a diploma in practical nursing. Keep in mind that coursework, delivery method, and clinical experiences can vary by school and by program.

How Long Does It Take to Become an LPN?

It usually takes 12-18 months to become an LPN. Most LPN diploma programs take one year, and prospective nurses may need time to study before taking the NCLEX-PN. Once you pass the exam, you're ready to practice as an LPN.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an LPN

Do LPNs make more than RNs? true

In general, RNs earn higher salaries than LPNs. According to 2020 data from the BLS, RNs earn a median annual salary of $75,330, while LPNs earn a median annual salary of $48,820.

Nevertheless, the top 10% of LPN earners make more than $65,520 per year, while the lowest 10% of RN earners make under $53,410 annually, so some LPNs may make more money than some RNs.

Is an LPN better than a medical assistant? true

Not necessarily. However, LPNs tend to earn higher salaries than medical assistants. According to BLS data from 2020, LPNs earn a median annual salary of $48,820, while medical assistants earn a median of $35,850 annually.

LPNs can perform more advanced medical tasks than medical assistants, provided they are supervised by a registered nurse or doctor. LPNs perform more clinical tasks, such as inserting catheters, changing dressings, and participating in patient care. Medical assistants generally perform more pre-appointment and administrative tasks like managing paperwork and electronic health records.

Are LPNs being phased out? true

No. The BLS projects 9% job growth for LPNs and licensed vocational nursing between 2020 and 2030, which translates to 63,800 additional jobs. While LPNs may have a harder time finding work in hospitals than RNs with associate and bachelor's degrees, they are still in high demand in residential care facilities and home healthcare settings.

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