What is an LPN?

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Updated on September 20, 2023
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Shri Deshaies is a nurse educator with over 20 years of teaching experience in hospital, nursing school, and community settings. Her clinical expertise is critical care. She is a certified critical care nurse and has worked in surgical intensive care...
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  • Licensed practical nurses provide essential patient care.
  • They usually work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other inpatient settings.
  • You do not need a college degree to become a licensed practical nurse.
  • The profession will likely see strong, sustained job growth in the years ahead.

Frontline professionals such as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) play a leading role in protecting public health. Population trends suggest they will become increasingly important in the years ahead.

By 2040, an estimated 80 million Americans will be 65 or older. Older people tend to need more medical care. As such, the aging U.S. population will likely drive strong LPN job growth.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 9% increase in the number of LPN jobs nationwide between 2020-2030. If you're interested in being an LPN, get started by reading more about the profession below.

What Is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?

Licensed practical nurses provide basic care to ill and injured patients. Key duties include:

  • Performing clinical skills such as IV insertion and catheterization
  • Checking and monitoring patients' vital signs
  • Providing ongoing patient education
  • Making clinical assessments required by the patient care plan
  • Evaluating patient symptoms and reporting changes
  • Assisting patients who need help eating, dressing, and/or bathing

Being an LPN usually means working under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). The most common employment settings for LPNs include hospitals, nursing homes, and continuing care facilities.

In California and Texas, LPNs are known as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs). Their job duties mirror each other. The roles differ in name only.

What Training Does an LPN Need?

LPNs can benefit from having an associate or bachelor's degree. However, it is one of the few nursing professions that does not absolutely require a degree. Instead, diploma programs in practical nursing (PN) form the backbone of LPN education.

PN programs usually take about one year to complete. After graduation, you will need to earn your LPN license to start working. You get your license by passing a standardized test known as the NCLEX-PN exam.

PN diploma programs cover everything you need to know to pass the NCLEX-PN exam. Even so, it's a good idea to spend some extra time preparing for this important test.

At minimum, NCLEX-PN candidates should complete several practice tests before attempting the real thing. You can also enroll in exam prep courses designed to propel students to NCLEX-PN success.

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What Is the Career Outlook for LPNs?

BLS projections indicate strong LPN job growth in the years ahead. The role's projected job growth of 9% equates to nearly 64,000 new LPN positions between 2020-2030.

It's too early to make longer-term predictions. However, consider the following population projections:

  • Between 2020-2040, the number of U.S. senior citizens will rise from about 54 million to about 80 million.
  • By 2040, more than 20% of Americans will be 65 or older.
  • By 2040, about 15 million Americans will be 85 or older.

Older adults access healthcare more often and tend to have the greatest need for the services LPNs provide. These demographic trends indicate a high likelihood of continued LPN job growth well into the future.

How Much Do LPNs Make?

As of May 2020, the BLS reported $48,820 as the median annual salary for an LPN working in the United States. This annual LPN salary works out to $23.47 per hour.

PayScale provides a range of LPN salary data from around the country. As of October 2021, PayScale reports typical LPN earnings of $21.30 per hour. The top 10% earn $27.15 per hour or more.

Multiple factors influence LPN earning potential. More experienced LPNs tend to make more money. Earnings also vary by geographic location. According to the BLS, LPNs in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and Southwest generally enjoy the highest average salaries.

Frequently Asked Questions Being an LPN

Can LPNs make good money?

According to the BLS, LPNs make about 16% more than the U.S. national average for all professions. Being an LPN pays well considering the profession does not require a college degree.BLS data indicates that LPNs earn a median of about $939 per week. Meanwhile, the typical U.S. worker without a college education makes $746 or less.

Is LPN a stressful job?

In general, nursing professions have a reputation for being stressful. However, certain classes of nurses face more stress than others. For example, critical care nurses who work in intensive care units rank among those most likely to experience burnout.

What is the fastest way to become an LPN?

LPNs must meet certain professional standards. At minimum, they need to complete a PN diploma program recognized by the state nursing board where they plan to work.These programs usually take about one academic year to complete. They represent the fastest route to becoming an LPN since an associate degree in nursing is the next educational level up. Associate degree programs usually require a time commitment of at least two academic years.

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