Beautiful African-American nurse in blue scrubs

How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse

Degree Requirements, Job Duties, Certification Exam, and More

Beautiful African-American nurse in blue scrubs

At any healthcare facility, providing excellent patient care requires a diverse team of people working together with the patient’s well-being in mind. And while doctors and registered nurses may get most of the screen time during your favorite medical TV drama, support staff like licensed practical nurses are also incredibly important.

As the demand for healthcare continues to rise, licensed practical nurses will be an essential piece of the puzzle in treating everyone who needs care. And because it’s a career that can be achieved without spending several years in school, licensed practical nursing is a great way to get your foot in the door of the healthcare industry.

This guide offers step-by-step guidance on what it takes to become a licensed practical nurse—from enrolling in school and completing your degree to passing your certification exam and transitioning into your new career.

Licensed Practical Nurse Definition

What Is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are trained healthcare providers who work under the direction of doctors or registered nurses. They provide direct patient care at nearly any stage of a patient’s journey through the healthcare system. LPNs are often involved in patient intake and assessments, implementing the care plans established by their colleagues, and teaching patients and caregivers about healthy living habits and ongoing care instructions.

Practical Nurse: Job Description

What Does a Licensed Practical Nurse Do?

Licensed practical nurses work closely with patients to ensure their comfort and safety, and provide education and emotional support to patients and their families. They also work closely with other providers like doctors and registered nurses to carry out a patient’s prescribed treatment plan.

An LPN’s specific responsibilities and scope of practice can vary somewhat between states and different work environments. They’re typically responsible for things like monitoring patients’ vital signs, changing bandages or dressings, and assisting patients with activities of daily living. In some states, licensed practical nurses may administer IV medications and other forms of treatment.

As advocates for their patients’ health, licensed practical nurses strive to understand their symptoms and concerns, and watch carefully for any concerning signs. If a patient’s condition changes or worsens, they must also communicate effectively with the doctors or nurses overseeing the clinical environment.

Licensed Practical Nurse Duties

Some of the common day-to-day responsibilities of licensed practical nurses include:

  • Monitor patients’ vital signs like blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate
  • Perform basic patient-care tasks like changing bandages or dressings
  • Collect fluid or tissue samples for diagnostic testing
  • Assist patients with daily living activities like bathing, dressing, or eating
  • Actively listen to patients to understand their symptoms or concerns
  • Report changes or patient concerns to supervising doctors or nurses
  • Ensure accuracy and privacy of patients’ health records
  • Educate patients and their families about ongoing care instructions

Practical Nurse Skills

Beyond mastering basic nursing skills like wound care, catheter management, and other important clinical procedures, successful practical nurses are also highly observant and excellent communicators. Subtle changes in a patient’s condition can indicate serious concerns, and LPNs must be able to convey their observations and concerns to colleagues in a calm and professional manner, while including all the important information.

Effective interpersonal skills are also essential for communicating with patients and their families, especially at a time of their lives when they may be anxious or uncomfortable. The best nurses put their patients at ease, and help them articulate their needs clearly so healthcare providers can do their best to respond.

LPNs must be highly flexible and adaptable, as they may be asked to quickly transition between treating patients with very different needs. Strong critical-thinking skills will also serve you well in a career as a practical nurse, as you’ll often need to use available evidence to make an informed decision in situations where you may need to take action quickly.

Nurses walking in a hospital hallway

Where Do Licensed Practical Nurses Work?

Licensed practical nurses can find work in a wide variety of patient-care settings. Some of the most common workplaces include hospitals, outpatient clinics, residential care or rehabilitation facilities, and home healthcare services.

LPNs in different work environments often have varying responsibilities. For example, practical nurses in hospitals will likely perform more tasks related to diagnostic testing or wound care, while LPNs in an assisted-living facility may spend more of their time helping patients with daily living tasks. In home healthcare environments, they may focus mostly on teaching the patient and their family about how to properly follow their long-term care plan.

Licensed Practical Nurse Schooling & Certification

How Long Does it Take to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Before you can begin your nursing career, you’ll need to complete an accredited practical nursing program that’s recognized by the state where you plan to work. While it takes most people at least a few years to complete a bachelor-level nursing program, licensed practical nurses can earn a nursing diploma and enter the workforce in about a year.

Admissions requirements vary between practical nursing programs, but most of them will require a brief interview to make sure you understand the demands of the program and a nursing career in general. You may also need to take an entrance assessment exam, which will make sure you’re academically prepared for a nursing program. Exams like the SLE-Q can usually be completed online in less than 10 minutes, with around 30 mixed-format questions.

Once you’ve been admitted to a practical nursing program, you can expect to study plenty of anatomy and medical terminology to establish the foundation for your nursing knowledge. You’ll go on to learn more details about treating various patient populations, and complete lots of hands-on training in the essential techniques and procedures you’ll be expected to perform. Toward the end of your PN program, you’ll also complete clinical rotations to gain supervised experience working with real patients.

After earning an LPN diploma, many licensed practical nurses later continue their education and become registered nurses or work in other specialized healthcare careers. At some schools, LPNs who want to advance their careers can qualify for accelerated BSN programs, especially if they have a few years of experience.

Certification Exam for Licensed Practical Nurses

After earning a practical nursing diploma, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) before you can receive a state license and begin treating patients.

The number of questions on the NCLEX-PN varies depending on how many you answer correctly, but it’s usually between 85-200 questions. You’ll have a maximum of five hours to complete the exam, including scheduled break times. Many practical nursing programs offer NCLEX support resources to students, so be sure to take advantage of useful tools like review sessions and practice exams.

Close up of a nurse holding a miniature graduation cap

Additional Certifications and Specializations for Practical Nurses

Upon earning their license and entering the workforce, practical nurses can also complete additional certifications that train them to work with certain procedures or patient populations. Practical nurses can pursue certifications in specialties ranging from dialysis and wound care to pediatric care, long-term geriatric care, and many other areas of nursing.

To maintain a practical nursing license, most states require LPNs to complete a certain amount of continuing education hours every year or two. Continuing education helps nurses keep their skills up to date with new treatments and medical knowledge—and allows them to develop marketable new skills that can make them more appealing to potential employers.

Licensed Practical Nurse Salary

How Much Do Practical Nurses Make?

How much you’ll make as a licensed practical nurse depends on several factors, including your location, experience, education, and any additional skills or certifications that make you a valuable hire.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary* for practical nurses nationwide is over $60,000 per year, which works out to more than $29 per hour. The top 10% of LPNs bring home nearly $78,000 per year, or over $37 per hour.

Licensed Practical Nurse Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Practical Nurses?

All nursing careers are expected to continue stable long-term growth as the demand for healthcare continues to rise. That includes licensed practical nurses, who have a promising job outlook for at least the next decade.

According to BLS data, employment of licensed practical nurses is projected to increase 5% by 2032, notably faster than the 3% average growth rate across all occupations. That’s good news for anyone considering a nursing career, as the job market for nurses is projected to remain steady for years to come.

Launch Your Practical Nursing Career at Provo College

Licensed practical nurses are an indispensable link in the chain of multidisciplinary patient care. Their skills, empathy, and attention to detail make them valuable contributors in many clinical environments, and their mastery of nursing fundamentals means LPNs also have opportunities to grow and advance throughout their career.

If you’re considering a career as a practical nurse, the PN program you choose can make all the difference. The healthcare landscape is changing quickly, and nursing programs that stay up to date on the latest training tools can give their graduates a major advantage in the job market.

The practical nursing program at Provo College combines online and in-person courses for a flexible learning experience that sets you up for a successful career. You’ll learn from experienced nurses and train using state-of-the-art equipment, including realistic simulation labs and VR training tools. You’ll also have ongoing access to a Career Services team to help you polish your resume, practice your interview skills, and find your first nursing job.

Ready to officially begin your journey to becoming a practical nurse? Apply today to the PN program at Provo College, and an admissions rep will be in touch shortly to walk you through the process.