Four steps to becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN)

Last updated: March 1, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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Four steps to becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN)
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Every year, an estimated 34 million Americans are admitted to a hospital. When you or a loved one experience an unexpected medical emergency, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are there to help you every step of the way.

LPNs are responsible for ensuring that patients remain comfortable during their hospital stay. While most patients have limited time with registered nurses (RNs) and doctors, LPNs work around the clock with medical providers to ensure patients have quality care.

Highly educated, quality LPNs can transform a patient’s experience. You never know when a medical emergency will arise — you can only hope that you have a great healthcare professional advocating for your needs.

If you’re interested in obtaining an LPN license and supporting patients during hard times, here’s everything you need to know about how to become an LPN, including job expectations and salary information.

What is an LPN?

An LPN is a healthcare professional who provides basic medical care to patients. This includes checking patients’ vitals, good record keeping, and using medical equipment as necessary (such as inserting catheters).

An LPN may also be responsible for providing general medication to patients. However, RNs typically administer strong or high-dose medications.

An LPN follows the orders of an RN or doctor, both of which are healthcare professionals responsible for creating treatment plans.

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LPNs who work in rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and nursing homes are responsible for helping patients feel well-cared for and comfortable. They typically see patients more often than doctors or RNs.

What’s the difference between an LPN and an RN?

An RN is a step above an LPN, meaning they’re responsible for supervising LPNs during their work shifts.

RNs also have more clinical experience and educational requirements than LPNs. As an RN, you’ll need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing, whereas LPNs only need a certification.

Many prospective nursing students use their LPN license as a stepping stone toward becoming an RN. Their experience administering treatments to patients strengthens their college application, giving them a leg up over other applicants.

How much do LPNs make?

As of 2021, the national average salary for LPNs is $48,070 a year or $23.11 an hour.

However, the average salary varies drastically depending on location. In the U.S. as a whole, LPNs can earn anywhere between $26,170 and $69,950 yearly.

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Washington, California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Alaska are the top five highest-paying states for LPNs. On the contrary, southern states, like Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, are among the lowest-paying.

Each state will have varying licensing requirements before you can obtain your LPN license. Make sure to look at the requirements and the average salary in your state before you decide to become an LPN.

If you’d like to stay local, check out the average LPN salary in your state. That way, you can have an idea of your annual wage while planning for housing and other expenses.

Job responsibilities of an LPN

The most important job of an LPN is listening to patients and making them feel comfortable. Interpersonal skills are crucial for LPNs — patients will disclose more intimate details to medical professionals they feel close to, and these details can help their treatment and recovery.

As a patient’s treatment progresses, LPNs need to communicate with the person’s family members. Whether it’s good or bad news, LPNs should be prepared to handle family members’ reactions. If need be, LPNs can bring other healthcare professionals into the conversation as well.

LPNs need to be familiar with the medical equipment in patients’ rooms. These professionals are often responsible for setting up this equipment and reading vital responses for documentation.

LPNs work around the clock, so there isn’t always an opportunity to discuss a patient’s difficulties with an RN or doctor. However, the detailed notes that LPNs keep allow other professionals to remain updated on patients’ medical care.

The steps to becoming an LPN

Potential LPN students only need a high school diploma or GED to register for an LPN program.

However, finding the right school, passing the board exam, and obtaining a job can be tough. Here are the steps you’ll need to complete on your journey to becoming an LPN:

Step 1: Find a practical nursing program

From community colleges to universities, prospective nurses have a wide variety of options when selecting an LPN program.

However, not all practical nursing programs are the same. You want to find a school that will match you with relevant clinical experience.

If you would like to work with children, for instance, you’ll want to find a program that has a working relationship with a pediatric hospital. Alternatively, if you’d like to work in a residential care facility, you’ll want to look at programs that provide clinical experiences with the elderly.

When you’re investigating potential programs, ask about their National Council Licensing Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) pass rate.

Good, well-rounded, practical nursing programs will have a high success rate among their graduates. On the other hand, low success rates (or no available statistics on the pass rate) could indicate that the educational materials didn’t prepare students well enough for the licensing exam.

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If you’re considering furthering your career to become an RN, you’ll need to find an LPN program that holds accreditation from the National League of Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA).

Students who don’t graduate from an accredited nursing program won’t be eligible to apply for a bachelor’s or master’s degree and obtain their RN license. Even if you’re not sure what the future holds, it might be wise to find an accredited program so you have options to continue your education.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-PN

The NCLEX-PN is no ordinary board exam, and nursing students will need to study hard to pass and obtain licensure.

The NCLEX-PN will test your abilities in the following four main subject areas:

  • How to successfully create a safe environment and follow healthcare standards to provide effective care for patients

  • How to promote good physical health and teach patients how to maintain good health after treatment

  • How to understand and treat the psychosocial needs of a patient, including assessing their mental health and social support

  • How to adequately provide for the physiological needs of a patient, including medication dosages, analyzing test results, and informing patients of their limits while healing from medical issues

Now, here’s where the test gets tricky. Nursing students have no idea how many questions they’ll encounter during the five-hour testing period.

For every question you get wrong on the NCLEX-PN, you’ll receive an additional question to answer. If you get a perfect score, you’ll only see 85 questions. Students who don’t prepare well for the exam might see a maximum of 205 questions.

This is why Step 1 is so important — if you don’t find a good practical nursing program, you may not be adequately prepared for the licensing exam. And since the entrance fee is $200 (on top of all your college costs), you’ll want to ensure you’re confident in your abilities before sitting for the exam.

Step 3: Create a resume and CV

As a newly graduated nursing student with an LPN license, it’s time to create an excellent resume and CV to secure a great job.

Crafting a great resume and CV will be crucial to obtaining your desired LPN job. Nursing programs offer different clinical experiences and education options — all of which you should highlight on your CV and discuss on your application.

Think about it this way: you’ll be competing with other competent, licensed LPNs for job offers. You want to make sure your resume stands out and leaves a good impression on your potential employer.

Looking for some additional help? Here’s an article on 18 skills that’ll amplify your resume.

Step 4: Find an LPN position near you

Once your resume and CV are polished and ready, you can start applying for available LPN positions.

While the number of LPN jobs available is expected to increase by 58,800 yearly until at least 2031, it’s important to consider your prior experience and education before you submit an application.

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For example, if your current experience is primarily with older individuals, you might have a difficult time finding a position in a children’s hospital.

When you’re looking for the perfect starting job as an LPN, check out the Jobcase job board. Here, you’ll be able to sort jobs based on location, position, and distance from home — making it easy for you to find immediately available jobs in your area.

(Optional) Step 5: Obtain a certification or continue your education

After some time working in the healthcare field, some LPNs decide to continue their education or obtain specialty certifications.

Some nursing students use their LPN license to enhance their college applications and further their careers. Many colleges have previous education requirements, and potential students will have an easier time being accepted if they hold an LPN license and relevant job experience.

Prior work as an LPN is also a huge benefit when applying for internships and clinical experiences. Residential care facilities, hospitals, and other healthcare clinics prefer a student with prior work experience over a brand-new nursing practitioner.

If you’re content working as an LPN but want to make a higher salary in a specialty area, consider receiving an additional certification. Here are some options for LPN certification:

  • Breastfeeding counselor

  • IV therapy

  • Advanced life support

  • Hospice care

  • Pharmacology

Receiving specialty certifications and continuing your education can help propel you in the healthcare field. Consider one of these options if you’d like to progress in your career.

FAQs about LPNs

Is becoming an LPN difficult?

Becoming an LPN isn’t easy, but it also depends on your academic ability.

If writing papers, taking tests, and studying is difficult for you, the educational requirements for LPNs might be tough.

However, with hard work, determination, and good study habits, many potential LPNs will succeed. The course material will be much more difficult for students who don’t study and prepare.

What’s the difference between a certified nursing assistant and an LPN?

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) have four to five weeks of education and training before sitting for the CNA certification exam. They’re responsible for bathing and grooming patients, as well as helping them out of their beds when necessary.

LPNs are a step above CNAs — these professionals take clients’ vital signs, administer medications, and record information in medical charts.

Therefore, the biggest difference between CNAs and LPNs is in their education and responsibilities. CNAs are essential to good patient care; however, LPNs have more medical experience and communicate closely with healthcare professionals.

What’s the difference between LPNs and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs)?

The only difference between LPNs and LVNs is the state you live in!

Currently, California and Texas refer to LPNs as LVNs. But LVNs perform the same duties, and prospective LVNs must follow the same educational requirements as LPNs in other states.

Find an available position as an LPN today

LPNs are in high demand. The number of professionals in the field is expected to increase until at least 2031.

While it’s not easy to become an LPN, the opportunities for advancement and salary increases will be beneficial for new healthcare professionals. All you need to do is find an LPN program, pass the board exam, and find a great job to succeed in the field.

When you’re ready to find your next job, start your search with Jobcase. Our innovative job posting board allows potential employees to find jobs in their area and register via email to receive new updates on job postings!

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