Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

This page will help you understand what it takes to become an LPN, what LPNs do, where they work, and their earning potential. You’ll also find that the LPN career is one step on a path to becoming a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, advance practice nurse, or a nurse leader.

If you have a passion for helping people and are interested in a rewarding, challenging and exciting career in healthcare — a job as an LPN may be the right place to start.

What is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Licensed practical nurses (LPN) are sometimes called licensed vocational nurses (LVN), and they are in demand in the United States, along with many careers in healthcare. According to the BLS, employment of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses (LPNs and LVNs) is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

LPNs or LVNs provide medical care to patients, under the supervision of senior nursing staff. The senior staff typically consists of RNs or nurses who hold advanced degrees, doctors, and other licensed healthcare professionals. As LPNs get more experience they may become supervisors and manage other LPNs or certified nursing assistants (CNAs).

How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse

  1. Obtain a high school diploma or an equivalent education.
  2. Complete a training program that prepares them to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for LPNs. Typically, the educational programs for LPNs take about one year to complete.
  3. In some states, you may need to pass a state-administered licensing test.

Nurses who hold LPN certifications have attained either an associate’s degree (16%), some college without a degree (38%), or a post-secondary certificate (35%), according to O*NET Online’s summary report for Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses. The average LPN has likely studied at a community college or technical school and completed practical training to earn a certificate as a licensed practical nurse.

If you’re wondering whether an LPN certification is right for you, consider soft skills that may help licensed practical nurses in their day-to-day work. Soft skills are skills that can’t necessarily be taught in a classroom, such as compassion, communication, and listening. According to the O*NET report for LPNs and LVNs, soft skills that may benefit LPNs include:

  • Service orientation — LPNs are driven to serve their communities
  • Active listening — LPNs are good at listening — and hearing — what other people say
  • Speaking — LPNs are good communicators, whether they’re talking to patients or doctors
  • Time management — LPNs are good at prioritizing tasks and getting work done on time
  • Critical thinking — LPNs must be able to use logic and reason to identify issues and solve problems
  • Active learning — Healthcare providers must be eager and willing to continue their education throughout their careers

The career outlook for LPNs, like most healthcare professions, is greater than the national average for all occupations. For many nurses, becoming an LPN is just the beginning of a career path in nursing. Some licensed practical nurses go on to earn other degrees to possibly advance their careers, such as an LPN to RN degree.

What Do LPNs Do?

LPNs play important roles in healthcare settings. They provide supportive care to other healthcare providers, whether it is clinical, administrative or a combination of both. LPNs are often “frontline” healthcare providers who have direct contact with patients. The specific tasks that LPNs perform include:

  • Checking vitals signs such as blood pressure and pulse rates
  • Administering basic care such as changing bandages
  • Helping patients bathe, dress, eat and perform other self-care tasks
  • Recording and reporting patient histories and concerns to registered nurses, doctors and other practitioners
  • Collecting samples for laboratory tests
  • Inserting catheters and IVs (in some states, with specialized training)
  • Administering medication (in some states) under the supervision of an RN, nurse practitioner or doctor
  • Cleaning and sterilizing medical equipment and instruments
  • Performing clerical work in a healthcare setting
  • Training and educating patients and their families or caregivers
  • Preparing medical supplies and equipment for doctors and other healthcare practitioners to use to diagnose and treat patients
  • Preparing patients for medical procedures
  • Ordering medical equipment and supplies
  • Assisting nurses and doctors during patient exams

Your duties as an LPN will vary depending on the type of healthcare environment you work in. LPNs in hospitals may have very different roles from LPNs who work in private practice or home health agencies, which you’ll learn in the next section.

Where Do LPNs Work?

According to the BLS, most LPNs (38%) work in nursing and residential care facilities. Licensed practical nurses also work in hospitals (14%), physician offices (13%), home healthcare agencies (12%) and in government facilities (7%).

Nursing and residential care facilities: Licensed practical nurses will have different duties according to the state they live in. Some states will require that LPNs start intravenous (IV) drips and give medications, while other states don’t allow LPNs to perform these tasks. In some states, an experienced licensed practical nurse will supervise and lead a team of LVNs or LPNs.

Hospitals: According to the BLS, hospitals hire a good portion of LPNs to assist their day-to-day work. Your title may be different, such as occupational health nurse, medical assistant or nursing assistant.

Private practice: While most LPNs work in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, they also find rewarding careers in a variety of settings. If you earn certificates or training in a specialized field such as gerontology, pediatrics, dermatology or any number of medical specialties, you may have an easier time finding a job with a private practice. LPNs who work in physician offices perform a combination of healthcare and administrative roles.

Home health agencies: LPNs who work for home health agencies travel to patients’ homes to help with basic care such as administering medication, delivering supplies, changing wounds, and providing care to patients in their homes.

Government: A small number of LPN jobs are through federal, state, and local government agencies, such as state-owned and operated hospitals and clinics. LPNs at these locations do similar jobs as they would at non-government hospitals, clinics and agencies. If you are fortunate enough to work for a government agency as an LPN, you’d likely earn a higher than average salary; the BLS reports LPNs in government average $48,050 per year as of 2018.

Licensed Practical Nurse Salary

Licensed practical nurses are in demand in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The more experience you have as an LPN, the higher your earning potential may be. LPNs reported an average annual salary in 2020 of $48,820 in the United States, according to O*NET’s summary for LPNs and LVNs.

Different skills can also influence how much licensed practical nurses make. LPNs in long-term care, geriatrics, wound care, home health and hospice may earn different wages than LPNs who work in pediatrics, surgery and family practices.

While licensed practical nurses have less schooling than other nurses, they are still critical to the wellbeing of their patients. If you’re eager to begin working in the medical field, this may be the right place for you to begin your career.

What’s the Difference Between a Registered Nurse and a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Registered nurses (RN) provide direct care to patients, while licensed practical nurses (LPN) typically provide assistance to doctors or registered nurses.

Licensure as a registered nurse is generally sought after graduation from a 4-year undergraduate nursing program and successful completion of the NCLEX-RN. Licensed practical nurses typically may need to complete a 12-14 month post-high school program and the NCLEX-PN. Licensure as a RN is generally a prerequisite both for graduate nursing programs and for advanced practice or specialty certification.

This page includes information from O*NET OnLine by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license. O*NET® is a trademark of USDOL/ETA.

Information last updated January 2022.