Becoming a licensed practical nurse (called a vocational nurse in just a few states) can be an excellent choice, depending on what your specific career goals are, and how much you can afford to invest in education right now.
Licensed practical nurse (LPN) programs, which generally give you a certificate rather than a college degree, do not require any college course prerequisites (unlike ADN degrees, which qualify you to work as a registered nurse).
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The upside of and LPN program is that it costs less than an ADN degree program and is shorter (a year in most cases – though it may run as long as 18 months), which means you can get started with your nursing career more quickly and begin earning money, while you consider whether you want to move on to and ADN or BSN program later. LPN training is from well over 1,000 community colleges, technical schools and junior colleges across the U.S., and there are a wide variety of licensed practical nurse degree programs offered online.
It pays to do some research about job opportunities for LPN’s in your particular area, because the job picture varies a great deal from on state to another. Some large university and even private hospitals have actually ceased hiring LPN’s in recent years, opting to put only registered nurses on staff. But because licensed practical nurses are very much sought after by clinics, nursing homes, physicians’ offices and other kinds of health facilities, you may find it quite easy to get hired once you get your LPN degree.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for an LPN in the United States is about $40,000 per year, though some earn over $55,000. By comparison, USBLS reports that in the same year, the median salary for a registered nurse was about $64,000.
What An LPN Does
Although different states and even different hospitals have their own rules about job responsibilities for their licensed practical nurses, there are a few standards that seem to apply across the board. LPN’s generally dispense medicines to patients, monitor the condition of patients, apply dressings, feed patients, perform some routine lab tests, take patients’ vital signs and handle other important basic jobs in patient care.
Although some experienced LPN’s supervise nurse’s aids, in general, Licensed Practical Nurses are not able to delegate jobs to anyone and do not work as supervisors. That role tends to be reserved for nurses with and ADN degree or even a master’s degree in nursing. The LPN will usually be supervised by a doctor or registered nurse (or in some offices, a dentist).
You should be realistic about the fact that an LPN degree will not get you hired in a senior position on the nursing staff. But given the shorter length and lower cost of the LPN degree program, it’s a great way to get your foot in the door in nursing. If you’re smart, you can use the entry level position you get as an LPN as a springboard to bigger things. In terms of getting yourself “fast-tracked” into our nursing career, the LPN certificate is great because there are no college prerequisites needed to start working on it (unlike most RN degree programs, which require you to have completed some liberal arts courses at a college level).
Once you’ve got your LPN certificate, a smart strategy is to look for a job with a nursing home or hospital that’s either quite large or is owned by a good-sized corporation. That will increase the likelihood that your employer will pay for you to get your “next level” nursing degree as an RN or, eventually, a BSN. That way, instead of waiting around to get admitted to an RN program, you can be earning a pretty good living and getting real world experience as you work toward your ADN degree. If you take this “study while you work” approach, an online nursing program will help you balance your work life with your personal responsibility while you pursue your educational goals. More here on starting out as an LPN or registered nurse.
There are literally thousands of jobs available for licensed practical nurses. The courses you’ll take for your LPN degree will usually include basic anatomy, psychology, physiology and nursing practice. Your course study will prepare you to take your state’s PN-NCLEX (Practical Nurse–National Certification Licensure Examination), which will qualify you to get your first job as a nurse.
Find out more about the typical cost of a licensed practical nursing program.