Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse: Salary Info & Job Description

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A licensed practical nurse's mean annual salary is around $42,000, but is it worth the education and licensing requirements? Read real job descriptions and obtain the truth about the career prospects to decide if becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Licensed Practical Nursing

Licensed practical nurses, also called licensed vocational nurses (or LVNs), provide patients with basic healthcare services, including taking vital signs, offering general wound care and preparing and giving injections. To make a wise career decision, it's important to consider the pros and cons of the job.

PROS of an LPN Career
Excellent job prospects (predicted 25% growth from 2012-2022)*
Training can be completed in as little as one year*
Gratification of working to improve people's health and well-being*
Variety of specialization and advancement opportunities within the field*

CONS of an LPN Career
Potentially stressful job environment that can be both physically and mentally challenging*
Best job opportunities may require relocation to rural areas or medically underserved areas*
Difficult work with physically or mentally handicapped, injured and seriously ill patients*
Potential for round-the-clock work hours*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Duties and Description

Also called licensed vocational nurses, or LVNs, licensed practical nurses provide basic healthcare to patients in various clinical settings. Common duties include taking vital signs, preparing and giving injections, monitoring catheters and offering general wound care. As an LPN, you might note how patients are responding to medical treatments by collecting samples, performing routine lab tests and recording fluid intake and output. You also might be called upon to make your patients comfortable by assisting with bathing and personal hygiene. Tasks generally vary based on patients' conditions and where you work. For instance, in some states, LPNs are allowed to administer prescribed medicine and start intravenous fluids.

Practical nurses can have flexible jobs that include working for a variety of locations. Hospitals account for just 25% of LPN employment. Healthcare clinics, doctors' offices and even private homes can also be landing spots for LPNs. While practical nurses' work schedules can include long or off-hours, especially in 24-hour care facilities, 40-hour workweeks remain commonplace. Unfortunately, both physical and mental stress is routine. Patients can have a variety of maladies, which can add to the demands of the job. You might have some opportunity to work part-time if the stress becomes overwhelming, however; roughly 18% of practical nurses do this.

Salary and Career Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of licensed practical nurses was expected to increase by 25% from 2012-2022, which is faster growth than for most careers. Much of this growth was anticipated in response to overall growth of healthcare services and long-term care needs of an aging population. The BLS predicted that more than 921,000 LPNs would be employed by 2022. That's about 183,000 more LPNS than there were in 2012.

Where you work an LPN can affect your income. For instance, the BLS notes that, as of 2014, LPNs working in doctors' offices earned mean annual salaries of around $40,000, while their counterparts in nursing care facilities made about $5,000 more per year. The mean yearly salary for all LPNs was approximately $42,000. Bear in mind that this included part-time workers, so salaries can rise significantly in some cases.

Education Requirements

Licensed practical nurses have one of the most basic educational paths to gaining employment in patient care. There are a variety of possibilities for you to consider, including 1-year diploma programs, certificate programs or 2-year Associate of Science in Practical Nursing programs. Most require only a high school education or its equivalent to gain consideration for admission. Nursing education is readily available at both technical institutions and community colleges. You would train in a clinical environment to learn job duties as well as obtain traditional classroom-based learning.

Licensing Information

To be legally employable, licensed practical nurses must successfully complete the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN), administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The NCLEX-PN is a computer-based test that challenges your competency regarding healthcare procedures and concepts. If you pass and become an LPN, you must also complete continuing education in order to renew your license. Individual states have differing regulations, so it's important to research these if you're considering moving to, or working in, a different state.

What Employers Are Looking For

Many employers of LPNs request specific skills or experience in a certain type of patient care. Below are some examples of career postings on Monster.com in March 2012:

  • A nonprofit organization in Arizona was looking for an LPN with honesty and integrity. The organization preferred someone who had completed a course on IV therapy. The position reported to the director of nursing.
  • A Florida healthcare company sought a hospice LPN to work night shifts. The employer preferred a candidate with 1-2 years of experience as well as someone with at least one year of work with an adult medical surgical unit.
  • A surgery center in Pennsylvania sought a pre-op LPN with strong intravenous skills and at least two years of experience. The job offered variable shifts from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.

How to Stand Out in the Field

There are numerous ways to shine among the crowd in this field. If you have a desire to continually learn, you'll likely have a leg up since the field demands it. Being technologically proficient is becoming increasingly important due to continuous advances within the field. Communication is also key in providing quality patient care. Therefore, completing coursework in communication and technology can be helpful. You also might stand out if you have a focus on, or are especially comfortable with, providing geriatric care since many of the patients that LPNs care for are elderly.

Obtaining affiliation with a professional organization may also be helpful. Organizations such as the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses (NFLPN) offer members access to continuing education and job boards, as well as to events for networking and education. Additionally, as an LPN, you would have the opportunity to gain certification in a number of areas, which could enhance your career possibilities. For instance, the National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service, Inc. (NAPNES) offers certification in IV therapy, long-term care and pharmacology.

Alternative Career Paths

There are a variety of related career possibilities if you're interested in the healthcare industry. For example, becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) could allow you to work with patients and would require less education. The field is growing (the BLS projected a 19% increase from 2008-2018), and you could still have a positive impact on people's lives, helping them bathe, dress and eat, as well as offering basic patient assistance. However, you typically would make significantly less than an LPN (roughly $12 per hour as of 2010, per BLS figures).

Whether you're still a student or already working as an LPN, advancing to a registered nurse (RN) position is a common option. This career is growing even faster than LPN, with the BLS reporting expected 22% growth between 2008 and 2018. You'll need to gain additional training and education, but you might obtain more career flexibility and responsibility. RNs also earn greater incomes, with a mean annual salary of nearly $68,000 as of 2010.

If you don't want the stress or emphasis on patient care but are still interested in working in the healthcare field, you could become a clinical laboratory technician. Your income likely would be similar to that of an LPN, at $38,000 annually as of 2010. You also would have a career that is in-demand. However, your job would be more science-based since you would be working with bodily fluids and cell samples.

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