Vocational Nurse Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

About this article
Vocational nurses earn a median annual wage of around $42,000. Are the training and licensure requirements worth the pay? Get truthful information about the job description, salary information and career prospects to see if it's the right career for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of a Vocational Nurse Career

Licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) work under the supervision of registered nurses and doctors to provide basic nursing care. Exploring the pros and cons of being a vocational nurse can help you decide if this career is the right fit for you.

Pros of Being a Vocational Nurse
Can work in various medical settings*
Faster-than-average employment growth (25% between 2012 and 2022)*
Allows you to help others*

Cons of Being a Vocational Nurse
Low-to-average wage (median wage of around $42,000)*
May have to work evenings, weekend and holidays*
May be physically and emotionally stressful dealing with sick and injured patients*
Career advancements may require additional training*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Under the supervision of doctors and registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses provide various types of nursing care to patients. Job duties usually include taking and monitoring patients' vital signs, documenting results to share with doctors and registered nurses, discussing health care concerns with patients and educating family members on patients' condition. They may also insert catheters, change dressings or bandages and help patients dress and bathe. The duties of an LVN may vary due to work setting and state regulations. For instance, LVNs are allowed to start IV drips and administer medication in some states; whereas, in other states they are not. Licensed LVNs with experience may oversee unlicensed medical staff and LVNs with less training and experience.

Job Growth and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of licensed vocational nurses was projected to grow 25% between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). The aging population in the U.S. continues to increase the demand for healthcare workers. The BLS also reported that LVNs earned a median annual salary of around $42,000 in 2014.

Education and Training Requirements

To become a licensed vocational nurse, you'll need to complete a state-approved training program. This type of program typically takes one year to complete and results in a certificate. Training programs consist of didactic courses, laboratory studies and clinical education. The clinical education is usually in the form of clinical rotations so students can obtain hands-on training working with patients in a variety of medical settings. Depending on the school, some programs may offer day, evening and weekend courses. Common course topics may include psychology, pharmacology, basic nursing skills, maternal-neonatal nursing, medical/surgical nursing, disease control and prevention, communicable diseases and nutrition.

Get Licensed

All states require vocational nurses to be licensed. Licensure can be obtained by passing an examination called the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical/Vocational Nurses (NCLEX-PN) through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). To be eligible for the test, applicants must first obtain the certificate. They can then take the test at a Pearson VUE testing site.

Top Skills for Vocational Nurses

Vocational nurses require more than a certificate or degree to be successful at their job. Because they're dealing with registered nurses, doctors and sick patients, they should possess the following skills:

  • Good communication skills
  • Coordination
  • Stamina
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Sensitivity
  • Stress tolerance
  • Compassion for others

Job Postings from Real Employers

Actual job postings reveal that employers are looking for LVNs with good communication skills that have an ability to multitask and work well under pressure. Experience is definitely an advantage. Following are a few job postings from April 2012:

  • A pediatric home care service in Texas is seeking licensed vocational nurses to provide nursing care to pediatric patients in their homes. Candidates must be graduates of accredited vocational nursing schools and have current nursing licenses. They must also have at least six months of nursing experience within the past 36 months, a current driver's license and CPR certification. Duties include assessing patient physical and psycho-social needs, providing health education to patients, family and healthcare professionals. A comprehensive benefit package that includes 401K, medical, dental and vision health benefits, paid training and weekly pay is included.
  • An in-home healthcare provider is looking for a licensed practical nurse with a 2-year degree and at least one year of nursing experience. Duties include initiating patient care plans, explaining treatments to patients, taking and recording patient vital signs, responding to life-saving situations, preparing room and equipment for surgery and rotating among clinical staff in other medical departments.
  • A healthcare resources company in charge of assisting medical professionals with qualified staff is seeking an experience licensed vocational nurse with at least three years of nursing clinical experience. Applicant must have good communication skills, a current nursing license, current driver's license and must be able to lift at least 27 pounds. Candidates are required to travel to customer sites with other candidates. Requiring no patient contact, this per-diem job entails acting as a clinical liaison between nursing staff and field service staff while repairing hospital products.

How to Stand Out

In addition to completing a formal training program and having work experience, you can do other things to make your resume more appealing and make yourself stand out to potential employers. Obtaining certification is a way to stand out among your peers.

Obtain Certifications

Although certification is not required for employment, it demonstrates knowledge and proficiency in specialized areas of nursing. Several organizations offer certification programs to vocational nurses. Licensed vocational nurses can obtain certification in foot care, IV therapy and gerontology through the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses (NFLPN). The Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association also offers the Developmental Disabilities Certification (DDC).

Alternative Career Paths

Cardiac Sonographer

A career in cardiac sonography may be a good fit for you if you know you want to be part of the medical field but strive for a more routine schedule with predictable duties. You can become a cardiac sonographer by completing a 2-year program. Cardiac sonographers, also referred to as cardiovascular technologists and technicians, help doctors diagnose and treat patients with heart and blood vessel problems with the use of sonography. The BLS reported that cardiac sonographers were predicted to see an employment growth of 29% between 2010 and 2020. In 2011, these workers earned a median annual wage of around $51,000.

Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist or Technician

If you prefer a job that's in the medical industry but with less patient contact, a career as a medical or clinical laboratory technologist or technician may be a good choice. Although most of your time will be spent in a laboratory, you can have the satisfaction of knowing you play a part in diagnosing and treating diseases. Technologists perform more difficult lab procedures and often oversee technicians. Technicians typically perform less complex lab tests. While technologists generally require a bachelor's degree, technicians may need only an associate's degree. Some states require certification and/or licensure of all laboratory personnel. This varies by state. Most employers, however, prefer certified applicants. According to the BLS, these workers were predicted to see an employment growth of 13% between 2010 and 2020. As of May 2011, medical and clinical lab technicians earned a median annual wage of around $37,000. Medical and clinical laboratory technologists earned a median annual wage of approximately $57,000.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Master of Science - DNP Path (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
    Master's
      • Accelerated BSN to MSN
      • MS in Nursing - Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
      • MS in Nursing
      • Master of Science - DNP Family Nurse Practitioner
      • Master of Science - DNP Adult Nurse Practitioner
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
    Certificate
      • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate
      • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate
      • Nurse Educator Graduate Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice with an Emphasis in Educational Leadership
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    Master's
      • MBA and MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (Bridge)
      • MBA and MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (dual degree)
      • MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems
      • M.S. in Nursing: Nursing Education
      • MBA: Health Systems Management
      • MS in Health Care Administration
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)
      • BS in Health Care Administration
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    3. The University of Texas at Arlington

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Administration
      • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Educaiton
    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)
      • B.S. in Professional Studies - Nursing Home Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    5. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
      • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences
      • MSHS in Translational Microbiology
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Utica College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Abilene Christian University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Advanced Practice Nurse
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Executive Nursing Leadership
    Master's
      • MBA - Healthcare Administration
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Education Specialist - Nursing Education
    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Medical Assisting Services
    Certificate
      • Diploma: Medical Assisting
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Queens University of Charlotte

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Undecided
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Administrator
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Clinical Nurse Leader
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Clinical Nurse Leader Certificate
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Educator

Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • Accelerated BSN to MSN
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
  • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate

Which subject are you interested in?

Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • MBA and MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (Bridge)
  • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)

What is your highest level of education?

The University of Texas at Arlington

  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Administration
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Educaiton
  • RN to BSN

What is your highest level of education completed?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)

What is your highest level of education completed?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Utica College

  • RN to BSN

What is your highest level of education completed?

Abilene Christian University

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Advanced Practice Nurse
  • MBA - Healthcare Administration
  • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • Education Specialist - Nursing Education
  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

What is your highest level of education?