Nurse with a stethoscope and clipboard

How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Nurse with a stethoscope and clipboard

You know that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you brighten somebody else’s day? Imagine turning that feeling into a rewarding and well-paying career. If you’re enthusiastic about providing hands-on patient care but would prefer not to spend multiple years in school before landing your first job, a career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) might be a fantastic fit for you.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a licensed practical nurse, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career as an LPN.

Not sure if becoming an LPN is right for you? Click here to see our full list of the best entry-level medical jobs.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Definition

What is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Many different types of medical facilities need healthcare workers who provide primary care, monitor vital signs, and help patients accomplish daily tasks that they may not be able to manage on their own. Licensed practical nurses work with doctors and registered nurses to ensure every patient receives the attention and treatment they need.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN): Job Description

What Does a Licensed Practical Nurse Do?

Licensed practical nurses perform a wide variety of tasks, including checking blood pressure, changing bandages, and keeping accurate records of patients’ condition and vital signs. LPNs also help educate patients and their families about continuing care at home, and in specific roles, may help collect samples and run laboratory tests.

Licensed Practical Nurse Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of LPNs include:

  • Monitoring patients’ health by checking blood pressure and other vitals
  • Administering basic care like changing bandages or inserting catheters
  • Helping patients with daily tasks like bathing or dressing
  • Listening to patients and understanding any concerns or issues
  • Reporting patients’ status or concerns to doctors or registered nurses
  • Keeping accurate records of patients’ health and progress

Licensed Practical Nurse Skills

Attention to detail is essential to succeeding as an LPN. Even with simple medical procedures, staying focused keeps patients both safe and comfortable. Communication skills are also critical, as you’ll need to convey information about patients’ conditions to your colleagues. Physical stamina is also a bonus as you’ll be on your feet a lot and possibly lifting and moving patients who have trouble getting around on their own. More than anything else, LPNs must be compassionate and patient. Dealing with sick or injured people can be stressful at times, and those who truly thrive in this field tend to be big-hearted individuals who live to help others.

Where Do Licensed Practical Nurses Work?

Two smiling nurses comparing paperwork

While licensed practical nurses work in a variety of healthcare settings, the most common environments are hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home healthcare services. Most LPNs work full-time hours, usually around 40 hours a week, though shifts may go longer than 8 hours or be scheduled on nights, weekends, or holidays. After all, medical care happens around the clock at many facilities.

Licensed Practical Nurse Schooling & Certification

How Long Does it Take to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Licensed Practical Nurse?

To start your career as an LPN, you’ll need to enroll in a nursing board-approved program in your state. Choose an accelerated degree program, and you can finish your practical nursing diploma in as little as 48 weeks! When you compare the time spent in school to long-term earning potential, earning your PN diploma is one of the most efficient paths to a rewarding career in the healthcare industry.

Like any long-term goal, working toward a new career as a licensed practical nurse seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a licensed practical nurse:

1. Enroll in a Practical Nursing Program

Becoming an LPN starts with enrolling in a practical nursing program at an accredited college or university. Earning your practical nursing diploma will require focus and hard work, but it’s a career field that’s open to just about anyone who’s dedicated enough to make it happen. For example, gaining admission to the Practical Nursing Program at Brookline College requires only a high school diploma or GED, plus completing a background check.

2. Earn Your Practical Nursing Diploma

You can expect your practical nursing program to include a few general-education requirements to build your critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. However, the vast majority of your PN diploma program will focus on honing the skills you’ll need to land an entry-level job as a practical nurse in a wide variety of healthcare settings. You’ll study anatomy, physiology, and nutrition to learn more about how the human body works, as well as studying core concepts of nursing and healthcare.

After gaining a solid grasp of the fundamentals, you’ll move on to more specialized study areas, like adult-health nursing, geriatric nursing, and maternal-child nursing. This stage of your PN education can be a great way to discover what type of working environment interests you the most and give you an idea of the positions you should apply for after finishing your diploma.

When deciding where to enroll in a practical nursing program, consider looking into colleges or universities that offer students job-placement assistance after finishing their diplomas. It adds a lot of extra value to your education when you’ve got somebody who can help you take your skills from the classroom to the real world.

3. Pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-PN)

Once you’ve completed your PN program, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-PN exam to prove you can safely and effectively perform your duties as a licensed practical nurse. The NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test, meaning that a correct answer will result in a slightly more difficult question, and an incorrect answer will make your next question slightly easier. Every time you answer a question, the overall assessment of your knowledge gets increasingly precise.

The exam questions are mostly multiple-choice, with a few fill-in-the-blank or drag-and-drop questions. How long the exam takes depends on how quickly you answer the questions. While the exact number of questions varies from year to year, you’ll usually get between 100-200 questions and a maximum of around five hours to complete the exam (including two scheduled breaks).

4. Get Licensed On a State-By-State Basis

After passing the NCLEX-PN, you may still need to take additional steps like completing a background check to get licensed in the state where you intend to work. Licensing requirements for practical nurses vary state-by-state—you can learn more about individual states’ requirements from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Nurses sitting in a hallway

How Much Does it Cost to Earn a Practical Nursing Diploma?

It’s not unheard of for colleges and universities to charge over $20,000 per semester in tuition alone. In many cases, that doesn’t even include the cost of books, lab fees, or other course materials. Wherever you choose to pursue your PN diploma, make sure it’s with an institution that’s transparent about how much you’ll spend on your education.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Salary

How Much Do Licensed Practical Nurses Make?

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, licensed practical nurses bring home an average annual salary* of around $50,000 per year, equivalent to around $24 per hour. LPN salaries for earners in the 90th percentile can make more than $65,000 per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Licensed Practical Nurses

According to BLS, you’ll find the top-paying jobs for LPNs in these industries:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Outpatient Care Centers $27.08 $56,320
Home Healthcare Services $24.80 $51,580
Nursing Homes & Retirement Communities $24.62 $51,200
Psychiatric & Substance Abuse Hospitals $23.58 $49,050
General Medical & Surgical Hospitals $22.75 $47,310

Highest Paying States for Licensed Practical Nurses

According to the BLS, licensed practical nurses earn the highest average wages in these states:

Location Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $32.51 $67,620
California $30.81 $64,090
Massachusetts $29.04 $60,400
Washington $28.74 $59,780
Nevada $28.70 $59,700

Highest Paying Cities for Licensed Practical Nurses

The latest data from the BLS indicates LPNs earn the highest average annual wages in these cities:

Location Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
San Jose, CA $36.51 $75,950
Santa Rosa, CA $35.97 $74,820
San Francisco, CA $35.83 $74,520
Fairfield, CA $34.78 $72,350
Anchorage, AK $33.65 $69,990
San Diego, CA $31.68 $65,900
Corcoran, CA $31.40 $65,310
Napa, CA $31.33 $65,170
Madera, CA $31.27 $65,040
Sacramento, CA $31.24 $64,990

Licensed Practical Nurse Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Licensed Practical Nurses?

According to the BLS, the overall employment of licensed practical nurses is estimated to grow 9% by 2029, which is more than double the average growth rate for all career fields during the same time period (4%). The overall demand for medical and healthcare services is also projected to increase, meaning LPNs have an excellent long-term career outlook for the next decade and beyond.

Nursing student in a school hallway

Ready to Start Your Career as a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Not every career gives you the chance to help people on a daily basis and sometimes even form long-lasting friendships with the patients under your care. Like any patient-facing job in the healthcare industry, a career as an LPN will come with both good days and challenging days. Still, overall it’s a tremendously rewarding field of work, with lots of opportunities to specialize in the areas you find most enjoyable.

Click here to learn more about the Practical Nursing program at Brookline College, and get started on the road to your new career as a licensed practical nurse today.