A career in practical nursing is a popular entry point to a career in health care. Those interested in practical nursing can complete the required education and certification and begin work providing basic nursing care to patients within a year or two. In addition, the career outlook for the field of practical nursing is projected to be very good.
Training to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) can be completed in one year of full-time study, although some schools, such as Edmonds Community College, may offer a part-time program that can be completed in 18 months to two years. Providers of LPN training programs are typically community colleges, vocational or trade schools and private hospitals. LPN training consists of classroom courses and clinical practicums. On campus, you will take classes in nutrition, pathophysiology, health assessment and promotion, pharmacology, communications, gerontology, mental health and professional relationships; for clinical skills training, you will work under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) in various health care settings.
To work as an LPN, you must be certified by a licensing body approved by your state board of nursing. Typically, certification is granted after passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN), which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The NCLEX-PN tests in four areas considered essential to meeting your patients' needs: health promotion and maintenance, both physiological and psychosocial integrity, and a safe and effective care environment.
An on-duty LPN will be asked to provide patients with basic nursing care essential to their comfort and recovery. Under the guidance of an RN or physician, LPNs will collect blood and urine samples, assist patients with hygiene and bathing, take vital signs such as blood pressure and heart rate and change surgical dressings. Other standard practical nursing duties include assisting patients with ambulation, providing massages and alcohol rubs, giving enemas, assisting with feeding, monitoring patients and updating their records.
LPNs are employed in a variety of health care settings, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most typically work in nursing care facilities, 28 percent; hospitals, 25 percent; and doctor's offices, 12%. Those with practical nursing skills are also employed by schools, community health clinics, home health care agencies and women's health centers. LPNs often work in stressful conditions and with patients who are confused; therefore, you need to be able to remain level-headed under pressure and compassionate and understanding in difficult situations.
The career outlook for practical nursing is very favorable, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting 21 percent job growth for the profession between 2008 and 2018. In 2008, the average LPN salary was $39,030 and ranged from 33,360 to $46,710, depending on work experience, specialized training and supervisory role. LPNs have several career-development possibilities. One option is to enroll in an LPN-to-RN bridge degree program for RN certification, and another is to take courses in specialized LPN training programs that focus on one area of nursing care, such as gerontology, surgical care, IV therapy or maternal/neonatal health.
- Columbus State Community College: Practical Nursing
- Edmonds Community College: Practical Nursing Program
- Degree Directory: What Are the Job Duties for a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)?
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics: Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
- College Board: Licensed Practical Nurses
- Photo Credit nurse on her cell image by Tracy Martinez from Fotolia.com
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