Vocational and practical nurses engage in patient care.
Vocational and practical nurses engage in patient care. (Image: Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

The title LPN is an abbreviation for Licensed Practical Nurse. The title LVN is an abbreviation for Licensed Vocational Nurse. The differences in title are related to the state within the U.S. that issues the license. In California and in Texas, the title is LVN. In other states, the title awarded is LPN. The practices and educational requirements of LPNs and LVNs are similar, and even identical in many aspects.


The first nursing school for practical or vocational nurses originated in New York City in 1892 at the Young Women’s Christian Association. Three months of training equipped the nurses with patient care and homemaking skills. Other states began licensing programs much later, in 1955. Licensing requirements were not uniform from state to state. Some certification programs could be completed in nine months, while others required training of up to three years duration. States continue to have licensing authority. Contemporary programs typically last one year.

Education and Training

As medicine and community needs change over time, educational and licensing requirements for LPNs and LVNs change. The training is likely to include critical thinking, communications, calculation of dosage, drug reference, drug interaction, and medical ethics, and can include specialized training in pediatrics, anesthesia, and surgery. In some states, course hours and continuing education must include medical errors prevention, domestic violence education, continually updated education related to HIV and AIDS, emergency room training, and the collection of forensic evidence. Usually to be admitted to nursing program, a candidate must have a high school education or equivalent, and must pass a background screening. Programs are available through private technical or vocational schools and through many community colleges. The licensing examination from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing is known as the NCLEX-PN, or National Council Licensure Examination.


An LPN or LVN is typically supervised by a physician or a registered nurse. Either may work in a hospital or clinic, a nursing or convalescent care facility, or in a home. As general care givers, they may measure vital signs and record them, give injections, provide catheter monitoring, apply dressings to wounds, and assist with daily living activities, such as bathing, walking, standing and eating. They may collect and process lab samples, monitor and clean equipment, take health histories from patients, and otherwise support, assist and share information with physicians and registered nurses. Another role for LPNs and LVNs is to instruct family members in patient care. In some states, these nurses may administer medicines, care for patients who are ventilator dependent, and start intravenous fluids.


According the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for an LPN or LVN, as of May 2008, varied according to industry. Those who worked through employment services earned a median wage of $44,690. Those employed in nursing care facilities earned $40,580. The home health care services median was $39,510. The pay in general medical and surgical hospitals was $38,080, and those who worked in the office of a physician had a median annual income of $35,020.

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