A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) is a nurse who provides bedside, practical care to those in need. Like a registered nurse (RN), an LPN focuses on physical nursing care and direct patient interaction. This article highlights the career path that many LPNs take and the ways they might advance their careers further.
All LPNs must begin with accredited education that focuses on nursing skills, anatomy, physiology, biology, pharmacology and supervised clinical experience. Typically, these programs are found in community colleges or technical schools, though they may also be found on-site at some major hospitals. LPN programs generally take one year of intensive training and education to complete, depending on the program itself. For information on accredited LPN programs in your area, check with your state board of nursing.
After completing the nursing program, the next step is passing the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX). This exam is taken by all nurses, including RNs, and must be passed to be licensed as an LPN and practice. Beyond this exam, LPNs can choose to pursue additional testing and certification in specialized subjects, such as IV therapy. Whatever the additional exams an LPN chooses to pursue, certification can be an excellent way to improve a professional nursing resume.
In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median annual wage for LPNs of $43,170. The lowest 10% of working LPNs reported earning less than $32,040, and the highest 10% reported earning more than $59,510. As in other fields, actual salaries earned depend on a worker's education and career experience, along with physical location, specialty and other factors.
In general, LPNs work full time, including the potential for working nights, weekends and holidays. In addition, LPNs may be required to work long shifts or remain on-call to deal with emergency situations.
While working as an LPN does require education and the same certification that RNs must have, an LPN is considered by those in the healthcare industry to be in the entry-level stage of his or her career. LPNs provide basic bedside care, including distribution of medication, IV care, wound care, catheterization, as well as basic hygiene and personal care. With the advancement of technology, the profession may be somewhat limiting over time if additional education is not pursued.
Many LPNs aim to transition into RN positions, which tend to have more responsibility and higher salaries. While LPNs and RNs do certainly have some overlapping bedside care responsibilities, RNs are trained to do more. As an LPN, you will always be required to work under supervision from RNs or other practitioners. As an RN, however, you have the option of gaining increasing amounts of autonomy and independence as your career progresses, including management of LPNs and other basic caregivers. RNs also earn a higher salary than LPNs, with the BLS reporting a median annual salary of $67,490 in 2015 compared to an LPN's $43,170.
Fortunately, obtaining the necessary skills and qualifications to move on to a RN position simply comes down to gaining more education. RN programs generally take two to three years to complete, and may take less for current LPNs. Furthermore, RNs have the option of eventually pursuing an RN-to-BSN degree completion program, which opens the door to teaching, research and administrative positions. While an LPN program can certainly get you started in this dynamic field, it is clear that true advancement requires a higher level of education.