One of the most misunderstood elements of the nursing profession is job opportunities. When many think about nurses, they automatically assume the primary position is that of a Registered Nurse, or RN. While this is the most widely known profession, the nursing industry is filled with a vast array of opportunities ranging from advanced-level specialists to entry-level assistants. The coolest aspect of becoming a LPN or any type of nurse is the vast array of options. Although many of these options require years of training and experience, one of the most important positions in the healthcare industry doesn’t require spending countless years of classroom and clinical training.
A Licensed Practical Nurse, or LPN, plays a vital role in the medical environment. These entry-level nurses work alongside Registered Nurses and other healthcare team members to ensure patients are comfortable, adhering to treatment care plans and the entire healthcare unit operates in a smooth and controlled manner.
If you’re interested in learning more about this dynamic and stable nursing career, then you’ve come to the right place! Without further ado, let’s explore the intricacies of one of the most celebrated nursing professions in the United States.
Uncovering the Basics of Becoming a LPN
Licensed Practical Nurses, which are also known as Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN), play an important role in the entire healthcare system by providing essential care to patients. While this position may seem similar to its counterpart, Certified Nursing Assistants, LPNs carry additional responsibilities.
The full scope of duties is regulated by your State Board of Nursing, however, the essential duties of an LPN are strikingly similar throughout the country.
Along with assisting patients in their daily hygiene and medication plans, an LPN also plays a direct role in the administrative duties of the medical facility. These professionals assist physicians and Registered Nurses in updating, organizing and maintaining vital records.
In many cases, an LPN acts as a liaison between nurses, physicians, patients and patient family members. This professional ensures all communication is clear and accurate to ensure the patient consistently experiences the highest quality of care and that patient family members are updated regarding the status of their loved one.
Although it’s common for a Licensed Practical Nurse to remain in this position throughout their entire career, many use their training and experience as a stepping stone.
For example, if you wish to ultimately become a Registered Nurse, working as an LPN provides hands-on experience that’s essential to perform well when undertaking a BSN degree program.
A common career move for LPNs is earning a BSN and becoming a RN or continuing their education and ultimately becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP).
Investigating the Differences Between an LPN and an RN
While both LPNs and RNs work closely together, their scope of practice and educational requirements are vastly different. Let’s take a moment and explore the duties, education, testing and salary differences between a Licensed Practical Nurse and a Registered Nurse.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Career Snippet:
As an LPN, you’re responsible for delivering essential care for patients, such as bathing and dressing, to ensure each patient is not only comfortable, but is responding as anticipated to treatments. Unlike a Certified Nursing Assistant, LPNs will occasionally administer medications. Along with these duties, an LPN will be responsible for checking vital signs, updating medical charts and performing minor procedures, such as inserting catheters.
It should be noted that as with any nursing profession, the scope of practice is determined and regulated by your State Board of Nursing. Therefore, it’s possible to be allowed to perform specific duties in one state and barred from performing the same duties in another state.
In order to become an LPN, you’ll be required to complete the required training as outlined by your State Board of Nursing. Typically, this involves successfully completing and passing a state certification training program and examination.
These programs are generally offered by community colleges, vocational schools and accredited certifying organizations. Unlike other nursing careers, the majority of LPN certification programs take roughly 12 months to complete. You can expect to take coursework in pharmacology, biology and general nursing. Along with classroom lectures, you’ll also be required to complete a specified amount of practical experience in a medical facility.
The most important element to be mindful of when searching for an LPN training program is to make sure the school is accredited by state and national accrediting organizations. Otherwise, you may find yourself unable to sit for the certifying organization. To determine accredited training programs near you, contact your State Board of Nursing.
Once you’ve completed and passed your training program, you’ll be rewarded with a certificate of completion. However, don’t think you can automatically begin applying for LPN jobs. There’s still one final step: examination.
In order to work as an LPN in the United States, regardless of state or territory, you must successfully pass the NCLEX-PN examination. This examination is held in official proctored testing centers throughout the country. Be prepared to pay the examination fee and only schedule your exam if you feel confident in your theoretical and clinical knowledge. Consider spending at least 2 to 4 months after graduating studying for this exam.
After you’ve successfully passed the examination, you’ll be legally allowed to work as an LPN in your state.
Average Annual Salary:
As with any professional career, salary expectations vary based on geographical location and employer. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for Licensed Practical Nurses is just over $44,000, which is much higher than the average salary for Certified Nursing Assistants.
Registered Nurse (RN) Career Snippet:
While some of the duties of a Registered Nurse may seem similar to those of a Licensed Practical Nurse, these professional perform more in-depth tasks than LPNs. RNs are generally classified as having a greater managerial role in medical facilities and are charged with overseeing and supervising healthcare aides, such as LPNs.
Registered Nurses are allowed to perform a wider scope of practice, such as administering a variety of medications, undertaking in-depth treatments and creating patient care plans.
Unlike Licensed Practical Nurses, Registered Nurses must undergo a much more intensive training program. However, there are several options when it comes to completing this training. These include:
- BSN Degree Program – This four-year degree program dives into a variety of high-level nursing concepts and is overseen by both state and national accrediting organizations. Upon completion, you’ll receive a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and will qualify to take the licensing examination.
- ADN Degree Program – This two to three-year degree program is offered by both community colleges and universities. Upon completion, you’ll receive an Associate Degree in Nursing and will qualify to take the NCLEX-RN exam. While less costly and faster than a BSN degree, it’s not uncommon for BSN graduates to earn more and have greater job market success than ADN graduates.
Much like a Licensed Practical Nurse, in order to become a Registered Nurse, you must successfully pass a national licensing examination. The NCLEX-RN licensing exam covers both theoretical and practical knowledge and is required throughout the United States to work as a Registered Nurse.
Average Annual Salary:
As you can expect, Registered Nurses earn more than Licensed Practical Nurses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for RN’s is just over $68,000, which is over $20,000 more per year than LPNs.
Licensed Practical Nurse Job Outlook for 2018 and Beyond
Throughout the United States, there is a shockingly large void of nurses. Because of this, all nursing professions are expected to experience continued growth. This is excellent news for those who are considering becoming a LPN.
One of the driving factors behind the popularity of LPN nursing careers is its double-digit projected job growth. According to several studies, this nursing profession is expected to expand by over 25% by the year 2026. This is an astonishingly large growth potential, which means no matter where you live, finding employment will be relatively swift and easy.
Career Advancement Options for LPN
While you may find working as a Licensed Practical Nurse is a satisfying and rewarding career, there are many opportunities for career advancement. Of course, you can choose the traditional route of becoming a Registered Nurse, but this is only one of many options laid out before you.
One of the most common, and cost-efficient, methods of advancing your career is to earn additional certifications. These certifications not only demonstrate your working knowledge in a specialization, but generally garner higher pay and greater job opportunities. Some of the most desirable certifications LPNs are applicable for include:
- IV Certification
- Advanced Life Support Certification
- Patient Counseling Certification
- Hospice Care Certification
Along with opening greater career opportunities, these certifications provide a more thorough understanding of the entire healthcare industry. In many instances, an employer will cover some or all of the cost of specific certifications.