How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN/LVN)

Learn step-by-step what it takes to begin a rewarding nursing career caring for patients as an LPN.

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Written By

Timon Kaple

- Bio

Timon Kaple, Ph.D., is a full-time writer and researcher. His work focuses on sociolinguistics, small-group folklore, the anthropology of sound, higher education, and student support services. He has experience as an ethnographer and enjoys conducting fieldwork and archival research.

last updated

03/01/2021

Are you a natural caretaker who’s always looking out for friends, loved ones, and anyone in need? Do you want to work directly with patients without having to spend years in school? As a licensed practical nurse (LPN/LVN), you can not only treat patients with medical knowledge and the care that comes naturally to you, but you can do so in an in-demand and well-paying career. In as few as 12 months, you can start making a difference and good money with a median annual wage of over $48,000 for the profession. Begin your journey with this step-by-step guide where you’ll learn everything you need to become a successful practical nurse.

STEP 1

Make Sure a Career as an LPN is Right for You

Your first step should be deciding if you’re a good fit for an LPN career. Nurses at all levels face long work hours, stressful situations, irregular schedules, and compassion fatigue. Additionally, training to become a nurse involves rigorous study and the desire to learn new technologies and equipment. To help you consider the educational and professional commitments necessary for becoming an LPN, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Would I enjoy working directly with patients?
  • Can I work hard for at least 12 months earning my diploma and getting licensed?
  • Am I willing to work nights, weekends, and holidays in a healthcare setting?
  • Do I have strong interpersonal skills along with compassion and patience to help me care for people of all kinds?
  • Am I a resilient, strong individual who can make quick decisions and remain calm under pressure?

If you answered “yes” to most of the questions above, a career as a PTA is likely to be a good choice for you.

STEP 2

Earn Your LPN Certificate/Diploma from an Approved Program

If you have a high school diploma or GED, begin looking for and applying to approved LPN programs from accredited colleges that have also been approved by your state’s Board of Nursing. This ensures your credential will be recognized by employers and that you’ll be able to take the licensing exam after your LPN training program.

Some LPN programs hold additional accreditation from nursing organizations such as the National League of Nursing Commission and Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing but this is not always a requirement for a program to receive state approval. Your state’s board of nursing can provide more information about approved programs.

As part of your LPN diploma or certificate program, you’ll complete approximately 10 courses. Required courses may include developmental psychology, human anatomy and physiology, and pharmacology for practical nurses. You’ll also complete in-person clinical experiences in healthcare settings. Another sign of a quality LPN diploma or certificate program is a high NCLEX-PN pass rate for recent graduates. Check pass rates for LPN students for the last several years for added reassurance of a program’s high standards.

While some students enjoy face-to-face instruction, others want programs offering coursework online. Fortunately, LPN programs are available in both traditional on-campus and hybrid formats. Any quality LPN program won’t be fully online, though, since they’ll require clinical work at area healthcare facilities. For more information on top-rated online programs, check out our guide to online LPN and LVN programs.

STEP 3

Pass the NCLEX-PN Exam and Get Licensed

After completing your LPN program, it’s time to get ready to take the NCLEX-PN exam. Every state requires aspiring LPNs to take and pass the NCLEX-PN as part of its licensing process. The first step toward passing the exam is to study the main topic areas of the test.

  • Safe and effective care environment
  • Safety and infection control
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Psychosocial integrity
  • Physiological integrity

Gwinnet Colleges and Institute provides a useful guide with additional information on these categories. Additionally, prepare for success by reviewing NCLEX-PN test plans and taking practice exams like the one offered by NCLEX.

Next, make sure you meet the exam eligibility determined by your state’s nursing regulatory body (NBR). After receiving confirmation of registration for testing from Pearson VUE, you’ll receive a notice of eligibility (i.e., an Authorization to Test or ATT) from your state’s NBR. Your ATT will include a timeframe during which you must take the NCLEX-PN exam. This can’t be extended for any reason. After receiving your ATT, schedule an appointment to sit for the exam. On test day, you’ll need a copy of your ATT and identification.

After passing the exam, meet your state’s specific licensure requirements per the Nurse Practice Act (NPA). Some states require you to undergo a criminal background check. Others want proof of good moral character, proficiency in English, a clean bill of physical and mental health, and no prior felonies. You may also need to disclose information about past felonies, misdemeanors, and substance abuse. For your state’s requirements, check out NCSBN’s site on NPA rules by state.

STEP 4

Optimize Your Nursing Resume and Prepare for Interviews

After years of hard work and dedication, you’re finally ready to apply to jobs and start working as an LPN. That means it’s time to organize your application materials and update your resume. You’ll also want to spend a significant amount of time preparing for job interviews. Here are some tips and tricks to help maximize your chances of landing your dream LPN job.

Resume Tips

  1. Tailor your resume for each job. Your resume and any required documents, like a cover letter, should be tailored for each job you apply for instead of sending a stock resume and cover letter. Your odds of getting an interview and being hired are much better if you take the time to focus specifically on what each potential employer feels is most important.
  2. Highlight standout qualifications and traits. What makes you and your skills unique? List the qualities, experience, expertise, or training you have that other applicants may not. Especially highlight the qualifications and traits noted as important in job postings.
  3. Make your resume readable. A readable resume is clear and concise. That can mean, for example, the font is a readable size, something like a 10-12-point, and the document is not overcrowded with text. Also, make sure your resume is free of grammatical errors.
  4. Name your career goals. Many nursing resumes include a section expressing what applicants want out of their careers. This might include explicitly stating your goals, or it might discuss how your goals fit with the needs of a potential employer.
  5. Use a simple layout or design: You don’t have to be a graphic designer to have a sharp and visually appealing resume. Pay attention to the layout of your resume and any infographics you include. Free design tools like Canva have several templates to get you started.

For even more nursing resume tips and advice, read our full guide to creating a winning nursing resume.

Interview Advice

  1. Educate yourself. Employers want to hire people who know a lot about the job and their organization. Do your homework and learn as much about each healthcare or medical facility as possible. Let that knowledge shine through in your responses to interview questions.
  2. Dress appropriately. When in doubt, go with a professional look you’d expect to see in a business office. When interviewing remotely, make sure you still wear a complete outfit. If you must stand up for some reason, you don’t want your interview to see your pajama pants. Plus, you’ll feel more professional and prepared if you’re fully dressed for the interview.
  3. Practice your answers ahead of time. Practice answering common interview questions. Such rehearsal gets you thinking and working through your thoughts and helps increase your confidence. Practice by speaking clearly and out loud. You’ll be glad you took the time to do this once your nerves start to flare during the interview.

For more insider tips and advice for landing a great job in healthcare, read our guide to getting hired and guide to navigating job offers.

FAQs About Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse

What do licensed practical nurses do?

LPNs perform a variety of procedures in both emergency medical and routine care settings. Basic patient care tasks might include:

  • Bathing and dressing
  • Taking vital signs and blood pressure
  • Updating patient health records

Under the supervision of an RN, LPNs also often assist with minor surgeries, wound dressing, and injections. They may also reinforce instructions given to patients and their families by RNs and other medical professionals, including how family members can support patients upon discharge. Additionally, LPNs sometimes help deliver and care for infants, collect samples for lab tests, and assist patients with meals.

How much do LPNs and LVNs make?

LPNs earn a good living, especially compared to other roles in healthcare requiring a similar level of education. The median annual wage for LPNs is $48,820, about $7,000 more than the median salary for all other occupations in the U.S. The top 10% of LPNs make about $65,520 per year. Compare this to medical assistants and nursing assistants who make $35,850 and $30,850 respectively.

Several factors affect LPNs’ salaries, especially location and experience level. LPNs in California, for example, make about $64,090 per year while those in West Virginia make $38,940. Additionally, entry-level LPNS can expect about a 7% salary increase by the time they’ve spent 20 years in the field.

Percentile 10% 25% 50%
(Median)
75% 90%
Hourly Pay $17.10 $20.22 $23.47 $27.82 $31.50
Annual Pay $35,570 $42,060 $48,820 $57,860 $65,520

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020

Are licensed practical nurses in high demand?

The job outlook for LPNs looks bright. The BLS projects a 9% growth by 2030, which works out to be over 63,000 new openings. This is largely from professionals who transition to other occupations or exit the workforce.

This growth in available positions for LPNs is also closely tied to the needs of the aging baby-boomer population. As members of this population need more clinical care and the services of residential care facilities or in-home care, LPNs are there to help meet that demand. Additionally, with quickly improving medical technologies and home care equipment, treatment for chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes are now being fulfilled outside of hospital settings by LPNs and similarly trained professionals.

Employment
(2020)
Projected Employment (2030) Employment Change
(2020-2030)
Job Growth Rate
(2020-2030)
688,100 751,900 63,800 9%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How long does it take to become an LPN?

Most LPN programs, including coursework and clinicals, take full-time learners about a year to complete. Part-time students can take up to two years. After completing the program, certificate-holders must then pass the NCLEX-PN, which takes at least a month of preparation and study. Those who don’t pass the exam on the first try need to wait at least 45 days before they sit for the exam again. Factor in the time it takes to locate potential jobs, submit applications, and go to interviews, and you’ll add 4-6 months beyond graduation. While it’s different for everyone, most new LPNs should plan on a year and a half to two years from program admittance to when they enter the workforce as an LPN.

Additional Resources on Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse

Offered by Cherokee Uniforms, this scholarship is for students currently enrolled in an accredited LPN/LVN program. Students in any of the 50 states are eligible to apply.

If you’re ready to apply for LPN roles and need some advice on tailoring your resume, this site includes resume templates and examples to ensure that your information looks professional and covers all the necessary bases.

This membership-based professional organization serves LPNs, LVNs, and PN/VN students. It offers tuition discounts, annual conferences, networking events, and a quarterly newsletter.

This site provides a map of all the local nursing boards. It provides essential contact information, like a current website, mailing address, phone number, fax number, and name of the board’s executive director.

EduMed offers a list of scholarships and grants as well as application tips, funding information, and academic and professional support resources available through most programs.