There are approximately 754,000 licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses working in the United States. Job growth projections for the next ten years indicate the field is strong; the upcoming decade will see an increase of 21%. This is due, in part, to the growing elderly population. Home health care and nursing home facilities will see the fastest growth and offer the best jobs.
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), or licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), work under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians. They take care of the needs of patients.
LPNs and LVNs provide basic bedside care such as documenting patient information, prepare and administer injections, check catheters, dress wounds, apply alcohol rubs, and help patients bath and dress. They also collect test samples and execute routine tests. They monitor patients’ overall condition and report any reactions to drugs or treatments that are negative. Most LPNs are generalists, able to work in a number of areas. A few specialize in particular types of nursing. Some states permit LPNs to administer medications, care for patients who must be on ventilators, and start intravenous fluids.
LPNs and LVNs working in hospitals may be put on a rotating shift. Those in physician offices have regular scheduled hours. Considerable stamina is required, as nurses are on their feet for most of the shift. They may have to turn patients, help move them, or help them walk. Job hazards include exposure to caustic chemicals, radiation, or contagious diseases. The workload can be quite heavy, and patients may be uncooperative, confused or upset; LPNs and LVNs must be able to work under stress and remain empathetic. Good decision making skills; the ability to communicate clearly to patients, their families and others on the medical team; and careful attention to detail are required characteristics. LPNs and LVNs also must be able to work under close observation and follow orders.
Practical nursing training programs offered by community or technical colleges are typically a year in length. All states require LPNs be licensed, in addition to finishing a state approved practical nursing program. Most programs require applicants be high school graduates; a few will make exception, and some programs are offered to high school students who have not yet graduated. Education will include formal classroom coursework as well as supervised patient care. Classes on basic nursing care, anatomy, physiology, pediatrics, medical-surgical nursing, obstetrics nursing, nutrition, pharmacology and first aid compose the curriculum. Clinical practice usually is in a hospital but sometimes includes other settings.
LPNs and LVNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX- PN), which is created and administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. There are four major areas on the NCLEX- PN. They are safe and effective care settings, the promotion and maintenance of health, physiological integrity and psychosocial integrity.
Some states require continuing education at scheduled intervals. There are a number of possible avenues by which LPNs and LVNs can advance their careers. LPNs working in nursing homes can become charge nurses supervising other LPNs and nursing aides. LPNs who receive credentialing in one or more specialties such as IV therapy, pharmacology, long-term care or gerontology will be given more responsibility. Some LPNs continue their education via an LPN-to-RN training program, eventually becoming a registered nurse.
Approximately 12% of all LPNs and LVNs work in physicians’ offices. One-quarter are employed by hospitals, while 28% work at a nursing care facilities. The remainders are employed by home healthcare services; temporary services; community elderly care facilities; outpatient care centers; or for local, state or federal government.
The median annual pay for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses is about $40,000. Those in the midrange earn between $34,000 and $47,000. Those in the lowest 10% income bracket are paid less than $28,900, while those in the highest 10% income bracket earn more than $54,000.