Learn About Being a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

What does a licensed practical nurse do?

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a medical professional who attends to the basic needs of patients. Common responsibilities can include tracking vitals, administering basic treatments such as shots or intravenous fluids, assisting doctors with medical procedures and ensuring the patient is comfortable. Licensed practical nurses can work in a variety of medical settings, ranging from large hospitals or nursing homes to small clinics and private employment. Other duties may include:

  • Providing routine care for patients during visitations

  • Assisting doctors and registered nurses in the administration of treatment plans and performance of health checks and diagnosis

  • Observing patients and making notes of any potential areas to discuss with a doctor

  • Communicating with patients and their families to provide a more thorough understanding of their treatment plans

Average salary

Licensed practical nurses are usually full-time employees, and it is common for them to work overtime, nights and weekend hours. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $26.45 per hour

  • Some salaries range from $10.25 to $41.65 per hour.

Licensed practical nurse requirements

To be considered for a licensed practical nurse position, an applicant will need to show that they meet the minimum requirements. These include:

Education

Aspiring LPNs must complete a licensed practical nursing program, which most colleges offer. To enroll in a licensed practical nursing program, a student must have earned a high school diploma or comparable achievement such as a GED (General Education Diploma) first. An LPN program usually consists of one year of study, with both classroom learning and practical application in a supervised setting.

Training

Most of a licensed practical nurse’s career training will occur during the one-year education program. Besides the skills learned during this program, an employer may have new employees complete additional on-the-job training after they are hired. This training allows the new LPN to learn the specific procedures the facility prefers and the chance to work with experienced medical professionals to refine the techniques they learned during the LPN program.

Certifications

After completing the licensed practical nurse program, an aspiring LPN must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). The exam features between 85 and 205 multiple-choice questions on a variety of topics, including health promotion and maintenance, physiological integrity, psychological integrity and safe and effective care environments. Applicants have five hours to complete the exam, and students who fail to pass will be required to wait between 45-90 days before they are eligible to take the exam again.

Some licensed practical nurses opt to pursue additional certifications. Although certifications are often not required by employers, they can help to distinguish an applicant, particularly if they apply to common areas of focus at the employer’s facility. Some popular certifications include:

Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ALCS) and Basic Life Support (BLS)

People often complete these certifications at the same time. They pair well as they show competence identifying and stabilizing many of the most common life-threatening health scenarios, making them broadly applicable skills in a variety of healthcare settings. 

Case Management (CC)

Nurses who are interested in social work most commonly seek this certification. Programs teach the skills necessary for medical case management.

Developmental Disabilities (DC)

A developmental disabilities certification shows that an LPN has learned the skills they need to work with children and adults with both intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Gerontology (GC)

A gerontology certification demonstrates the ability to effectively care for elderly patients. This is a useful option when pursuing work at long-term care, nursing home and assisted care facilities.

Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)

For individuals who want to work with children, a PALS certification shows competency in the skills needed to work in facilities specializing in the care of infants, children and adolescents.

Wound Care Certification (WCC)

This certification is popular as it is valued by both long-term care facilities and hospitals.

Skills

A qualified licensed practical nursing candidate will have many hard and soft skills, such as:

Basic nursing

An LPN will be expected to possess all of the basic nursing skills required to handle a variety of medical scenarios. This includes assisting with check-ups, simple procedures and emergency care when required.

Attention to detail

Precision is required in an LPN’s daily work to ensure that mistakes do not occur when administering treatments. Small errors can have dangerous or even fatal consequences, making attention to detail an essential skill.

Ability to work under pressure

During an emergency, all medical staff must be able to remain calm to operate effectively. The ability to stay relaxed and focused during an emergency provides patients the best chances of a successful outcome.

Stamina

This skill enables an individual to withstand long days of physical activity. Many LPNs will remain on their feet for most if not all of a shift, which can result in standing for longer than 10 hours. This nurse will need the stamina to endure the physical strains of a long and busy nursing shift.

Compassion

The ability to empathize with others and speak with them in an understanding manner is an essential skill for LPNs. A nurse will often be required to speak with patients or family after distressing medical news has been delivered, and a caring demeanor can help to comfort them in that challenging time.

Communication

The ability to communicate verbally is required in nursing, as the LPN will often need to convey information from patient to doctor or vice versa. Clear, concise communication allows for the efficient and accurate transference of important information.

Licensed practical nurse work environment

A licensed practical nurse may work in a variety of professional settings:

  • On their feet in an emergency room assisting the doctoral staff in administering treatment in a time-sensitive setting

  • Meeting with patients in a clinic, administering basic tests such as taking vitals, and assisting as required during diagnosis and treatment of medical concerns

  • In an assisted living facility caring for patients’ daily needs ranging from meal and medication preparation to assisting with mobility and basic life functions

  • With patients with special needs, applying particular care to accommodate the specific ways a patient needs their care to be altered

  • In hospice care providing for patients facing terminal illnesses by ensuring they are as comfortable as possible while also receiving all necessary treatments

  • At a physical therapist’s office helping patients through their exercises designed to rehabilitate injuries and regain their strength

How to become a licensed practical nurse

Here is the most common procedure for starting a career as a licensed practical nurse:

1. Complete basic education.

Although a degree from a higher education institution is not required, you must earn at least a high school diploma or a comparable certificate such as a GED.

2. Enter an LPN education program. 

A licensed practical nursing program provides a mixture of classroom and practical learning and teaches the basic skills an LPN requires. Completion of a certified LPN course is a prerequisite to taking the NCLEX-PN exam.

3. Pass the NCLEX-PN examination. 

The final requirement before pursuing open positions is passing the NCLEX-PN exam. The test verifies that a candidate has sufficiently mastered the topics covered during their LPN education program.

4. Attain additional certification.

Many aspiring LPNs opt for additional certification before entering the workforce. If you have a preferred area of employment within the nursing industry, choose certifications that are directed toward that line of work.

5. Create your resume.

Craft a resume that highlights your qualifications. A traditional resume with your prior experience first is optimal if you have worked in the field previously, while a functional resume that highlights your skills and certifications may be better if you are applying for an entry-level role and lack relevant work experience.

6. Apply for openings.

Find job listings that appeal to your goals as an LPN and send your resume along with a cover letter showcasing your certifications and best attributes. If you have a strong letter of recommendation, such as a former supervisor who speaks highly of you, include it with your application.

Licensed practical nurse job description example

Sunset Elderly Care Facility is seeking a licensed practical nurse to join our staff immediately. The ideal candidate will have one to three years of experience and a Basic Life Support (BLS) certification. The candidate should also have a Gerontology Certification (GC), Certified Hospice and Palliative Licensed Nurse (CHPLN) or similar certification. Responsibilities include helping and monitoring elderly residents with their daily medical needs, as well as assisting in the event of required urgent care.

Related careers

  • Home health nurse

  • Neonatal nurse

  • Nurse practitioner

  • Registered nurse (RN)

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