How To Become an LVN in California in 5 Steps (With Salary)

Updated June 5, 2023

There are various types of nursing licenses you can earn, and one of the most attainable entry-level licenses is the licensed vocational nurse (LVN) credential. This state-approved licensed allows you to join a health care team after just one to two years of training if you live in California. Understanding the requirements for becoming an LVN in California can help you develop a plan to start your nursing career.

In this article, we discuss how to become an LVN in California and share details about the career, such as the benefits it provides and the salary and job outlook for California-based LVNs.

What is a licensed vocational nurse?

A licensed vocational nurse (LVN) is a credentialed entry-level nurse who provides basic clinical care to patients in health care environments. LVNs, called licensed practical nurses (LPNs) in states other than California and Texas, have less training than registered nurses (RNs), and an RN or physician supervises them as they work. Their duties often include examining patients, monitoring and documenting their progress and checking their vitals.

Other responsibilities for LVNs might include:

  • Administering some medications and intravenous (IV) fluids

  • Assisting with diagnostic tests

  • Helping patients eat, stand, sit, dress, bathe and walk

  • Explaining treatments to patients

  • Providing emotional support to patients

  • Preparing patients' beds

  • Recording patient data in an internal database

  • Cooperating with other nurses and physicians

  • Educating patients' caretakers and family members on their treatments

Read more: FAQ: What Does an LVN Do? (Plus Salary and Skills)

How to become an LVN in California

Follow these steps to start working as an LVN in the state of California:

1. Understand the basic licensing requirements

Before you begin pursuing your LVN license, it's important to review the basic requirements for these nurses in California. This can help you set goals and develop a plan to qualify. Licensing requirements for LVNs in California include:

  • 17 years of age or older

  • High school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) equivalent

  • A passing grade on the National Council Licensing Examination for Practical Nursing (NCLEX-PN)

  • A paid licensing fee

  • Proof of approved education or experience

Related: LVN vs. RN: What's the Difference? (With Salary and Outlook)

2. Apply to a qualifying LVN program

One of the simplest ways to qualify for licensure is to study at an approved LVN training program at a vocational school or community college. These programs generally take about one to two years to complete, and they cover basic health care topics and nursing skills. They usually require both classroom instruction and labs for practical experience.

To apply to these programs, you usually submit your high school diploma or GED equivalent. Different schools may have different requirements, but you may also include your transcripts and relevant certifications, like Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) or First Aid.

Related: How Long Is Nursing School? (7 Levels of Education)

3. Earn your nursing degree or equivalent experience

There are three major pathways to qualifying for an LVN license in California:

Approved California LVN training program

One of the most common ways to become an LVN is to study at an LVN program approved by the state of California and the Board of Vocational Nurses and Psychiatric Technicians (BVNPT). It's also important that your school has accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

These one-to-two-year programs take place at community colleges, career colleges and technical schools. Coursework might focus on:

  • Nursing fundamentals

  • Pharmacology

  • Patient education

  • Pediatrics

  • Health care ethics

  • Maternity

  • Prenatal care

  • End-of-life care

  • Communicable diseases

  • Nutrition

  • Gerontology

  • Cultural competence in nursing

Related: Q&A: How Long Does It Take To Become an LVN?

Approved out-of-state LVN training program

You could also attend a formal LVN program in another state if it has approval from the state's Board of Nursing. Most LVN programs are similar between states. These programs may refer to LPNs in states other than California and Texas, but these nurses provide the same type of care.

Combination of relevant education and experience

The third option for earning licensure is professional experience in a relevant environment combined with a qualifying educational history. You might be eligible if you've completed at least 51 months of professional bedside care in an acute care facility with the approval of the California BVNPT. The BVNPT requires that these hours include a minimum of 48 months of medical or surgical nursing, five weeks of maternity or genitourinary nursing and five weeks of pediatric nursing. You could also substitute up to eight months of your 48 months of medical or surgical nursing with experience in a specialized field like:

  • Hemodialysis

  • Outpatient clinic nursing

  • Psychiatric nursing

  • Geriatric nursing

  • Public health nursing

  • Industrial nursing

  • Operating room nursing

  • Private duty nursing

  • Emergency room nursing

  • Recovery room nursing

  • Communicable disease nursing

To prove your experience, you submit employment dates certified by your supervising RN, who confirms your understanding of relevant skills like basic bedside care and aseptic technique. You could also qualify if you have a year or more of experience as a nurse for the armed forces. This route also requires you to take a pharmacology course of 54 or more hours, covering topics like medication administration, dosages, medication preparation and common medications.

4. Take the NCLEX-PN

To qualify for licensure, aspiring LVNs take the NCLEX-PN, which tests them on relevant nursing principles and concepts. This computerized test occurs in person, and it covers areas like health promotion and maintenance, physiological integrity, psychosocial integrity and safe and effective care environments. Questions can take different formats, such as multiple-choice, ordered response and fill-in-the-blank. Your test might have anywhere between 75 and 145 questions.

Related: 12 NCLEX Tips To Help You Earn Your Nursing License

5. Apply for jobs

Once you have a your license, you can apply for jobs in medical facilities. Prepare a resume that highlights your credentials, including your valid LVN license, training program and previous work experience. Focus on skills like communication, teamwork and attention to detail when creating your application materials.

Related: How To Write an LVN Resume (With Template and Sample)

Where can LVNs work in California?

LVNs have the skills to work in a variety of health care environments in California, including:

  • Hospitals

  • Private practices

  • Home health care companies

  • Specialty outpatient clinics

  • Hospices

  • Ambulatory surgery centers

  • Nursing homes

  • Dialysis centers

  • Psychiatric facilities

  • Correctional centers

  • Long-term care hospitals

Related: 10 Types of Health Care Facilities for a Medical Career

Benefits of working as an LVN

Here are some reasons to consider a career as a California-based LVN:

  • Ability to start working quickly: Becoming an LVN is a shorter process than earning other relevant health care credentials like an RN license. For this reason, working as an LVN can be an effective entry-level job for people eager to enter the health care industry.

  • Job security: Many parts of California face a shortage of nurses, especially in rural areas. LVNs can help address the need for nursing care, which makes this an in-demand job.

  • Opportunities to advance your skills: LVNs can become RNs in the future by going back to school and taking the relevant NCLEX-RN exam. Working under the supervision of an RN or physician also gives you the opportunity to develop your skills and learn from experienced individuals in your field.

  • Rewarding work: Working as an LVN offers you an opportunity to help people. You can form relationships with your patients, provide comfort during challenging times and make treatment more effective or comfortable for them.

Related: 15 Advantages of a Nursing Career

Salary and job outlook for LVNs in California

The average salary for an LVN in California is $80,297 per year, which is higher than the national average of $75,896 per year. Salaries for LVNs in California can range from $57,661 per year to $111,828 per year, depending on factors such as your city, experience and employer. The highest-paying cities for LVNs in California are:

  • San Francisco: $89,799 per year

  • San Jose: $86,593 per year

  • San Diego: $81,837 per year

  • Sacramento: $81,181 per year

  • Glendale: $80,218 per year

  • Los Angeles: $77,703 per year

  • Fresno: $74,006 per year

  • San Bernardino: $70,403 per year

  • Riverside: $70,240 per year

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs nationwide for licensed vocational nurses and licensed practical nurses could grow 6% between 2021 and 2031. The BLS also reports that California employs the highest number of LVNs and LPNs in the nation, with 72,180 people employed in the profession.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link(s) provided.

Related: LVN vs. LPN Salary: What's the Difference?

LVN skills

Below are some key skills for LVNs:

Bedside care

Bedside care is basic nursing assistance provided to patients. It typically involves simple care tasks to help check patients' conditions and keep them comfortable. For example, LVNs make patients' beds, help them dress in clean clothes and feed them if they require assistance. Bedside care can also include clinical tasks like checking vitals, giving some medications, using catheters and collecting specimens for testing.

Patient education

LVNs interface directly with patients and serve as advocates for their needs. They often explain treatments to patients, helping them understand their conditions, symptoms and care plans. LVNs might work with patients facing neurological conditions, so adapting their communication to suit their patients' needs and capabilities is beneficial.

They might also educate their patients' families. LVNs instruct caretakers about how to properly administer treatment and medications, what symptoms to monitor for and how to maintain a comfortable environment for patients in their homes.

Read more: Patient Education in Nursing: 12 Tips To Improve Instruction


Because LVNs sometimes work with patients experiencing pain, confusion or discomfort, it's important they show them compassion to help ease their distress. They might listen to patients' requests, questions and complaints, affirm their feelings and share information to help them cope with the stress. LVNs often develop trusting relationships with their patients as they tend to their daily needs.

Read more: Empathy in Health Care: 11 Tips To Improve This Skill

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Tips for pursuing a career as an LVN in California

Below is some advice that may help you start your LVN career in California:

  • Consider working in an in-need area. Many parts of California face nursing shortages, so targeting an area that's seeking help could help you find a job more easily. It also offers you the opportunity to provide critical relief to understaffed communities.

  • Take an NCLEX prep course. Many organizations offer prep courses to help you ready yourself to take the NCLEX. These courses often include lessons, study guides and practice tests.

  • Determine your long-term goals. Many people start as LVNs before pursuing a specialized nursing path. Reflect on your interests, such as gerontology, palliative care or pediatrics, to help you decide if you want to specialize or further your credentials.

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