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What Is a Practical Nurse? LPN vs. CN vs. RN, Average Salary and How To Become a Practical Nurse

February 23, 2021

Licensed practical nurses can be essential members of a medical team. They may take on responsibilities such as caring for sick and injured patients, assisting in rehabilitation treatments and supervising certified nursing assistants and orderlies. Working as an LPN can also be a good way to enter and advance in the nursing field. In this article, learn what an LPN is and what they do, what the salary average is for LPNs and the steps you can take to pursue a career as a practical nurse.

What is a practical nurse?

A practical nurse—or "licensed practical nurse (LPN)"—is a medical professional who has completed a degree program in practical nursing and who has completed the national exam requirements for licensing. LPNs may work in a variety of healthcare settings to provide basic and specialized medical care to a diverse range of patients.

Oftentimes, licensed practical nurses work in hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, rehab centers and private practices under the supervision of physicians and registered nurses. LPNs may typically perform basic medical tasks such as taking and monitoring patients' vital signs, administering medication, taking blood or tissue samples, caring for patients and reporting patients' health status to the supervising registered nurses.

Practical nurses may also supervise certified nursing assistants (CNAs) during patient treatments, monitoring patient vital signs and documenting patients' medical information. Additionally, working as a practical nurse can offer career advancement opportunities such as additional certifications and degrees.

Read more: Learn About Being a Licensed Practical Nurse

Differences between a practical nurse, RN and CNA

Oftentimes, LPNs can share similarities with other licensed nursing professionals. However, there are several differences between the LPN profession and other nursing roles. For instance, LPNs and CNAs can differ in the credentials each role requires, and LPNs may not require the same degree as a licensed practical nurse. The following information highlights the key differences between an LPN and similar nursing fields.

Registered nurse (RN)

The biggest difference between a licensed practical nurse and an RN is the certification and education level each profession requires. There are also differences in the job duties that an LPN and RN may perform. An LPN is licensed to provide basic patient care while an RN is certified to take on more dynamic tasks in caring for patients.

It is also important to note that RNs can complete training in a variety of ways, from obtaining a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing (BSN) to completing an Associate Degree (ADN). LPN training typically takes a minimum of one year to complete. RNs typically complete more in-depth education and training and may be responsible for managing nursing aids as well as LPNs. However, even with these differences, many LPNs choose to advance their careers by continuing their education to obtain their RN certifications.

Certified nursing assistant (CNA)

The key difference between an LPN and a CNA is the level of education and certification that each role requires. CNAs can complete their certification training in as little as three to six months, depending on the program, and certified nursing assistant programs result in certification and not a degree. LPNs, conversely, typically earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) before they receive their LPN certification.

LPNs can provide a higher level of medical care to patients. LPNs may even take on supervisory roles to manage CNAs in administering patient care. It is not uncommon for CNAs to perform and document basic patient care for an LPN's review.

Read more: 12 Healthcare Jobs That Pay Well

The average salary of a practical nurse

According to the Indeed salary guide, the national average salary for a licensed practical nurse is $23.85 per hour. When assuming a 40-hour workweek, this hourly wage calculates to an annual salary of $49,608. Additionally, there may be some states that have higher salary averages. Some of the states where LPNs may earn more than the national average salary include:

Related: 10 Highest-Paid Nursing Jobs

How to become a practical nurse

If you are considering a career as a licensed practical nurse, you can expect to complete several requirements before entering the field. First, you must complete an accredited training program to earn your certificate. After earning your certificate, you are eligible to take the national certification exam to earn your state LPN license. The following information on the educational and licensing requirements for LPNs can help you get started on your career path.

Education and training requirements

To become an LPN, you will first need to complete an accredited program for practical nursing. Training programs for LPNs typically take about one year to complete, and your coursework can cover subjects such as biology, anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, nursing practices and clinical practicums. The clinical practicums should help you receive hands-on and experience-based training to better prepare you for the job.

You must complete an accredited practical nursing program which usually takes about one year to complete. These programs are most often taken at technical or community colleges. Courses usually combine academia in nursing, biology, and pharmacology, in addition to supervised clinical experiences.

Licenses and certifications

After you have completed your training, you can receive your certification in practical nursing. Even though state-approved practical nursing programs result in certification, you will still need to complete your licensing examination to work as an LPN. The national licensing examination for practical nursing (NCLEX-PN) is proctored through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Passing the exam enables you to get your LPN license and begin working.

Career advancement

Oftentimes, LPNs choose to continue their training and education to advance in the nursing field. Nursing specialty certificates are also available to LPNs who choose to advance in the field. You may also advance to supervisor or manager roles while working as an LPN, and you may also choose to pursue a degree in nursing and become an RN.

Working as an LPN can serve as a practical step toward advancing your career in healthcare. With a wide variety of specialty licenses open to practicing LPNs, the career field seems to offer a high level of job security, too.

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