Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses work under the supervision of other health care professionals. Typical duties include general patient monitoring, keeping records and giving basic nursing care. However, the full range of LVN/LPN duties varies by work setting and state regulations. Some positions may require more laboratory work, while others may focus on giving direct patient care and communicating with family members. The choice to refer to nurses at this level as either LVN or LPN also varies by state.
LVN/LPNs do not need to hold a college degree, but they must complete an accredited training program. These programs usually last one year and can be run through community colleges, technical training schools, high schools and hospitals. LVN/LPN training programs typically require a high school diploma or GED and may require candidates to pass an entrance exam to be accepted. Students combine classroom work in science and nursing with clinical field experience, earning a certificate of completion.
As with registered nurses and many other health care professionals, LVN/LPNs must earn a license in order to practice in any U.S. state. After completing their training program, LVN/LPNs take the National Council Licensure Examination. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, 84 percent of LVN/LPN candidates taking the exam for the first time in 2012 successfully passed. The National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses offers additional, optional certification in gerontology and IV therapy.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job growth for all LVN/LPNs will be 22 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is faster than the average for all jobs. This is due in part to an aging population, as well as the push to provide health care services in outpatient centers and other non-hospital locations, where LVN/LPNs are often employed. According to BLS data, LVN/LPNs made an average of $42,400 per year as of May 2012, with the highest concentrations of employment in nursing care facilities and home health care services.
With experience, LVN/LPNs can move into management and leadership positions in their workplaces. Hospitals offer the chance for LVN/LPNs to become special procedure nurses or to focus on critical care. LVN/LPNs at other care facilities can work in supervisory roles, overseeing non-licensed medical staff. Some LVN/LPNs also pursue education to become registered nurses through an LPN-to-RN training program. These programs can lead to either an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing, and may feature night and weekend classes to accommodate working LVN/LPNs.