Want to become a nurse but in your circumstances you can’t study full-time for three or four years? Consider qualifying as an LVN or LPN.
In the US you can start working as a nurse after a one-year course and passing your licensure exam. From there, if you want to, there are different pathways for you to study to qualify as a registered nurse with a BSN. Then you can even go all the way to obtaining a Doctorate in Nursing Science.
Read on to find out how to qualify as a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) in the United States. Briefly the steps are as follows:
- Obtain your high school diploma or GDE
- Gain admission to the nursing program
- Graduate successfully from nursing school
- Pass the national NCLEX-PN examination
- Apply and obtain your nursing license
Getting into a LVN/LPN Program
First, what is the difference between an LVN and an LPN? Well nothing really. It is the same category of nurse for which the title Licensed Vocational Nurse is used in California and Texas, whereas in all other states these nurses are called Licensed Practical Nurses.
LVN/LPN programs are offered at community colleges, vocational technical schools and hospitals. This means that you need to have graduated from high school with a GPA of at least 2.0 or hold a GED certificate.
You need to apply in advance for admission to a nursing school. You will probably also be required to pass an entrance exam like the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS), or the PAX, which is a specialized nursing pre-admission exam.
These exams test your basic academic, critical thinking, communication and other skills to determine whether you are likely to complete the nursing program successfully.
Finding a nursing school
The school you choose must be accredited by the state board of nursing – otherwise you will be unable to obtain your nursing license once you have completed the program. Most state boards of nursing have lists of the accredited nursing programs on their websites.
Once you have made a list of the potential programs it might be difficult to decide where to apply to – all are not equal. Research the different nursing schools and consider the following factors to guide your choice:
- Duration of the program. Most LVN/LPN programs take one academic year to complete although some may take up to 18 months
- NCLEX-PN pass rate of their students
- Accreditation status with the National League of Nursing Accrediting Agency. This might be important for entry to future study
- Cost of the program, which can range from around $4000 to as much as $20 000
- Possible scholarship assistance
- Personal costs related to location – that is, what will board and/or travel cost you.
You can also get an overall feel about the nursing school by talking to current or past students, looking at what they say on social media, or visiting the school and talking to some of the faculty.
The LVN/LPN program
Nursing school is demanding because the program entails more than just coursework. It also includes clinical hours in skills laboratories and at healthcare facilities where you will practice nursing skills.
The precise arrangement and content differs between nursing programs but all cover:
- Fundamentals of nursing – including legal, ethical and cultural principles of nursing; the nursing process; communication; the role and responsibilities of an LVN/LPN
- Basic principles of patient care – including patient assessment; rest and comfort; hygiene; nutrition; safety; infection control; and administration of medicines
- Care of patients with different conditions and at different stages of life – including medical-surgical nursing; maternal-newborn nursing; child health nursing; mental health nursing
- Science courses – including Anatomy and Physiology; Pharmacology; Nutrition
NCLEX-PN examination and obtaining your nursing license
Once you have passed your nursing program you need to apply for and take the NCLEX-PN exam. These exams are developed and administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to ensure that qualified nurses meet the minimum national standards to provide safe nursing care.
Once you have passed this examination you can apply for your nursing license with the state board of nursing in the state where you plan to work. Besides a pass in the NCLEX-PN examination, each state has further licensing requirements.
What does an LVN/LPN do?
A licensed LVN/LPN is qualified to perform basic nursing care to meet the direct care needs of patients in hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities. They work mostly under the supervision of registered nurses, although they might also be required to oversee Certified Nursing Assistants, who are less qualified.
Where LPN/LVN nurses work and the tasks they perform depend on the laws of the particular state, the needs in specific locations, and the policies of the healthcare facility. Because of the high demands and complexity of nursing in acute care hospitals, many are now only employing BSN-qualified registered nurses.
Nevertheless, there are still many job opportunities for LVN/LPNs in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and home healthcare services.
The average salary of LVN/LPNs in the US is $48 820 per year, or $23.47 per hour, according to the latest figures of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau also estimates that the demand for LVN/LPNs will grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030. Because of the aging population, the demand for long-term care keeps increasing.
Career pathways for an LVN/LPN
LVN/LPNs can obtain certifications in specific areas of nursing, which could advance their careers and salary. Popular certifications include wound care, IV therapy, and long-term care.
You can also advance your nursing career by following a bridging program to become a registered nurse by earning an Associate Degree in Nursing or a BSN. Most of these programs are part-time and flexible which means that you can work and look after your family while improving your qualifications. Many of these bridging courses are also fully or partly online.
Ready to take the first steps to becoming a nurse?
You’ve decided that nursing is the career for you. Start early in selecting potential nursing schools and applying. The process takes time, nursing schools have a limit on the number of new students they can accept, and there are cut-off dates for applications.
Once you enter a nursing program be prepared to work hard at your studies from the start and you are bound to make a success of your chosen career.
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