You thought your career path was clear when you decided you wanted to become a nurse. But it only took a few quick searches to discover that nursing education programs and credentials aren’t as straightforward as you might have thought.
We get it. The education options for aspiring nurses aren’t exactly simple to understand. You’ve heard plenty about RNs, but you’re probably less familiar with the LPN education and career path. So what does it really take to become an LPN? Is there an “LPN degree”—or what should you be looking for?
We’re decoding the LPN education and career path so you can see how this career compares to other nursing roles—and understand the training required to land an LPN job. Keep reading to learn what to expect as a licensed practical nurse and how to become one.
What is an LPN?
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs)—also called “licensed vocational nurses” in some states—perform many of the job duties you think of when you picture a nurse. They take vital signs like blood pressure and heart rate, help patients with basic care like bathing and dressing and assist with tests and procedures. Through it all, they also maintain accurate patient records and discuss patients’ healthcare concerns or questions.
LPNs perform these duties under the supervision of doctors or registered nurses, although this supervision looks different depending on where they practice. Some states may limit which tasks an LPN can carry out, such as starting an IV line or giving medication. Others allow LPNs more freedom, giving veteran LPNs the opportunity to supervise licensed practical nurses who have less experience under their belts.
LPNs can also expect to work in many of the same healthcare facilities as RNs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 38 percent work in nursing homes or long-term care facilities.1 LPNs can also care for patients in clinics, home health services and hospitals. As with most nursing careers, LPNs have some flexibility with their hours. Patient care is needed at all hours of the day, so LPNs can choose to work nights, weekends and holidays if that’s a better fit for their schedule than the usual nine-to-five.
LPN education: Degree or Diploma?
One thing you should know right away is that the phrase “LPN degree” is a common misnomer. While it might be used as casual shorthand, you should know LPNs don’t typically need an associate’s degree to get started in their nursing career. Instead, they’re typically prepared for the role through a certificate or diploma program like Rasmussen College’s Practical Nursing Diploma, which can be completed in as few as 12 months.2
All states also require aspiring LPNs to pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) to become licensed. This is a rigorous test, but a high-quality practical nursing diploma program will prepare you for it.