How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse

Becoming Licensed Practical Nurse / Licensed Vocational Nurse

Becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) can be the beginning of a rewarding career with ample opportunity for growth. Learn how to become a licensed practical nurse and what it takes to excel in this promising field.

What Does an LPN Do?

An LPN provides patient care as a member of a team of health care providers. LPNs handle a large share of direct patient care, including planning, implementation, and assessment of nursing care. LPNs measure and record vital signs, as well as teach healthy habits to patients. Other duties may include:

  • Monitoring changes in symptoms and conditions
  • Administering medications and therapeutic treatments
  • Reporting adverse reactions to medications or treatments
  • Supporting patient rehabilitation

LPNs also work in other health care areas, such as clinics, public schools, rehabilitation facilities, and extended care facilities. Other job opportunities can be found in:

  • Industrial/occupational health centers
  • Employment services
  • Community care facilities
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Home health care services
  • Federal, state, and local government agencies

Steps to Becoming an LPN

You can become an LPN in about one year, depending on the school and training program. Here's how to become an LPN, step by step:

  1. Get a high school diploma. This is usually one of the basic requirements to enroll in a nursing program. Most programs require a high school diploma or equivalent, although some may accept students without a diploma. Some programs are also offered as part of a high school curriculum for students interested in a head start on their nursing careers.
  2. Find the right school for you. LPNs must complete a state-approved training program in practical nursing, with programs ranging from 7 to 24 months in length, and the average lasting about one year. Your state's board of nursing can provide a list of approved programs.
  3. Study hard. Nursing programs include classroom study, which teaches you basic nursing concepts and patient care, and clinical practice, which is supervised patient care usually taught in a hospital.
  4. Pass the NCLEX-PN. After graduation, you will need to pass the NCLEX-PN, a computer-based exam that covers safe and effective care environment; health promotion and maintenance; psychosocial integrity; and physiological integrity.
  5. Seek advancement opportunities. Once you're a certified LPN, you can look for advancement opportunities. Some hospitals offer LPNs the opportunity to work on IV teams, as treatment or special procedure nurses, and in critical care settings. It's also important to continue your education, as this is a requirement in some states and for some employers.

How Do I Become a GREAT LPN?

Education and certification are just the beginning. To excel in your career as an LPN, there are four important skills and attributes to master:

  • Communication skills - A great LPN must communicate clearly and listen effectively as they work with patients, families, doctors, and other nurses. The best LPNs make sure they clearly understand the patient and advocate for their needs.
  • Compassion - LPNs are compassionate to their patients' pain and suffering, which is an important part of patient care. A great LPN also recognizes when compassion fatigue sets in and learns how to manage it effectively.
  • Stamina - Great LPNs takes care of themselves so they can take better care of their patients. They do so by maintaining a healthy diet, physical activity, and keeping stress levels in check.
  • Excellent decision-making skills - A great LPN can think on his or her feet to prevent or solve problems. Whether it's an upset family member, scared patient, or staff management issue, the best LPNs practice good judgement.

Once you've completed your education, passed the NCLEX-PN, and started your career as an LPN, you have opened the door to any number of possibilities. Some LPNs eventually go back to school to become a registered nurse (RN) or go even further to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Now that you know how to become an LPN, get started on your path towards a rewarding career.

Resources for LPNs


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Licensed Practical Nurse, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm
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