If you'd like to get a taste for nursing without the commitment of a full-blown registered nursing program, consider becoming a licensed vocational nurse.
What is a Licensed Vocational Nurse?
A licensed vocational nurse (LVN) cares for sick, injured, or disabled patients under the supervision of a physician, surgeon, or registered nurse (RN). They may also provide preventive care to healthy patients. LVNs are similar to RNs, but reduced training requirements provide for less autonomy and earning potential. While LVNs can often earn their diplomas from accredited nursing programs, RNs must complete two or more years of training.
The only difference between a licensed vocational nurse and a licensed practical nurse (LPN) is the state in which they practice; California and Texas license LVNs while the remaining states license LPNs. Both LPNs and LVNs must be licensed to practice in the United States, a process requiring the completion of certain educational and clinical training requirements, and a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nursing, or NCLEX-PN. Many states have additional requirements, so be sure to contact your state's nursing board to learn more.
What Does a Licensed Vocational Nurse Do?
Licensed vocational nurses support RNs, so there is a great deal of overlap between their duties. Specific LVN duties vary by employer or specialty, but typically include the following tasks:
- Administering injections, medications, and other treatments
- Helping RNs and doctors perform diagnostic tests
- Treating, monitoring, and dressing wounds
- Collecting and delivering lab samples
- Monitoring and recording medical conditins and patient vitals
- Providing basic bedside care, such as bathing, dressing, or feeding patients
What Specialties Hire LVNs?
Many LVNs consider themselves specialist in one or two particular areas of nursing. Because there are few official certificates available to LVNs compared to RNs, most become specialists through a combination of training and work experience rather than formal certification. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are over 60 nursing specialties. Here are a few of the most popular specialties among LVNs and their typical patient demographic:
- Emergency Care: Patients requiring emergency medical treatment
- Critical Care: Patients in critical condition
- Home Health Care: In-home medical services to sick, injured, or disabled patients
- Cardiology: Patients with heart problems
- Oncology: Patients undergoing cancer treatments
- Pediatrics: Infants and children under the age of 18
- Geriatrics: Patients over the age of 65
What's it Like to Work as an LVN?
LVNs typically work in hospitals, but can also work in: outpatient care centers, physicians' offices, nursing homes, community care facilities, college or community health clinics, or private homes. The hours can be long, and those working in 24-hour facilities must often work nights, weekends, and holidays. Expect to spend a great deal of time on your feet. Because you may care for patients facing difficult prognoses, work can be emotionally strenuous, but extremely gratifying.
How much do LVNs Earn?
Licensed vocational nurses' reduced training means they typically earn less than RNs, but better than many professionals with less than 2 years of education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)* reports that LPNs earned a 2009 median annual salary of $39.820, with the middle 50 percent earning between $33,920 and $47,220. Those working in nursing care facilities or for home health services tended to make more. To improve your earning potential, consider enrolling in a targeted LVN to RN training program to become an RN.
Are LVNs In Demand?
Good news. The BLS projects LVN employment to grow by an impressive 21 percent between 2008 and 2018--much faster than average. Opportunities should be best for those working in nursing care facilities and home health services. Hireability can improve with ongoing training and experience.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Registered Nurses, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm