Licensed Practical Nurse

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a nurse that performs basic medical tasks, including checking vital signs and feeding patients. They’re also responsible for maintaining a clear line of communication between a patient, their family and their caregivers. LPNs work under the direction of registered nurses (RNs) and doctors.

What is a licensed practical nurse?

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a nurse that provides basic patient care. LPNs work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs), doctors and other providers.

LPNs work with patients to give basic medical care. But they’re also a direct link between a patient, their family and their doctor and other providers. They must maintain clear communication among the healthcare team. They also help a patient’s family understand standard procedures. They educate them on how best to take care of their loved ones.

LPNs work in a variety of healthcare settings, including:

  • Nursing homes.
  • Extended care facilities.
  • Hospitals.
  • Physicians’ offices.
  • Private homes (home health care).

You may also see the term licensed vocational nurse (LVN). LPNs and LVNs are basically the same. They require the same certification and licensing, and they perform similar duties. The difference is state licensing agencies in California and Texas use the term licensed vocational nurse.

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What does a licensed practical nurse do?

Licensed practical nurses provide basic medical care. They work under the direction of doctors and registered nurses. Each state regulates whether an RN must supervise an LPN. Some LPNs can only perform certain tasks under the direction of a physician or an RN.

Licensed practical nursing duties vary depending on the state. For instance, in some states, LPNs can start intravenous (IV) fluid drips and give IV medication. In other states, they can’t perform these tasks. In most states, LPNs can draw blood, but the exact rules may vary.

A licensed practical nurse’s duties range widely. LPNs may:

  • Monitor patients’ health: This includes tasks such as checking a patient’s blood pressure and other vital signs.
  • Administer basic medical care: This includes tasks such as changing bandages and inserting catheters.
  • Provide basic comfort care: This includes tasks such as helping patients with bathing, dressing and feeding.
  • Record keeping: LPNs must keep detailed records of every patient’s health.
  • Reporting: LPNs are responsible for reporting a patient’s health status to doctors and other providers.
  • Communication: LPNs must listen to their patient’s concerns. They must discuss the care they’re providing with the patient’s family.

Licensed practical nurse vs. registered nurse — what’s the difference?

Licensed practical nurses don’t have the full scope of practice that registered nurses do. LPNs are directly involved in patient care. They perform basic medical tasks and make sure patients are comfortable.

RNs typically oversee LPNs and may have more of a management role. They may administer medication and perform other medical tasks. But they’re more involved in working closely with a patient’s doctors. They create care plans and provide treatment.

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The education and training of RNs and LPNs differ as well. Registered nurses must receive an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN).

What skills does a licensed practical nurse require?

LPNs must have excellent communication skills so they can effectively interact with RNs, doctors and other providers. In addition, they need the ability to thoughtfully deliver information to patients and their families. Having a good bedside manner is an important part of providing patient care. People who are genuinely passionate about caring for others excel as LPNs.

LPNs must also have strong organizational skills. Licensed practical nursing is a fast-paced, demanding job. A patient’s health and well-being rely on an LPN’s ability to multi-task and manage information.

LPNs need to have a tolerance for blood and bodily fluids. They’ll see, smell and touch many different things while administering care to their patients. Not everyone can deal with these challenges.

How do you become a licensed practical nurse?

You must have a high school diploma or GED to start the process of becoming a licensed practical nurse. From there, you have to enroll in an accredited practical nursing program. You can find these programs at community colleges and vocational schools. Accreditation means a program can meet and maintain a certain standard of instruction.

Licensed practical nurse education combines classroom learning and supervised hands-on clinical experience. You’ll take courses in subjects such as:

  • Nursing.
  • Biology.
  • Pharmacology.

Once you’ve completed an LPN certification program, you have to apply for authorization to test. You apply to test through your local board of nursing and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

After you’re authorized, you take your National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). In all states, passage of the NCLEX-PN exam is a licensed practical nurse requirement. You must pass the exam to get your license and work as an LPN. Once you pass the exam, you receive your license in the mail. Then, you can begin working as an LPN.

There are many opportunities for an LPN to advance their career. This includes certification programs through professional associations. Completing these programs demonstrates that you have extensive knowledge in a specific area. Certification programs include:

  • Patient counseling certification.
  • Intravenous (IV) therapy certification.
  • Advanced life support certification.
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  • Long-term and hospice care certification.

Many employers require candidates to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training.

How long does it take to become an LPN?

For most people, an LPN program takes one to two years to complete. But the amount of time it takes depends on the program and how many credit hours you take at a time.

What is the average salary of a licensed practical nurse?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of a licensed practical nurse was $48,070 in 2021.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Licensed practical nurses provide basic patient care. They generally work under the direction of a registered nurse or doctor. LPNs perform basic medical tasks, such as checking vital signs and administering medication. They’re an important link between a patient, their family and their healthcare team. LPNs have many important responsibilities. You may work with an LPN the next time you receive healthcare.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/07/2022.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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