How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Written by: Applied Nursing Research Editorial Team   •  May 19, 2024

Licensed Practical Nurse Lpn

If you’re considering a career in healthcare, becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) offers a rewarding pathway with ample opportunities for growth. Whether you’re just starting your professional journey or looking to switch careers, if you want to become an LPN, you should understand everything from what an LPN is to the educational and licensing requirements.

What Is an LPN?

A licensed practical nurse, commonly referred to as an LPN, is a healthcare professional who works under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and physicians. LPNs are responsible for providing basic nursing care, which can include tasks such as taking vital signs, administering medication, and assisting with patient hygiene.

Role and Responsibilities

In a typical healthcare setting, an LPN’s responsibilities may vary depending on the facility and state regulations. However, some common tasks include:

  • Monitoring patient health by taking blood pressure, temperature, and other vital signs

  • Administering medications and injections

  • Assisting patients with daily activities like bathing and dressing

  • Collecting samples for lab tests

  • Providing emotional support to patients and their families

  • Documenting patient history and healthcare activities

Work Environments

LPNs can work in a variety of healthcare settings, including:

  • Hospitals

  • Nursing homes

  • Clinics

  • Home healthcare services

  • Rehabilitation centers

Educational Requirements

To become an LPN, you’ll need to complete an accredited LPN program, which usually takes about one year to complete. These programs are offered by community colleges, vocational schools, and some universities. The curriculum typically includes both classroom instruction and clinical practice, covering subjects like anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology.

State-Specific Regulations

It’s crucial to note that LPN roles can differ from state to state due to varying regulations. Some states allow LPNs to perform tasks like administering intravenous (IV) medication, while others may restrict this to RNs. Therefore, it’s essential to check the specific guidelines and scope of practice in your state.

LPN Meaning

Understanding the abbreviation LPN is the first step in grasping the scope and significance of this role in healthcare. LPN stands for licensed practical nurse, a title that encapsulates three key aspects:


  • Indicates that the individual has received the necessary education and passed the required exams to practice nursing legally.

  • Licensure is typically granted by a state nursing board and is essential for ensuring that all LPNs meet a minimum standard of knowledge and skill.


  • Refers to the hands-on, practical nature of the nursing care provided.

  • LPNs often engage in direct patient care, including tasks like wound dressing, medication administration, and basic health monitoring.


  • Denotes the individual’s role in the broader healthcare team.

  • Nurses, including LPNs, are responsible for patient care and often serve as the primary point of contact between the patient and the healthcare system.

LPN Educational Programs

To become an LPN, individuals must complete an educational program designed to prepare students for a career as a licensed practical nurse. Here’s what you need to know about obtaining an LPN credential:

Types of LPN Programs

There are two main types of educational programs available for aspiring LPNs:

  • Diploma Programs: Usually offered by hospitals and vocational schools, these programs focus on practical nursing skills.

  • Certificate Programs: Similar to diploma programs but often shorter in duration.

If individuals want to advance to become registered nurses, they can earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).


It’s crucial to choose a program that is approved by the state in which you want to practice to ensure that you meet the educational requirements for licensure.

Some schools that offer LPN educational programs are also accredited by organizations such as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which set standards for nursing education.


An LPN program’s curriculum generally includes:

  • Classroom Instruction: Subjects like anatomy, physiology, nursing ethics, and pharmacology

  • Clinical Practice: Hands-on training in healthcare settings, supervised by experienced nurses or medical professionals


Most LPN programs take about 12 months to complete, although some may last up to 24 months depending on the institution and the program’s scope.

Financial Considerations

  • The cost of LPN programs can vary widely, often ranging between $2,000 and $30,000.

  • Financial aid options, such as scholarships, grants, and student loans, are often available to help offset these costs.

What Does an LPN Do?

Understanding the role of an LPN is crucial for anyone considering this career path. An LPN’s duties can vary depending on the healthcare setting and state regulations, but there are some common responsibilities.

Common Tasks and Responsibilities

  • Patient Monitoring: Regularly check vital signs like blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate.

  • Medication Administration: Dispense medications as prescribed by a physician.

  • Basic Care: Assist with bathing, dressing, and personal hygiene.

  • Sample Collection: Collect blood, urine, or other samples for lab tests.

  • Patient Education: Provide basic health advice and explain medical procedures to patients and their families.

  • Record-Keeping: Document patient information, including medical history and treatment plans.

Specialized Tasks

Some LPNs may receive additional training to perform more specialized tasks, such as:

  • Wound care

  • Intravenous (IV) therapy

  • Pediatric care

  • Geriatric care

Interdisciplinary Teamwork

  • LPNs often work in collaboration with RNs, physicians, and other healthcare professionals.

  • Effective communication and teamwork are crucial for ensuring high-quality patient care.

  • LPNs must adhere to a code of ethics, which includes principles like patient confidentiality, honesty, and advocacy.

  • Understanding and following state-specific regulations is essential for practicing legally and ethically.

By comprehending the multifaceted role of an LPN, you can better evaluate whether this career aligns with your interests and skills.

Requirements for Becoming an LPN

Before you can start working as an LPN, there are several requirements you’ll need to meet. These can vary by state but generally include educational, clinical, and licensing prerequisites.


  • High School Diploma or GED: This is usually the minimum educational requirement for enrolling in an LPN program.

  • Prerequisite Courses: Some programs may require completion of courses like biology or chemistry before admission.

  • LPN Program Completion: Individuals seeking LPN licensure must complete an LPN certificate or diploma program.

Clinical Experience

  • As part of your LPN program, you’ll need to complete a certain number of clinical hours.

  • This hands-on experience is essential for applying theoretical knowledge in real-world healthcare settings.

State-Specific Requirements

  • Each state has its own set of requirements for LPN licensure, which may include background checks and additional exams.

  • It’s crucial to consult your state’s nursing board for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Licensing Exam

  • After completing your educational and clinical requirements, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-PN (National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses) to become licensed.

  • The exam tests your knowledge and skills in nursing and is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

Continuing Education

  • Many states require LPNs to complete continuing education as a condition for license renewal.

  • These courses help ensure that LPNs stay current with best practices in healthcare.

Licensing Exam Overview

The National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) is a critical milestone on your path to becoming an LPN. This standardized exam assesses your qualifications for safe and effective entry-level nursing practice.

What the Exam Covers

The NCLEX-PN tests various domains of knowledge and skills, including:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment: Understanding of safety protocols and patient rights.

  • Health Promotion and Maintenance: Knowledge of growth and development across the lifespan.

  • Psychosocial Integrity: Skills related to mental health and social well-being.

  • Physiological Integrity: Understanding of basic care and comfort, pharmacological therapies, and risk potential.

Format and Duration

  • The exam is computer-adaptive, meaning the difficulty adjusts based on your answers.

  • It consists of a minimum of 85 questions and a maximum of 205 questions.

  • You have up to 5 hours to complete the exam, including a short tutorial and two optional breaks.

Registration and Fees

  • You must register for the NCLEX-PN through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

  • The standard fee for the exam is around $200, although additional state fees may apply.

Passing Score

  • The NCLEX-PN doesn’t have a numerical passing score.

  • Instead, it uses a pass/fail system based on whether you’ve met the minimum standard of competency.

What Happens If You Fail?

  • If you don’t pass the exam, you’ll receive a Candidate Performance Report outlining your strengths and weaknesses.

  • Most states allow you to retake the exam after a waiting period, although you’ll need to pay the registration fee again.

Duration and Costs

Becoming an LPN is a commitment of both time and money. Here’s what you can expect:

How Long Is an LPN Program?

Most LPN programs last between 12 to 24 months, depending on the institution and the scope of the program. Accelerated programs may be available for those who meet specific prerequisites.

How Expensive Is an LPN Degree?

The cost of LPN programs can vary widely, ranging from $2,000 to $30,000. Factors affecting cost include the type of institution, geographic location, and program duration.

Financial Aid Options

  • Scholarships: Many organizations offer scholarships specifically for nursing students.

  • Grants: Federal and state grants, such as the Pell Grant, can help cover educational costs.

  • Student Loans: Federal student loans usually offer lower interest rates than private loans.

  • Work-Study Programs: Some schools offer work-study opportunities to help offset costs.

Additional Costs

  • Books and Supplies: Expect to spend several hundred dollars on textbooks and other educational materials.

  • Uniforms and Equipment: You’ll need to purchase scrubs, shoes, and possibly some basic medical equipment like stethoscopes.

  • Licensing Fees: In addition to the NCLEX-PN exam fee, your state may have its own licensing fees.

Career Path and Advancement

Becoming an LPN is often just the first step in a long and fulfilling nursing career. There are numerous opportunities for advancement and specialization within the field.

How to Get a Job as an LPN

  • Resume and Cover Letter: Tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight relevant experience and skills.

  • Job Search: Utilize job boards, networking events, and connections within the healthcare industry.

  • Interview Preparation: Be ready to discuss your clinical experiences, soft skills, and why you chose a career in nursing.

Types of LPN Careers or Specializations

  • Pediatrics: Working with children in settings like schools or pediatric healthcare centers.

  • Gerontology: Specializing in the care of elderly patients, often in nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

  • Home Health: Providing nursing services in patients’ homes.

  • Surgical Care: Assisting in operating rooms.

  • Oncology: Working with cancer patients.

LPN to RN Bridge Programs

  • Many LPNs choose to advance their careers by becoming RNs.

  • LPN to RN bridge programs offer accelerated pathways to becoming an RN, often in as little as one year.

Advanced Certifications

  • Specialized certifications can make you more marketable and may lead to higher-paying positions.

  • Examples include IV therapy certification, pharmacology, and long-term care.

By understanding the various career paths and advancement opportunities, you can plan a long-term career that aligns with your interests and skills.

LPN Salary and Job Outlook

Understanding the financial and job stability aspects of a career can be as important as knowing the educational and licensing requirements. Here’s what you can expect in terms of salary and job outlook for LPNs.

Salary Overview

  • Average Annual Salary: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for LPNs was about $54,620 as of 2022.

  • Salary Range: Salaries can range from around $40,000 to about $73,000 depending on experience, location, and specialization.

Factors Affecting Salary

  • Geographic Location: Salaries tend to be higher in metropolitan areas and states with higher costs of living.

  • Experience: More experienced LPNs generally command higher salaries.

  • Specialization: Some specializations offer higher pay due to additional certifications or higher demand.

Job Growth and Stability

  • Ten-Year Job Growth Projection: The employment of LPNs is projected to grow by 5% from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations.

  • In-demand Settings: With an aging population, LPNs are particularly in demand in geriatric settings.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Navigating the path to becoming an LPN can raise a lot of questions. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and their answers to help you make informed decisions.

Should I Become an LPN?

  • Pros: Job stability, opportunities for advancement, and the ability to make a meaningful impact on patients’ lives.

  • Cons: Physically demanding work, long hours, and exposure to illness.

  • Considerations: Evaluate your interest in healthcare, your ability to handle stress, and your long-term career goals.

Is an LPN Program Worth It?

  • Return on Investment: LPN programs are generally shorter and less expensive than RN programs, offering a quicker entry into the healthcare workforce.

  • Career Advancement: Becoming an LPN can be a stepping stone to higher-level nursing roles, especially with additional education and certifications.

Do I Need an LPN License to Work as an LPN?

  • Licensure Requirement: Yes, you must pass the NCLEX-PN and meet state-specific requirements to practice as an LPN.

  • Legal Consequences: Practicing without a license is illegal and can result in fines, legal action, and disqualification from future licensure.

Does the LPN License Cost Money?

  • Exam Fees: The NCLEX-PN exam fee is around $200, not including additional state fees.

  • Renewal Fees: License renewal usually involves a fee, which varies by state.

How Long Does an LPN License Last?

  • Validity Period: Most LPN licenses are valid for two years, although this can vary by state.

  • Renewal Requirements: Many states require continuing education credits for license renewal.

How Much Does It Cost to Renew an LPN License?

  • Renewal Fees: These vary by state but generally range from $50 to $200.

  • Additional Costs: Some states require background checks or other verifications, which may involve additional fees.

How Can I Best Prepare for the NCLEX-PN?

  • Study Guides: Utilize NCLEX-PN review books and online resources.

  • Practice Exams: Take full-length practice tests to familiarize yourself with the exam format and question types.

  • Review Courses: Consider enrolling in a review course for structured preparation.