Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

What Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses Do

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) provide basic nursing care. They work under the direction of registered nurses and doctors.

Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses typically do the following:
  • Monitor patients’ health—for example, by checking their blood pressure
  • Administer basic patient care, including changing bandages and inserting catheters
  • Provide for the basic comfort of patients, such as helping them bathe or dress
  • Discuss the care they are providing with patients and listen to their concerns
  • Report patients’ status and concerns to registered nurses and doctors
  • Keep records on patients’ health
Duties of LPNs and LVNs vary, depending on their work setting and the state in which they work. For example, they may reinforce teaching done by registered nurses regarding how family members should care for a relative; help to deliver, care for, and feed infants; collect samples for testing and do routine laboratory tests; or feed patients who need help eating.

Work Environment

Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses work in many settings, including nursing homes and extended care facilities, hospitals, physicians’ offices, and private homes. Most work full time.

Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses held about 724,500 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses were as follows:

Nursing and residential care facilities 38%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 16
Offices of physicians 13
Home healthcare services 12
Government 7

Nurses must often be on their feet for much of the day. They are vulnerable to back injuries, because they may have to lift patients who have trouble moving in bed, standing, or walking. These duties can be stressful, as can dealing with ill and injured people.

How to Become a Licensed Practical or Licensed Vocational Nurse

Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses must complete a state-approved educational program, which typically takes about 1 year to complete. They must be licensed.


LPNs and LVNs must complete an approved educational program. These programs award a certificate or diploma and typically take about 1 year to complete, but may take longer. They are commonly found in technical schools and community colleges, although some programs may be available in high schools or hospitals.
Practical nursing programs combine classroom learning in subjects such as nursing, biology, and pharmacology. All programs also include supervised clinical experience.
Contact state boards of nursing for lists of approved programs.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

After completing a state-approved educational program, prospective LPNs and LVNs can take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). In all states, they must pass the exam to get a license and work as an LPN or LVN. For more information on the NCLEX-PN examination and a list of state boards of nursing, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
LPNs and LVNs may choose to become certified through professional associations in areas such as gerontology and intravenous (IV) therapy. Certifications show that an LPN or LVN has an advanced level of knowledge about a specific subject.

In addition, employers may prefer to hire candidates who are trained to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).


The median annual wage for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses was $46,240 in May 2018.

The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,680, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $62,160.
In May 2018, the median annual wages for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $48,050
Nursing and residential care facilities $47,470
Home healthcare services $46,510
Hospitals; state, local, and private $44,630
Offices of physicians            $42,520

Job Outlook

Employment of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses is projected to grow 12 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. As the baby-boom population ages, the overall need for healthcare services is expected to increase. LPNs and LVNs will be needed in residential care facilities and in home health environments to care for older patients.

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