Even before the events of 2020, the American healthcare sector was one of the fastest-growing workforces in the nation. But as the coronavirus pandemic has proven, healthcare workers at every level are essential public servants doing the critical work of keeping us all safe. If you’re ready to pair your passion for health with a meaningful, patient-facing career, you might want to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN).
What an LPN Does
Should you make the choice, you’ll work alongside doctors and registered nurses (RNs) to provide patients with basic care. Working out of a hospital, nursing home, doctor’s office or clinic, LPNs provide one-on-one aid to patients, executing critical tasks like feeding, bathing, checking vitals, and administering medication.
But above all, it is a job for those with excellent people skills, as an imperative part of the role is communicating with families by providing personal attention and emotional support to patients.
Becoming an LPN requires less intensive study than becoming a registered nurse; as such, LPNs typically make a lower salary. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income of an LPN is about $48,000. Still, becoming an LPN is a great stepping-stone to a career in the growing profession of nursing. And it should be noted that many who start as LPNs go on to become registered nurses, nurse practitioners, or physician’s assistants.
So, how does one become a licensed practical nurse?
Enroll in a Practical Nursing Program
While registered nurses usually have to acquire an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree, you can become an LPN through a one-year practical nursing program. Though only one year, this course is packed with intense study and clinical practice.
LPN students will apply their nursing skills in simulation labs, training under experienced nursing instructors. Additionally, students will complete clinical work, first by shadowing nurses at a medical center and then by practicing with real patients. Clinical practice is a good opportunity for LPN students to figure out which areas most interest them and where they might want to work after graduation.
“Many times, you find what you like and don’t like in clinical and that helps you decide what types of positions you will apply for when you graduate,” says Shenese Stewart, a practicing LPN. “It also helps connect the dots between theory and practice. Reading about something and actually doing it can help solidify it in your mind.”
Pass the NCLEX-PN Exam
Once you’ve received your diploma from a practical nursing program, you’ll have to pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Practical Nurses, inelegantly known as the NCLEX-PN.
Passing this exam is a prerequisite for receiving your LPN license. Fortunately, most practical nursing programs will prepare you for the exam, which is really just a test of what you’ve learned in your classes. Still, you’ll also want to set aside a chunk of time to study and prepare for this important assessment. Failing is a major step backward.
Begin Your Career
Once you’ve passed the exam, you’ll be eligible to begin your career as a licensed practical nurse. And there’s never been a more lucrative time to find work in the field.
“One reason that becoming an LPN is an attractive career option is that the profession is forecasted to experience double-digit growth over the next few years,” notes Nurse.org. “Some experts put the growth rate at as high as 25%.”
The truth is, the healthcare field needs as many hands as possible to assist with growing medical needs. Part of the reason that the LPN course of study is so brief is to make it easier for those with an interest in nursing to enter the profession. And while a registered nurse will make a higher salary than an LPN, money is not the only appeal of this line of work.
“Some people find that working as an LPN is more fulfilling [than working as an RN] because they are able to interact with patients and their families and offer important care that provides comfort during vulnerable and stressful times,” explains Nurse.org. Indeed, LPNs offer comfort and support to people during some of their most challenging moments. As a result, a career as an LPN can be incredibly fulfilling.
And, of course, the coursework and clinical practice required of LPNs gives them a leg-up if and when they choose to seek an RN license. If you’re at all interested in a nursing career, becoming an LPN is an excellent way to get firsthand experience without committing to a 2- or 4-year college degree.