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Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse or Licensed Vocational Nurse

By Nancy Kimmel

Licensed Practical Nurses are very much in demand in lieu of America's nursing shortage. The program for becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse or Licensed Vocational Nurse is approximately one year or less. Financial aid is available for this training program as well as many other sources of funding. Licensed Vocational Nurses/LPN's make only a few dollars less than Registered Nurses.

This is perhaps due to their scope of practice is less inclusive than that of Registered Nurses. By 1994, LPNs earned over $14 per hour on average. There was a short decline in wages of not only LPNs but for RN's as well during the years between 1994 and 1998. (1) In the year 2001 LPNs were making between $17.78 and $21.15. In 2007, a graduate RN who had passed their state boards made approximately $22.50 per hour. Licensed practical nurses held about 749,000 jobs in 2006. About 26 percent of LPNs worked in hospitals, 26 percent in nursing care facilities, and another 12 percent in offices of physicians. Others worked for home health care services; employment services; residential care facilities; community care facilities for the elderly; outpatient care centers; and Federal, State, and local government agencies. About 19 percent worked part time. (2)

The scope of practice for LPNs vary from state to state as mandated by the State Board of Nursing. In general, the LPN is able to feed and bathe the patient, empty Foleys, J-pegs, colostomy bags, take a patient's blood pressure, temperature (orally or rectally), exercise patient via assisting patient with walking, pass medications, change dressings of 2 day post- operative wounds as well as dress bedsores at stage II decubitus ulcer, report patient changes to the nurse, transport patient, give some injections (though not I.V.Push), hang IV bags, give massages and administer enemas.

LPNs can monitor patients for untoward reactions to medications or treatments and report findings to the RN. The RN is then responsible for follow up and to re-assessing the patient. The LPN works under the guidance and supervision of the RN. The RN's license is jeopardized if the LPN does more than their job description if given instructions to do so by the RN. The LPN can help with regard to patient teaching, such as dietary suggestions for diabetics, and importance of tight glycemic control.

In most cases LPNs find employment in nursing homes, medical clinics, doctors offices and hospitals.

LPNs are required to pass a state licensing exam (NCLEX-PM) upon graduation from Licensed Practical Nursing Program. (2) A high school diploma as well as a nursing entrance test is required to gain admittance into the program. In 2006 there were over 1,500 State-approved LPN training programs in the U.S. In times past nursing programs were offered directly through hospitals. This type of practice has been replaced by individual nursing schools. LPN curriculum requires that the student review, learn, be tested upon and apply critical thinking in an actual heath care settings. Courses include anatomy and physiology, medication calculation, pediatric nursing, maternity nursing, medical surgical nursing, nutrition, psychiatric nursing and CPR.

Further education is encouraged for graduate LPNs/LVNs. Hospitals, nursing homes and sometimes medical clinics will often pay for furthering the education of an LPN/LVN to becoming an RN. In many cases, it is much easier for an LPN/LVN to obtain their Registered Nursing Degree. This is in part due to their prior patient care experience and the fact that many Registered Nursing Programs require that LPNs/LVNs attend a one year program to complete their R.N. Degree. This is the road that many LPN/LVNs take. They get their LVN/LPN and then go for their RN Degree while they are already working in the field.

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