How to Become a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

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Becoming a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), also known as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a great way to begin your nursing career. Because you only need to take a one-year program, you can start your career relatively quickly.

Before you begin exploring programs, there are some ways you can prepare for a career as an LVN/LPN:

  • If you are still in high school, take classes in health, math and science. Consider taking the SAT or ACT exams; while these exams are not required to become an LVN, you will need them if you decide to go on to become a registered nurse (RN).
  • If you have not earned your high school degree, you will need your general equivalency diploma (GED).
  • Volunteering at a hospital or healthcare facility or working as a certified nurse’s aide or orderly can help you decide if you really want to make nursing your career.

What education do I need?

LVNs/LPNs must complete a one-year accredited education program that combines classroom courses such as basic patient care, emergency care and first aid, anatomy and physiology and pharmacology with supervised clinical experience. You can also choose to earn an associate’s degree for vocational/practical nursing, which takes about two years to complete.

There are several things to consider when choosing an LVN/LPN nursing program, which is typically offered by community and vocational colleges, although you can also find an accredited nursing program through online schools. First, make sure the program you are considering is accredited; nursing programs must be accredited by the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC). Visit their website to find accredited programs in your area or contact your state’s board of nursing for a list of approved programs.

In addition to accreditation, you should consider factors like class size, instructor-to-student ratio, the location where your clinical experience take place and how successful graduates of the program have been in finding jobs in their field. Visit each school you’re considering attending, and ask to sit in on classes. Ask students what they like and dislike about the program, and ask the admissions director for contact information of program graduates. Ask graduates how helpful the program has been to their career and whether they would recommend it. Once you’ve selected the school(s) you’d like to attend, follow the instructions on the school’s website to apply for admission. You may want to apply to more than one school in case your application is not accepted at your first-choice school.

The program will be split between classroom instruction and hands-on clinical practice under supervision. You will need to pass all of your programs and complete a specific number of clinical hours to qualify for licensure. The number of hours varies by state, so it’s a good idea to enroll in a program in the same state where you’d like to practice.

You will also need to be certified in CPR in order to qualify for your license, which may be part of your program’s requirements as well. If not, you can find a local CPR certification course through the Red Cross.

LVNs/LPNs should be prepared to continue their education throughout their career, as additional credits will be required to maintain their licenses and stay up-to-date on current practices.

Do I need a license?

All U.S. states require LVNs/LPNs to be licensed. Once you have successfully completed your training program, you must apply for licensing through your state’s board of nursing. The application requires a fingerprint and criminal background check. In order to complete your application and be approved for licensure, you will need to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN), administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

The NCLEX-PN is administered via computer. You do not need previous computer experience to take the exam; a tutorial on using the computer is given before the exam begins. It covers between 85 and 205 items. Of these items, 25 are pretest items that are not scored. The topics covered include safety, health promotion and physical and psychological care for patients. The time limit for the examination is five hours. Earning a passing score on the exam qualifies you to work as an LVN/LPN in the state where your license has been issued.

How can I advance in my career?

Experienced LVNs/LPNs can be given supervisory responsibility for other LVNs/LPNs or other medical staff such as nurse’s aides. They can use their experience and knowledge to help them complete a registered nurse (RN) program, a higher level of certification that commands correspondingly greater salaries. Specialized LPN/LVN-to-RN bridge programs are available at some colleges.

LPNs/LVNs can also earn additional credentials in specialty areas like pharmacology, IV therapy, critical care or gerontology by taking additional courses or completing an internship supervised by a registered nurse or nurse practitioner. To earn a specialist credential, they must provide proof of training, a letter of endorsement from a supervisor and pass an exam.

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