Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), also called Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) in some states, are a vital part of our healthcare system. What LPNs do is work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and doctors to provide care for patients in hospitals, clinics, skilled nursing facilities and home healthcare.
A job as an LPN requires knowledge of anatomy and physiology, the nursing process, excellent communication skills, a caring disposition, and a desire to contribute meaningfully to the care of their greater community. If this sounds like a fit for your career goals, here are five steps to becoming a licensed practical nurse.
1. Research LPN schools and programs
The structure and timeline of LPN programs vary, so search for one that fits your current work schedule, financial situation and the type of nursing you'd like to pursue. If you enroll in a full-time LPN certificate program, you might be able to don scrubs and enter the medical field in under two years. Degree programs, on the other hand, can take two or three years. But your long-term plans will likely impact which type of program you pursue.
If your goal is to move up the clinical ladder in nursing, your best bet is to enroll in an LPN degree program paired with an associate degree. If your goal is to enroll in a bridge program to become an RN, you'll need to make sure your credits will transfer.
Many programs offer flexible schedules including night, weekend and online classes that cater to working professionals. However, nursing is a very hands-on career, and the training requires many hours of in-person clinical learning. If online courses are available, ask the people in charge of the programs about in-person expectations.
You should also ask about student retention and NCLEX pass rate. Often, you can find these statistics online or at open-house events, and these numbers are a useful reflection of the caliber of the program.
2. Take the TEAS test and apply to programs
The Test of Essential Academic Skills (aka, the TEAS test) is a standardized test required for entry into nursing school. The test covers basic educational concepts such as reading, English, science and mathematics. You can find many resources and study materials to help you prepare for this exam, including the Assessment Technologies Institute (ATI) website.
The best way to plan for testing and admission is:
- Consider the application deadline for your top programs
- Decide how long you need to prepare and study for the TEAS test
- Register for a test date that is before the application deadline
- Work on the rest of your LPN application, including a detailed resume and engaging cover letter
Passing the TEAS can be challenging. According to ATI, "approximately 40 percent of students have to take the TEAS more than once," which means that to succeed, you'll need to devote time and energy to studying. Keep in mind that if you do not pass the first time, there is a required 30-45 day waiting period (though this varies based on nursing program) before you are allowed to retake the TEAS. Most schools prefer no more than two attempts at the test.
3. Complete your coursework
Once you are accepted into a program, it's time to delve into your nursing classes. Whether you've chosen a certificate program or a lengthier degree program, your education will include:
- Understanding medical ethics
- Development of communication skills
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- How to care for children and adults
- Basic mental health
- Human development
- How to offer empathetic care
Upon graduation, you will be almost ready to hit the ground running in your new, hard-earned career.
4. Sit for the NCLEX board exam
The NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) is the board exam required to become officially certified to practice as a nurse.
Many nursing schools incorporate NCLEX preparation into their curriculum. But if yours does not, there are many preparation resources for the NCLEX. If you're studying alone, you can use workbooks and flashcards. If you learn better in a classroom setting, there are options for test prep classes that offer mock exams. Although prep classes can be more expensive, they are very effective in increasing the pass rate of first-time NCLEX takers.
If you do not pass the first time, you can retake the NCLEX after a 45-day waiting period. The ultimate goal is to pass the test and obtain your nursing license, so if it takes another test to pass successfully, don't be discouraged. If you have to retake the exam, it has no reflection on your bright future as an LPN.
5. Apply for LPN jobs
Even though LPNs are in high demand, it's essential to create a professional application package that reflects your education, experience and passion. Your resume should be well-organized, edited and proofread, so it's easy to read and free of errors.
Our Resume Templates lay the groundwork for an easy resume writing experience. You must write a custom cover letter for each job you apply to, addressing the hiring manager directly, and tailoring your letter to match the specifications of the healthcare facility and team you'll be working with.
Not sure how to get started with writing a cover letter? Take a look at our Cover Letter Templates to find inspiration.