Your LPN Career: The BIG Guide

The healthcare system in the United States is a maze. It's filled with confusing semantics and a whole alphabet of credentials. It’s no wonder that those outside of the system find it confusing. Who does what, and when?

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It’s easy to tell the difference between some positions, and hard for others. It's easy to tell the difference between a dentist and a family practice doctor. One works on teeth, the other limits themselves to general stuff like colds. Here’s a hard one: what’s the difference between an LPN and a CNA? How about an RN with a master’s degree and a nurse practitioner? What about an RN with an associate’s and an RN with a bachelor’s degree?

If you can’t answer these questions yet, don’t worry! Most people can’t. The healthcare maze is confusing. The nursing sub-world within that maze even more so. When considering a career as a nurse, you'll need to know two things. Exactly what you want, and exactly what a nurse does. For your sake we’ve come up with an easy way to look at nursing: as a spectrum.

Is Being an LPN FUN? Will I Enjoy It?

This is the question that lies at the heart of any future career. Will I enjoy working as an X? You will need to use your own thorough investigation as a compass. For a career as an LPN, there three good places to start looking.

These three include current LPNs, statistics, and your opinion on volunteer experiences. Current LPNs are a great source for information. Asking your questions about the LPN career can lead to candid answers. Statistics will show you the different facts that come into play in a career. Statistics can answer questions such as “How many LPNs are satisfied with their job?” and “Does my state need a lot of LPNs?” Volunteer work is another way to gauge whether you’d like working as an LPN. Plenty of hospitals and associations are in desperate need of volunteers. Each of these three methods will provide you with unique insight into a career as an LPN.

Current LPNs should be your first resource to gain insight. With the power of the internet you don't need to find an LPN in person and interview them. You will most likely not even need to ask the questions yourself. Through forums like AllNurses, you can search through years of archives. Even the most in depth questions have an answer on AllNurses. Here are several threads with great in depth replies:

Another great way of looking into a career is through it’s statistics. These reports can provide you with fact based data about your future career. Statistics can answer a great number of questions. You will need to make sure that you are using a legitimate source for your data. Avoid drawing too many biased conclusions from the data. For example, let's say that a report shows 49% of LPNs get paid $17.28 an hour. That doesn’t mean that you will get paid $17.28.  That only means that it’s a trend in the career. There is still a large chance you won't get paid that amount. With all that in mind, here are some great statistics to start with.

Volunteering is a great way to get hands on experience working with people. It’s a straightforward concept. If you don't like volunteering in a healthcare setting, you usually won't like working in one. The caveat to this argument is that a bad volunteer experience can be specific to the program. You will want to keep an open mind about your experience. Try many different programs. Focus on whether you enjoyed working with people. People skills will always be your biggest asset as a nurse.  Anywhere you want to work as a nurse should have volunteer programs. You will want to search for this on their website. There are great volunteer consolidation websites as well, such as VolunteerMatch.org.

What Do You Value?

While you are looking into this career, you’ll want to consider what it is that you want out of it. What do you want out of your career as a nurse? Answering this question for yourself can put your specific career path into focus. If what you want as a nurse is patient interaction and decent pay, an LPN certification is your best option. If you want to work in a research environment you will want to look into getting an RN after your LPN.  Here are some good questions to get you started. Consider each of them carefully as you research your career.

What do I want out of my nursing career?

There are many reasons someone could become a nurse. The pay in healthcare is often better than in other industries. Nursing is a great opportunity to take action and help people. Nursing is also often used as a stepping stone into other careers.

Why do I want those things?

The reason behind why you want to go into nursing is important. Let's say you want to become a nurse to work with children. Why is nursing better than becoming a preschool teacher for you? What about nursing leads to you fulfilling your career goals? What makes it better than other, similar careers?

Where do I want to work?

The environment you want to work in is important in nursing. It varies so much that working in one place is often completely different than another. You will also need to know the answer to this so that you can research jobs available for you in your area. Some cities are filled with nursing homes, while others have hospitals.

Why do I want to work there?

Through examining the reason you want to work somewhere you can answer many questions. For example, let’s say you want to work in a nursing home. You want to work there because you enjoy working with the elderly community. During your volunteer experience at a nursing home you see that LPNs don't interact with the elderly patients the way that you expected. Because your reasons for wanting to work there were clear, you now know that maybe a nursing home isn't for you.

How much do I want to make an hour? How many hours am I willing to work each week?

Both of these questions will help you to make a financial plan. Does an LPN position pay well enough to meet your needs?

Is the Pay Good?

This is one of the most common questions when researching an LPN career. For this reason, we’ll go more in depth on what an LPN career pays. PayScale reports that an LPN earns an average of $19.03/hr. They also report that pay does not change much with experience as an LPN. The data supports this. An entry level LPN earns around $38,000 a year. An LPN with more than 20 years of experience only earns $44,000 a year on average. If you want to increase your pay as an LPN, your best option is to become an RN or a Nurse Practitioner.

3 BIG Decisions

Once you’ve made the decision to be an LPN, there are three major things you need to consider. There's where you're going to go to school. Where you're going to work. And what you want to do next in your career.

There are a vast amount of LPN programs available for you to choose from. Each program varies in length, depth, cost, location, and the institution that provides it. Make sure that the program you choose gets its accreditation through CCNE, ACEN, or both. A nursing education requires at least one of these accreditations.

Where you first work as an LPN could shape your career. You’ll want to choose your field after careful consideration. It’s not impossible to switch fields in a healthcare environment, but it can be frustrating to go from job to job without a plan. To make the most of your career as a nurse, always pick out the positions you apply to thoughtfully and strategically.

What you want to do next with your career is up to you. A career as an LPN can be standalone, or used as a stepping stone into another related field. Some LPNs choose to stay an LPN for their entire career. Others decide to take their education to the next academic level. Both choices are valid and both lead to satisfying careers for many nurses. It all boils down to personal preference. You’ll likely make this decision after a year or two of experience as an LPN. This will give you a great idea of the options you have available to you.

Where Should I Go to School?

This depends entirely on what you value out of your program.

What if I want to graduate fast?

The average length of an LPN program is around 70 college credits. You can gain these credits in around three semesters with a heavy course load. Sometimes, a program will need more or less credits. This means you can get your LPN certification in as little as nine months. Some more in depth programs take around 18 months. There are many programs that advertise shorter graduation times, such as 6 months. These require that you already have a base amount of credits for LPN certification. They are usually CNA to LPN bridge programs. If you are already a CNA, the time to get your LPN certification could be cut in half.

There are some disadvantages to prioritizing the length of a program. You will need to keep in mind that fast track programs can be difficult and stressful. Fitting that much information into just three semesters of work makes the courses fast paced. You will need to know your strengths and weaknesses. Do you have the ability to dedicate all your time to the program? There is also the question of whether you will retain that much information in such a short amount of time. Your first priority as a nurse should always be to best serve your patients. Strongly consider whether you will be able to put your best foot forward in a short program.

What if I want to graduate super smart?

Choosing an in-depth LPN program can be difficult. Especially when you don’t know what distinguishes one from another. There are a few key things that every good LPN program will have.

The first key thing to look for in an in-depth program will be it’s accreditation. There are two standards that can accredit an LPN program. Both of which make up the National League of Nursing Accrediting Agency. The first organization is ACEN, or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. The second organization is CCNE or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. A program can be accredited by just one organization, or both at the same time. Neither accreditation is less valid than the other. Enrolling in an accredited program is necessary to receive a legitimate education as an LPN.

The second key to a good LPN program is it’s NCLEX-PN pass rate. You can find national NCLEX-PN pass rates posted on the National Council of State Boards of Nursing website. The programs that you consider should have their pass rates posted. If their pass rates are higher than the national average the program is likely a good one. A good pass rate indicates that the program works with it’s students to achieve the best possible outcome.

What if I want to graduate without a bunch of debt?

The amount that you pay to get your LPN certification depends on a lot of factors. This can include where you go to school (out of state or in state). It also includes how in depth the program is, and how many semesters the program lasts. You will also need to know if you can get scholarships. Due to the complexity of this subject, we’ve written an extensive guide on paying for your nursing education. We recommend you read through it before choosing a program, so that you can gauge how much your program will cost.

Okay, I’m an LPN Now! Where Do I work?

After you’ve gotten your LPN certification you will need to find a place to work. When looking for a place to work, there should always be a few standards that you strive to meet. You should work where you feel the most challenged, where you are growing professionally. You should work where you feel you get paid a fair and livable wage. A good work environment helps you along with your coworkers. You should feel that you can rely on them as a team. Most of all, you should feel that you are fulfilling the original reasons you wanted to start your nursing career.

Practically speaking, there are many places that you can find work as an LPN. We provide a great resource at LPNBSN.net for finding jobs here. We’ve also provided a guide to different jobs LPNs can have here. Here’s a small summary of some of the environments you can expect to work in as an LPN:

Nursing Care Facilities

There is a 12.84% chance you will work at a nursing care facility as an LPN. This may seem small, but nursing care facilities are the largest provider of jobs for LPNs, employing more than 200,000. There are many tasks that an LPN performs at a nursing home. As an LPN working in a nursing home you will…

  • Complete patient charts.
  • Change their clothes.
  • Co-ordinate their care with families.
  • Provide emotional support.
  • Take vital signs.

Home Health Care Services

Home health care services employ almost 80,000 LPNs as of 2014. There is a 6.28% chance you will work at one as an LPN. A home health care LPN works in a patient’s home to take care of their individual needs. Home health care patients are often either disabled and unable to take care of themselves, or elderly. As a home health care LPN you may perform…

  • Cleaning your patient.
  • Feeding your patient.
  • Physical therapy exercises.
  • Safety checks/mental health checks.
  • Medication assistance.

These are the two biggest fields that LPNs currently work in. Once you have gotten your certification you will likely find that these two industries are hiring in your area. Always ensure that the company you apply with follows the guidelines above, and you will thoroughly enjoy your job.

What Should I Do Now?

After you’ve landed your first job as an LPN, pat yourself on the back! You’ve started a wonderful new career. You’ll want to get settled into your position and work hard. Once you've had some time to experience what it’s like to be an LPN, you need to think about where you want to go next. You’ve got a lot of options for your future career. You’ll most likely want to focus on getting some extra LPN certifications first. Then there are bridge programs that can help you get your ADN, BSN, or even a Master’s in an advanced nursing specialty. We have written guides on getting your ADN or BSN using LPN bridge programs here (ADN) and here (BSN).You can use your experiences as an LPN to guide your career decisions for years to come.

Ellen Garmon

About Ellen Garmon

Officially, I'm a writer. Unofficially, I connect people with each other in honest, unique, and beautiful ways.

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