One of the quickest ways to launch a career in health care is through a licensed practical nursing program. You can be practicing as in LPN in just over a year, with a number of options for advancement. You could be promoted to a supervisory position, upgrade your training and become a registered nurse, or just gain experience as a practical nurse. If you continue as a practical nurse, you can stand out from your peers by earning additional certifications in areas such as pharmacology.
Scope of Practice
The daily routine for an LPN usually revolves around basic nursing care, including changing bandages and catheters, monitoring patients' vital signs, and helping them with basic functions such as eating, bathing, dressing and toilet duties. In some states, practical nurses are also allowed to administer IVs and medications. These privileges are laid out in a document called a "scope of practice," which varies between states and their boards of nursing. Each lays out the boundaries of nursing practice for that state. In some cases, employers might impose further limitations, such as restricting nurses from distributing medications unless they're individually certified.
For licensed practical or vocational nurses, certification in pharmacology is administered by the National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service, or NAPNES. NAPNES offers training materials to nursing schools, so you can be ready to take the pharmacology exam when you graduate. If you're already a licensed vocational or practical nurse, you can take the training online from the NAPNES website. The certification exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions, and once your application has been processed you can take it from any Internet-connected computer. You don't have to be a NAPNES member to become certified, though there's a reduced cost for members.
The use of intravenous drips to provide patients with blood products, whole blood, fluids and medications is another area in which scopes of practice vary between states. Some allow LPNs to start and change IVs, while others restrict that duty to registered nurses. If you're in a state where it's permitted, you can earn IV certification through either NAPNES or the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses. The certification process for either group is similar to the pharmacology certification, including a brief self-directed training program and a certification exam. NAPNES also offers certification in long-term care, while the NFLPN has certifications in elder care and foot care.
It usually takes just one year to qualify as a licensed vocational or practical nurse, though part time programs can run longer. If you don't have an appetite for big student loans, that can be a notable benefit. Most LPN programs are offered at technical or community colleges, though the some large hospitals or extended-care facilities offer comparable programs in-house. Once you graduate, you'll be in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 22 percent job growth for practical nurses by 2020, well above the 14 percent average for other occupations.
- Explore Health Careers: Vocational/Licensed Practical Nurse
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
- University of Oregon: The LPN - A Practical Way to Alleviate the Nursing Shortage
- National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service: Pharmocology Certification
- National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service: Certifications
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.