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How To Become An LPN

Mar 11, 2021
Portia Wofford, LPN

This is the third part of our three-part series on Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs).

  1. What Do LPNs Do?
  2. How Much Do LPNs Make?
  3. How to Become an LPN (You are here)

Now that you know what a licensed practical nurse (LPN) does and how much LPNs make, you may be wondering how to become an LPN in the first place. This guide will walk you through the steps of becoming a successful LPN.

How to Become an LPN

To become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN), you must first enroll in and complete an accredited practical or vocational nursing program to meet the education requirements. You can visit your state's board of nursing website to see which practical nursing programs are accredited. Most vocational schools and community colleges offer LPN programs. 

Each school has different admission requirements, which include prerequisites, required classes, and a minimum GPA.

The amount of time it takes to complete your LPN or LVN program depends on the nursing school you choose to attend. Because LPNs and LVNs are considered vocational nurses, most programs offered are diploma programs where graduates earn a certification, but some offer associate degree programs.

How Long Does It Take to Become an LPN?

Most nursing students finish their LPN program in 1-2 years, studying on a full-time basis.

Program Prerequisites

Your program of choice determines prerequisites, but they may include:

  • English Composition
  • College Algebra
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Public Speaking
  • Humanities Elective

Once you've completed your prerequisites and met the GPA and other admissions requirements, you're ready to enroll in nursing school.

Steps to Obtaining Your LPN License

  1. Earn your high school diploma or equivalent
  2. Complete admission requirements for general admission to your school of choice
  3. Complete prerequisites and other admission requirements for the nursing program
  4. Be accepted and enroll in your LPN program
  5. Complete the program and apply for licensure and authorization to test through your state's board of nursing
  6. Register with Pearson Vue to test 
  7. After you're authorized to test, schedule the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN); only after you've passed this exam will you be licensed to work as an LPN or LVN
  8. After the exam, you can view your results in as little as 48 hours; if you pass, you'll receive your official results in the mail, and your state's board of nursing will mail your license (keep in mind that some states do not mail nursing licenses anymore, but you can visit their website and print a “pocket license”)
  9. Now that you've passed nursing school and the NCLEX-PN, it's time to begin your LPN career
three large paper bindings are table in front of white background how to become an LPN documentation

What Can Prevent Me From Being an LPN?

Although you passed nursing school, your state's board of nursing ultimately has the final say on whether you can sit for the NCLEX-PN or not. A conviction or arrest of a misdemeanor or felony, especially those that are substantially related to nursing practice, may prevent you from obtaining your license.

The most common are:

  • DUI
  • Theft
  • Fraud
  • Assault or battery 
  • Drug-related
  • Sexual assault or abuse 
  • Abuse 

It's best to be upfront and honest with the board of nursing about your background:

  • Explain the charges
  • Show proof of rehabilitation or change
  • Present statements from character witnesses
  • Speak with an attorney with experience in these situations if needed

Some states have alternate pathways to licensure as an LPN:

  • If you were in an RN program but did not finish, you may be allowed to sit for the NCLEX-PN.
  • If you've completed a registered nursing program but did not pass the NCLEX-RN, you may be allowed to test as a practical nurse. 
  • If you were in an RN program and did not pass in semester one or two, you may be allowed to enter an LPN program at the same school
  • Some states also accept military equivalent training

Do I Have to Be a Certified Nursing Assistant to Be an LPN?

Depending on your nursing program's admission requirements, you may be required to work as a CNA before acceptance. CNAs go through a 3-12 week nursing assistant training program. CNA training programs vary by state. 

You can find CNA programs at community colleges, trade schools, allied health training schools, and healthcare facilities like nursing homes. Be sure your state's nursing board approves the program.

Transitioning From LPN to RN

After you’ve completed an LPN program and are ready to pursue a career as a registered nurse, you have a couple options:

1. LPN to RN Bridge Programs

An LPN-to-RN program is a nursing program designed specifically for students who are currently licensed as LPNs. These programs offer the RN curriculum at an accelerated pace. Most LPN to RN bridge programs are nine months to one year of full-time study. You can find these programs at community colleges.

2. LPN to BSN Programs

LPN-to-BSN programs allow you to earn your BSN and qualify to sit for the NCLEX-RN. This can be a faster track as you will apply your previous LPN education towards a bachelor’s degree. Depending on how many prerequisites and classes you’ve already completed, LPN to BSN programs are usually two to three years of full-time study. You can mostly find LPN to BSN programs at four-year colleges and universities. 

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