Licensed Vocational Nurse Job Description, Duties and Career Options

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a licensed vocational nurse. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Licensed vocational nurses provide basic medical care under the direction of registered nurses and doctors. They are required to have a postsecondary certificate and state licensing. Licensed vocational nurses earned a median annual salary of $43,170 in 2015.

Essential Information

Working under the supervision of a physician or registered nurse (RN), a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) provides basic bedside care to sick, elderly, convalescent, disabled or injured patients. In every state except Texas and California, an LVN is called a licensed practical nurse (LPN), but the job description is identical. Licensed vocational nurses must earn a high school diploma or its equivalency and complete a practical nursing training program. Once training is completed, they must pass a licensure examination and meet any other requirements to obtain a state license.

Required Education Postsecondary certificate
Other Requirements State license
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 16%*
Median Salary (2015) $43,170 annually*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Licensed Vocational Nurse Education and Training Requirements

Completion of a practical nursing training program is a requirement to be a licensed vocational nurse. A high school diploma or its equivalent is usually needed to enroll in an LVN training program, although there are programs that will accept students without a diploma. Some high schools also include LVN training programs in their curriculum.

Licensed vocational nurse programs combine classroom lectures with hands-on training. They typically take one year to complete and may be hosted by a community college, vocational school or hospital. Fundamental nursing concepts are covered, along with such subjects as anatomy, pharmacology, pediatrics, nutrition and courses that relate to patient care. The supervised training part of the program is usually conducted in a hospital, but may take place in other clinical settings.


LVNs must be licensed to practice in their state or jurisdiction. Every United State and the District of Columbia requires that they successfully complete a state-approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). The NCLEX-PN is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (www.ncsbn.org), and is also completed by those seeking the title of LVN. Eligibility for licensing varies by state, so applicants should check with their state board of nursing for complete information.

Job Description

Being a licensed vocational nurse is a demanding occupation. Most work in nursing care facilities or hospitals for 40 hours per week. They staff night, weekend and holiday shifts to accommodate the need for round-the-clock patient care. LVNs are often on their feet for long hours, and must have the strength to support patients to help them walk or stand.

Job Duties

Licensed vocational nurses read vital signs such as pulse, temperature, blood pressure and respiration. They administer injections and enemas, monitor catheters and give massages or alcohol rubs. They may apply dressings, hot water bottles and ice packs. They also help their patients bathe and dress, treat bedsores, empty bedpans and change soiled bed sheets. LVNs may feed patients and record their food consumption, while monitoring the fluids they take in and excrete.

Additional job tasks include watching patients closely and report any signs of treatment complications or adverse medication reactions. In some states, they are permitted to administer medicine and start IVs. Licensed vocational nurses collect samples for testing, help superiors perform advanced medical procedures and complete routine tests by themselves. Some assist in the delivery, care and feeding of infants. Licensed vocational nurses also tend to a patient's comfort, personal hygiene and emotional needs.

Career Options

A licensed vocational nurse has several options for career advancement once they enter the field. In nursing homes and other structured health care settings, LVNs can advance to the position of charge nurse and begin supervising nursing aides and other licensed vocational nurses. They may earn credentials to work in such specialized areas as gerontology, long-term care, pharmacology and IV therapy. Or an LVN may choose to enroll in a training program designed for licensed vocational nurses who wish to become registered nurses.

Continuing Education

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nursing education is an ongoing process for most licensed vocational nurses. Many states and employers require that licensed vocational nurses take continuing education credits at frequent intervals throughout their careers (www.bls.gov).

Individuals interested in becoming a licensed vocational nurse must have a high school diploma and complete a practical nursing training program to obtain a postsecondary certificate. State licensing is required, which usually includes continuing education. There is a 16% projected job growth rate between 2014 and 2024 for licensed vocational nurses.

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