Licensed Vocational Nurse Salary & Career Information

LVNs, also known as licensed vocational nurses, are health care professionals who provide assistance and treatment to patients who are injured, disabled, sick or elderly under the supervision of registered nurses (RN) and doctors in a variety of settings, from hospitals to nursing homes. They are also known as LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurses), depending on which state they work in. To become one, strong interpersonal, medical and organizational skills are important in addition to being very patient, compassionate and having above average mental and physical stamina. While working as an LVN may not be the easiest or most glamorous job, it provides adequate compensation, variety and satisfaction for those who are passionate about helping other people. For some, the career is attractive simply because it provides a comfortable level of income for only one year of post-secondary education. The can be very rewarding, as you make a difference in someone’s life every day. This guide is a complete overview of the career including typical daily responsibilities, education and licensing requirements and detailed salary information for different levels of experience, industries and locations.

Job Description and Outlook

The job requirements of an LVN can vary depending on what type of health care setting they work in, but they are generally responsible for basic patient care. This includes duties such as:

  • Taking patients’ vital signs (blood pressure, temperature, pulse, respiration rate and oxygen saturation)
  • Assisting with patient hygiene (bathing, oral care, hair care and skin care)
  • Helping patients use the bathroom, eat or get dressed
  • Discussing patients’ health with them, answering their questions and listening to their concerns
  • Performing routine medical care (managing catheters, giving injections, changing bandages)
  • Helping patients walk or get around (get up, sit down, lie down, transporting them with a wheel chair, bed or walker)
  • Monitoring, recording patients’ conditions and reporting significant changes to the supervising physician.
  • Collecting samples and performing basic lab tests (blood and urine tests)
  • Supervising other health care support staff such as nurse aides
  • Helping their supervisor perform more advanced tests and procedures

They work in a wide variety of settings including (but not limited to): outpatient clinics, assisted-living centers, nursing homes, hospitals, home health care services and physicians’ offices. They answer questions asked by patients and patients’ families and refer more advanced questions to their supervisors. Record keeping is another very important responsibility, as they must accurately report the care a patient has received and changes in their conditions for their supervisor to reference. Generally, the care that they provide varies depending on the unit they are working in. For example, a licensed vocational nurse on a pediatric floor provides care to infants and children, while one on a medical/surgical floor will provide care to adults and elderly patients. One that works in a physician’s office will be required to perform more technical tasks such as charting, taking vitals, performing lab tests and obtaining patient medical history, and will not likely provide any hygiene care. They don’t always have to work directly with patients either. Some may serve as faculty in a nursing program, while others may work as grant writers or in office administration.

Depending on the regulations of the state they practice in, there are some tasks that practical nurses may or may not be permitted to do. Some states allow them to start intravenous drips or administer prescribed medicine, while many do not. The extent to which they must be supervised and how much they can do independently also varies from state to state.

Employment is projected to increase as a growing number of people, especially the elderly (due to the size of baby boom generation), seek medical care services. In addition to this, a lot of vocational nurses are expected to retire in next 10 years or so. There is also the annual churn of those who go back to school to become registered nurses, which opens up spots for new graduates. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) expects this profession to grow 22% from 2010 to 2020, which corresponds to 168,500 new positions. This is considerably faster than the overall job market growth rate of 13%. Many of these new jobs will be in residential care facilities such as assisted-living centers and nursing homes.

Education and Licensing Requirements

A high school diploma or GED is the basic education requirement to be eligible. To become a licensed vocational nurse, one must complete a state-approved, accredited certificate or associates degree program in practical nursing. These programs are found at most community colleges and technical schools. They are sometimes offered by hospitals and high schools in certain areas as well. They are typically a year long, running three semesters with no summer break. Programs usually run during the day, but some are available during the evening and/or on weekends for people who are already working full time. Technical school degrees are typically more expensive than community college programs since they don’t require you to take general education courses and focus solely on nursing courses.

A vocational nursing program involves taking courses such as anatomy, physiology, fundamentals of nursing, biology, nutrition and pharmacology. In addition to classroom instruction, students must complete a number of hands-on laboratory sessions as well as supervised patient care training in clinical rotations at hospitals, long-term care homes and/or nursing homes. Upon program completion, every state requires students to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) before they can legally work as nurses. From then on, they must complete continuing education credits on a yearly basis to maintain and update their nursing knowledge and skills. If you’re interested in practical nursing but are unsure if it’s the right field for you, consider shadowing an experienced individual or working as a nurse’s aide. This will give you first-hand experience and help you determine if it is a career you’d like to pursue.

They should have excellent verbal and written communication skills in order to effectively deal with patients and coworkers. They should be patient, caring and compassionate. They should also have good mental and physical strength and stamina as they are sometimes required to complete tedious and/or physically demanding tasks and/or ones that require a lot of focus for sometimes hours at a time. They also need to be able to keep calm and handle stressful situations. In addition, they should be detail oriented and have good time management skills.

Upon competition of their nursing program and license exam, they may go back to school to become registered nurses. This provides them with a more comprehensive set of skills which allows them to have more important job responsibilities and a higher salary. Typically, two more years of schooling is required to go from LVN to RN.

Salary Guide

According to the BLS, the average salary for a licensed vocational nurse as of 2011 was $42,040. This works out to a mean hourly wage of $20.21. The top 10% had incomes higher than $57,080, while the bottom 10% had salaries lower than $30,650. Licensed professionals may work morning, afternoon or night shifts, which can also affect pay. Some work shifts longer than 8 hours on a regular basis.

The pay they receive depends on a number of factors including employer, location, experience and qualifications. First, it varies depending on what employment setting they work in. For example, someone working in a nursing home may earn $20.72 hourly, while one working in a physician’s office may earn $18.48 per hour, according to the BLS. Their salary is also affected by the state (and sometimes even the city) that they practice in, depending on the cost of living in the area as well as the supply and demand. Large cities typically have a higher cost of living and a higher demand for nurses so salaries offered are often higher than those in rural areas.

The general medical and surgical hospitals industry is the largest employer of LPNs and Texas (72,100), California (64,460), New York (47,950), Florida (42,710) and Ohio (42,250) are the states that employ the most. Approximately 729,140 are currently employed in the United States. The highest paying states for this job (averages) are Connecticut ($53,010), Nevada ($52,270), Rhode Island ($51,900) and New Jersey ($51,270).

The three highest paying industries were the following (in order):

  • Employment Services – $45,670 per year (employs 41,010)
  • Administrative and Support Services – $45,630 per year (employs 42,870)
  • Offices of Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapists – $44,460 per year (employs 1140)

And here are the top three industries that employ the most LPNs:

  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals – $41,060 per year (employs 136,190)
  • Offices of Physicians – $38,440 per year (employs 89,760)
  • Home Health Care Services – $43,160 per year (employs 73,760)

Salary by Years Experience (United States)

lvn salary chart

Based on data provided by, a typical salary is anywhere from $30,309 to $54,130 (including bonuses and profit sharing). This corresponds to hourly rates between $14.62 and $24.81. These statistics were collected from 2,853 licensed nursing professionals, most of who had between 1 and 4 years worth of experience. Overall, the average salary is around $41,000.

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