What Does a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) Do?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Discover the role of a licensed vocational nurse, including details on completing licensed vocational nurse school to qualify, licensed vocational nurse jobs available, and licensed vocational nurse salary.

[Featured Image]:  A Licensed Vocational Nurse, wearing a purple uniform and a face covering, is looking at the vital signs of a patient.

A licensed vocational nurse (LVN), also known as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), works in various settings offering bedside care to injured, sick, or disabled patients. A person in this position is responsible for a wide range of tasks, including taking vital signs, recording patient histories, drawing blood, preparing patients for treatment, dealing with ailments such as bedsores, redressing wounds, and monitoring catheters.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the duties and responsibilities of a licensed vocational nurse. Among the topics covered will be the skills and training needed, where an LVN works, how much they are typically paid, as well as how to get started as an LVN.

Duties and responsibilities of an LVN

A licensed vocational nurse works in a hospital, nursing home, or other medical care facilities, usually under the direct supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or physician. Whatever the setting, duties, and responsibilities typically include:

  • Providing care for patients as the first point of contact

  • Taking and monitoring patient vital signs, including blood pressure, pulse rate, respiratory rate, and temperature 

  • Providing comfort to patients through care, including keeping them warm, bathing, and dressing

  • Changing bandages, inserting catheters, and giving injections.

  • Preparing patients for treatment and surgery 

  • Drawing blood

  • Discussing health care concerns and issues

  • Reporting vital signs and condition updates to doctors and registered nurses 

Skills needed to work as an LVN. 

Licensed vocational nurse essential skills start with basic nursing abilities. In addition to these, an LVN needs to demonstrate the following:

  • Excellent stamina and the ability to stand for long periods

  • Empathy for patients and their loved ones

  • The ability to work calmly under pressure

  • Communication skills, including conveying sensitive information

  • Time management to care for multiple patients and fulfill various duties

  • Knowledge of medical terminology

  • An understanding of confidentiality issues

  • Attention to detail

  • Ability to delegate tasks and oversee orderlies or assistants

Where does an LVN work? 

Most licensed vocational nurse jobs take place in health care settings, such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, and offices of physicians. As an LVN, you might also work in a patient's home or a school. Most LVNs work full-time, although part-time options are available. Shifts include weekends and nights in most cases. Shifts can be longer than eight hours, and nurses can be on their feet for long periods.

How much does an LVN make? 

The average licensed vocational nurse's salary is $51,556, according to Glassdoor [1], with salary showing to increase with experience. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has a slightly lower reported average in 2020 of $48,070, with highs of $63,790 for the top 10 percent of earners [2].

LVN vs. LPN

Licensed vocational nurse and licensed practical nurse are two titles used for the same role. The difference is that the term LVN is used in California and Texas, whereas LPN is used in all other states.

Vocational nurse vs. registered nurse 

While vocational nurses and registered nurses often work together, they are different professions. Generally, registered nurses, who have received a higher level of educational training having earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, oversee vocational nurses.

In the workplace, an RN has more responsibility than an LVN and can dispense medication, advise patients on treatment, and perform diagnostic tests, which are outside the responsibilities of a licensed practical nurse. An RN also typically supervises a licensed practical nurse.

As a result of their increased responsibilities, registered nurses are typically paid more than vocational nurses, with salaries averaging $84,068 according to Glassdoor [3], or $77,600, according to the BLS [4].

How to become a licensed vocational nurse.

There is a clear path to becoming a licensed vocational nurse, with training, certification, and examination for a license all essential parts of the process. To become a licensed vocational nurse, you will need to undertake nursing training that can last between one and two years, depending on whether you will achieve a certificate, diploma, or associate degree, before applying for a license.

Have a high school diploma or GED

To become a licensed vocational nurse, you must have a high school diploma or have passed the GED exam before undertaking any formal training. 

Complete an approved LVN training program 

Next, complete a nursing program approved by the state you want to work in. You can do this in a hospital setting, but most commonly, you would enroll in a community college, vocational school, tech school, or online program. An LVN training program generally leads to a certificate or diploma upon completion. To find an accredited program near you, search online for approved LVN or LPN training programs in your state.

Licensed vocational nurse school programs combine practice and theory, covering aspects of biology, nursing, pharmacology, nutrition, anatomy, first aid, and hands-on training with actual patients. The training typically takes a year but can take up to two years, depending on the program you opt for. Depending on your state's requirements, you might complete an associate degree in the nursing field instead of enrolling in an LVN training program. Associate degrees typically take two years to complete.

Get licensed

Once you have completed state-approved training, you must take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN), required by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, to be eligible to work as a vocational nurse. This computer-based exam tests your knowledge and competencies related to the job. 

Complete optional certifications and training 

In addition to the essential training programs and licensure, there are further options for extra certifications and training to maximize your chances of securing a job as a vocational nurse. 

Pursue certification through professional associations in certain nursing specialties, such as intravenous therapy, urology, oncology, nephrology, pediatrics, wound care, or something very niche, such as becoming a breastfeeding specialist. Some employers may require specific extra certifications as essential, so having one or more is often an advantage. They can also help you progress to supervisor roles. Likewise, training programs are also available if you would like to transition from an LVN to becoming a registered nurse. 

Apply for jobs 

The job outlook for a licensed vocational nurse is considered average, with growth projected at 9 percent between 2020 and 2030 [5].The overall need for health care is expected to grow, and more and more of the population live longer. With the prevalence of chronic conditions, so too will the need for vocational nurses. 

As jobs are available in hospitals, social care facilities, private clinics, and care homes, to name a few, LVNs are employed by government and private entities, meaning there are plenty of options to explore. 

Read more: What Does a Certified Nursing Assistant Do? Your Guide

Next steps 

To begin a career as an LVN, earn your high school diploma, complete a state-approved training program, obtain your license, and consider additional certification or training. If you’re not sure this is the right career path for you, discover more of what it is like to be an LVN by enrolling in a nursing-related course. Consider taking a course in vital signs offered by the University of Pennsylvania, or an anatomy specialization through the University of Michigan on Coursera to build a foundation with the basics of what your work as a vocational nurse will involve.

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Article sources

1. Glassdoor. “Licensed Vocational Nurse Salaries,  https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-licensed-vocational-nurse-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,28.htm.” Accessed May 14, 2022.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm#tab-5.” Accessed May 14, 2022. 

3. Glassdoor. “Registered Nurse Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-registered-nurse-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,19.htm.” Accessed May 14, 2022. 

4. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Registered Nurses, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm.” Accessed May 14, 2022.

5. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm#tab-6.” Accessed April 11, 2022. 

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