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How to Compare Licensed Practical or Vocational Nurse Programs

LPN reviewing patient chart with doctorFinding the right Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program is a very important first step towards a rewarding new career in the field of nursing.  Of course, if you live in California or Texas, then you will be pursuing a career as a Licensed Vocational Nurse, or LVN instead.  LPNs and LVNs perform the same function, which is working in healthcare environments under the direction of Doctors and Registered Nurses (RN).  The tasks that they are authorized to perform will vary from state to state, but in general they monitor patient’s vital signs, provide basic care, and report any medical concerns to Physicians and RNs.  But before being qualified and licensed to do so, they must obtain the proper education from an accredited school.   LPN and LVN classes can be attended either in a traditional classroom or more accessibly online (more on this later).  The fastest way to obtain training is through a certificate or diploma program, which generally will take about 12 months to complete.  Any program considered should be accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC).  The NLNAC guarantees that the course of study properly prepares students to become LPNs or LVNs, and that most students pass the required NCLEX-PN licensing exam.  In addition to this minimum but important standard, there are some additional considerations to help you narrow down the field to a short list of schools.  But first, let’s discuss in a little more detail what a career as a licensed practical or vocational nurse is all about.

What does an LPN or LVN Do?

LPN visiting with senior in nursing homeLPNs and LVNs perform a wide range of functions in the hospitals and healthcare facilities where they work.  Unlike CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants), they are licensed in every state.  They work under the supervision of a Physician or an RN, but may be responsible for the supervision of Nursing Assistants.  They work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and even in private homes.  Each state regulates what duties an LPN or an LVN can and can’t perform.  Their broad mission statement is to provide patient care, but depending on the state where they practice, their duties may include but are not limited to:

    • Administering intravenous and oral medications
    • Taking a patient’s vital signs
    • Changing dressings
    • Collecting urine and blood samples
    • Monitoring patients for changes in condition
    • Performing CPR in an emergency
    • Calling a Physician when needed

Even though each state regulates what a Licensed Practical Nurse can do, each healthcare facility or organization can limit the scope of duties within those regulations.  LPNs and LVNs can also specialize in various areas of nursing practice, such as Pediatrics, Oncology, Rehabilitation and Gerontology.

Taking LPN and LVN Classes Online

LPN greeting patient with crutches at doorFirst of all, there are no 100% online courses for Licensed Practical Nurse or Licensed Vocational Nurse certificate or diploma programs.  Much of the training is clinical and must take place either on campus or in an approved hospital environment.  But since the rest of the non-clinical course work can be accessed online, this option may be more convenient for some students.  And it can be a big advantage for those who are working or have family or other obligations to juggle as well.  Plus online schools are sometimes less expensive than traditional options.  Even ancillary expenses, such as commuting and text books can be reduced to some extent.  Between the extensive offline clinical training and the online courses, everything needed to achieve competency is provided.  So if you are disciplined and motivated enough to dedicate yourself to this style of learning, then obtaining your certificate online may be the right choice for you.

Narrowing your Nursing School Options

Now that you know what a Licensed Practical Nurse and Licensed Vocational Nurse are, let’s take a look at a general check list of items you should review for each potential school you are considering to help narrow down your nursing school options.

Is the Nursing School Accredited?  It is important that the school you choose is accredited.  The better LPN/LVN schools are accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC).  The NLNAC guarantees that not only are the nursing schools state approved, but that they also adhere to the highest standards for education.  Attending an accredited school also makes you more marketable and in higher demand once you are ready to begin your new career in the healthcare industry.

What is the NCLEX Exam Pass Rate?  Once you receive your certificate or diploma, you must sign up for and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN).  Enrolling in a school with at least a 75% pass rate is highly preferred. Lower pass rates may indicate that a school’s program, curriculum or instructors are ineffective in teaching its students. You can find out from the school what their passing rate is for the last 5 years, or request the information from the State Board of Nursing.

What is the Total Cost of Education?  LPN/LVN programs can vary in cost from state to state and by type of program, depending on the amount of classroom and clinical training provided.  However, tuition is not the only cost of your education.  Remember to include the cost of books and commuting as well. Financial aid may be available to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to check with the school’s financial aid department to see what is available in your area.  Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, such as commuting, may be reduced.

Does the School Accommodate your Schedule?  If you require certain class hours be available for your class schedule due to work or family obligations, be sure to find out if they are offered.  Also, weekend or evening classes may not be provided by all schools, so be sure to verify that they are if needed.  Most schools are becoming more and more flexible to accommodate students with demanding schedules, but it is best to inquire.  If you have decided to study online, you will still need to find out when clinical training hours are offered.

Does the School Provide the Clinical Rotation You Need?  Each school has relationships with different types of area hospitals for training purposes.  It is important that you choose a school that offers clinical training in the type of facility you are most interested in.  For example, if you want training and experience in pediatric care, make sure that the school you choose provides adequate clinical rotation in an area Pediatric Hospital.

What are the Class Sizes?  Smaller classes generally provide greater access to instructors when students have questions or need extra help.  Larger classes tend to be more impersonal and limit one-on-one instruction.

Is tutoring offered?  It is important to find out if tutoring is available if the need should arise.  There may be no cost alternatives available, such as a school forum or chat room for sharing information and resources among nursing students.

Learn How to Become an LPN or LVN

Pick the Right Licensed Practical Nurse Training

Picking the right Licensed Practical Nurse training program is very important for your long term career goals in the exciting field of healthcare.  As we have discussed, you can choose to take your classes either by attending a traditional brick and mortar school in person, or you can take your classes online in your home in conjunction with your clinical training.  However you choose to receive your education, by following the previous guidelines, you will be better able to evaluate each nursing school.  And by choosing the right one, you can achieve your career goal to become a LPN or LVN.