Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) Certification and Licensing Requirements

Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses make up a large portion of the medical workforce in hospitals and skilled nursing care facilities.

LPNs are an entry-level position in the nursing profession and provide low-level nursing care functions, such as changing bandages, inserting catheters, comforting patients by helping them bathe, dress, or use the toilet, and monitoring their health. Licensed practical nurses also report on a patient's medical condition to senior staff such as registered nurses or physicians.

In some states, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) reports, LPNs and LVNs also assist with delivering and caring for newborns and collecting samples for various types of laboratory testing. More senior licensed vocational nurses also sometimes oversee other LVNs and unlicensed medical personnel, the BLS reports.

Educational requirements to become a licensed practical nurse

Prior to working as a licensed practical nurse, students must complete an educational program approved by their state's board of nursing. Programs typically take one year or two semesters to complete and are usually taught at vocational schools and community colleges. Some programs require students to complete a handful of basic college-level courses such as English composition, biology and anatomy prior to enrolling in an LPN training program.

LVN and LPN licensing and certification requirements

Students who successfully complete their educational requirements are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination practical nursing test, which is required by every state. The test measures a student's competency to work safely as an entry-level nurse. Before taking the NCLEX-PN, students must get authorization to take the test through their state board of nursing and register for the computer-based exam with test administrator Pearson VUE. Additionally, students are advised to log on to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Web site (www.ncsbn.org) and review the NCLEX Candidate Bulletin and NCLEX test plans.

Cost for the exam was $200 as of September 2014. According to the the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, approximately 82 percent of first-time test takers passed the exam the first six months of 2014.

The exam is divided into four main categories, with a percentage of weight given to each category:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment (26 to 38 percent)
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance (7 to 13 percent)
  • Psychosocial Integrity (8 to 14 percent)
  • Physiological Integrity (35 to 59 percent)

All test takers must answer a minimum of 85 questions, the council says, while the maximum number of questions is 205 during the five hours allotted to the test.

Benefits of LPN certification and licensure

Successfully passing the NCLEX-PN is the foundation of your entry into the nursing profession. It shows you understand the requirements to administer the appropriate level of care to patients and also to work with senior medical staff as an educated professional. LPNs and LPNs often take additional schooling to become registered nurses through LPN to RN educational programs, while others advance to supervisory positions, the BLS notes.


Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm#tab-1

NCLEX Examinations, National Council of State Boards of Nursing, www.ncsbn.org/nclex.htm

NCLEX-PN Test Plan Examination, National Council of State Boards of Nursing, www.ncsbn.org/2014_PN_TestPlan.pdf

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