Tracking Vital Signs: Licensed Vocational Nurse Degree

Sometimes referred to as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), a licensed vocational nurse is tasked with patient care and minor administrative tasks under the direct supervision of a doctor and registered nurse. Some other duties that fall under the mandate of a licensed vocational nurse typically include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Assisting in house registered nurses
  • The administering of injections and medication
  • The maintenance of patients’ medical records
  • Checking patient pulse rates as well as blood pressure
  • Tending to patient wounds and injuries by administering necessary dressing.

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Licensed Vocational Nurse Degree Information

A Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) provides basic nursing care for patients under the supervision of a doctor or registered nurse. In most of the United States, LVNs are referred to as licensed practical nurses (LPN) and the two terms mean the same thing. LVNs are required to monitor vital signs, collect laboratory samples, assist patients with walking and standing, feeding, bathing and grooming. An LVN program takes about a year, as the student learns the fundamentals of nursing care. These programs involve both classroom work and hands-on training in a clinical setting such as a hospital. LVN programs are offered throughout the U.S. in community colleges, vocational schools and universities. Students should have a high school diploma or GED, a grade point average of 2.0 to 2.5 and character references and a letter of recommendation. Some programs will requir a pre-entrance exam in basic math and science to ensure the student is ready and qualified for the LVN program. Once the LVN program is completed, LVNs must take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurse (NCLEX-PN) to receive their license.

Online LVN Curriculum

With the growing need for nurses and medical professionals at all levels, many educational facilities have started online courses in nursing. Keep in mind, however, that hands-on training in a hospital or other medical facility is part of the LVN program. While some LVN classes can be offered online, clinical LVN training at a hospital or other facility is usually arranged close to the student’s home. LVN programs have two goals: training students to perform nursing duties with ability and confidence and to provide the basic knowledge of medical care and practice to ensure the student can pass the NCLEX-PN exam and become a licensed vocational nurse.

Further Education

Nursing programs at many colleges and universities offer many opportunities for further education in the nursing field. LVN to RN (Registered Nurse) programs or bridge programs offer this advanced training. LVNs can work towards their RN or Bachelor of Science in Nursing through these programs. RNs earn more and work more independently than LVNs. Bridging programs offer further classroom study to obtain either an Associate or Bachelor of Science degrees in nursing and prepare students through further hands-on clinical practice to take the National Council Licensure Exam-Registered Nurse. Bridging programs for LVN to RN may take another one to two years of training.


While LVN nursing programs may vary in what courses are called, all will prepare students for basic medical care of patients. Students will learn medical terminology, how to care for patients and fundamental anatomy and physiology. LVN classes will most likely include many of the following:

  • English and/or Communication
  • Nursing Fundamentals
  • Biology and Microbiology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Infection Control
  • Common Diseases
  • Principals of Patient Care (taking vital signs, administering injections, collecting samples for lab tests, reading and understanding patient charts, etc.)
  • Gerontology
  • Minor Surgical Procedures
  • Nutrition and Diet
  • First Aid
  • Emergency Medical Care
  • Introduction to Pharmacology
  • Medical Terminology

Career Opportunities

Employment for all health care professionals is growing faster than average in comparison to all other occupations. With an aging population, more health care will be needed and career opportunities for licensed vocational nurses are excellent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage of LVNs was $40,380 in May 2010. LVNs can work in any area of health care, including hospitals, nursing homes, doctor’s offices and home health care. LPNs can also find work in residential care facilities, outpatient care centers, employment services and in local, state and federal government agencies. An increasing elderly population drives the demand for healthcare services, and an employment growth rate of 21 percent is expected for LVNs.

Earning Potential

Most LVNS earn between $33,360 and $46,710 with the lowest 10 percent making $28,000 and the highest 10 percent earning over $50,000. In contrast, median annual salary for registered nurses is $64,690. LVNs working in employment services tend to earn a higher salary than LVNs working in other settings, such as hospitals or nursing homes.

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Licensed Vocational Nursing FAQ

What types of jobs can I expect with an LVN?

Twenty-eight percent of LVNs work in nursing homes and 25 percent of all LVNs work in hospitals with a smaller percentage employed in doctor’s offices. Home health care agencies, residential care, community care and retirement care facilities, outpatient care centers and government agencies employ a number of LVNs as well. An LVN can expect to provide and monitor basic patient care, attending to fundamental needs, vital signs, wound care as well as bathing, feeding, dressing, positioning patients in bed and personal hygiene. LVNs perform lab tests, or collect samples for lab tests, record food and fluid intake and output and take care of medical equipment. Most LVNS work full 40 hour weeks, with a small percentage working part-time.

How long does it take to become an LVN?

A typical LVN program of combined class work and clinical training is one year. A bridging program of further education, training the LVN to become a RN will take another one to two years. Working towards an Associate’s or Bachelor’s in Nursing can take two to four years, depending on whether the student is part time or full time. Compared with other medical professionals, obtaining an LVN license is not a big time investment.

Where are the highest-paying LVN jobs?

LVN jobs in Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, California and New Mexico received more pay than in other parts of the country, according to the BLS. These LVNs ranged from $49,000 to $53,000 in salary. Midwest and southern states paid less for LVNs, about $30,000 a year, which is lower than the national average. In general, nursing homes pay about $40,000 to $42,000 per year, while doctor’s offices pay slightly less. As usual, east coast and west coast pay higher salaries than the midwest and the south. Some LVNs working in certain niches—prisons, for example, or intensive care units, can earn significantly higher salaries.

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