What Is a Practical Nursing Program?

Many students choose nursing as a way to get their foot in the door of the medical field. If you’re hoping to pursue a nursing education, becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) can lead to new job opportunities. Learn more about what a practical nursing program can do for you and what skills and knowledge you need to build a fulfilling career.

What Are Practical Nurses?

A licensed practical nurse supports patients by providing basic nursing care. Patient care can vary widely, which means nursing duties can differ based on where a practical nurse chooses to work. Examples of duties include:

  • Taking vital signs for patients and recording them in charts
  • Presenting patient information to doctors or the registered nurse (RN)
  • Performing immunizations and other injections
  • Providing patient support during difficult treatments or diagnoses
  • Educating patients on surgical procedures, aftercare, side effects and symptoms
  • Communicating patient information to their families
  • Evaluating and tending to the psychological and emotional needs of patients


Practical nurses can work in many different health care facilities, including clinics, specialty clinics, nursing homes, hospitals, physician’s offices, surgical centers and rehabilitation centers.

What Is the Difference Between a Practical Nurse and a Registered Nurse?

LPNs and RNs differ in a few ways. For one, a practical nurse doesn’t have the same level of responsibility as an RN. A practical nursing program can also be completed in about a year, while RNs usually have at least an associate’s degree before they enter the field. If you’re hoping to become an RN down the road, an LPN program is a great way to gain valuable industry experience while pursuing an RN credential.

What a Practical Nursing Program Looks Like

Accredited LPN programs can usually be found through local community colleges. Qualified applicants undergo a nursing curriculum that provides the nursing knowledge and critical thinking skills needed to perform direct patient care for all ages. Over the course of a year, practical nursing students take courses in subjects ranging from biology and pharmacology to nursing fundamentals, which explores the scope of nursing practice. While completing courses, you also receive in-depth, hands-on nursing training.

The combination of clinical courses and training provides current students with the basic concepts and skills needed to assist RNs with tasks such as health assessments, medication administration, basic wound care and tending to the physical and mental health of patients. Throughout the accredited program, students earn a set number of credit hours to successfully obtain a practical nurse technical diploma.

In many cases, LPN certification credit hours also count toward a nursing associate’s degree if you choose to continue your education. High school students who’ve taken prerequisite courses or transfer students from a different community college can sometimes apply previously earned applicable credentials toward a practical nursing program, which can help save money in the long run.

Program cost will vary based on the school you enroll at. Because practical nursing programs are offered through colleges, financial aid is often available for those who need it.

Is a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) a Different Credential?

A licensed vocational nursing program is very similar to a practical nursing program. Both provide basic patient care and work under the supervision of an RN. The main difference is what state you live in. In California and Texas, you’ll be considered an LVN. Every other state refers to this type of nurse as an LPN.

Whether you’re an LVN or LPN, you must still pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-PN). Licensing requirements, including renewals, will differ based on the state you live in.

National Council Licensure Examination

After completing a practical nursing (PN) program, you’ll receive a diploma, but you won’t be officially licensed until passing the NCLEX-PN exam. Testing sites are located across the country, but seats can fill up quickly, so it’s recommended to begin the scheduling process as soon as possible.

Before taking the exam, you’ll need to apply for an Authorization to Test (ATT) through the Nursing Regulatory Body (NRB) and with Pearson VUE. Starting this process well before the anticipated date for your exam is preferable because you’ll need to make sure you meet the necessary requirements. Once you receive an ATT and an Acknowledgement of Receipt of Registration, you can schedule your testing date.

After you take the exam, your results should be available in less than 48 hours. If you pass, you’ll receive official results in the mail. The State Board of Nursing will also mail your license, so you can begin to apply for LPN jobs and start your career.

Licensed Practical Nurse Career Outcomes

Licensed practical nurses have a range of job options available after completing a practical nursing diploma program and getting licensed. Instead of acquiring major student debt, practical nursing grads can find work right out of their community college program in many settings, including doctor’s offices, hospitals and private homes. Earning certifications down the road can help you gain specialized skills, such as:

  • IV certification
  • Long-term and hospice care certification
  • Patient counseling certification
  • Advanced life support certification


While becoming certified in a specialized area isn’t necessary to provide nursing care as an LPN, it can lead to career advancement.

Job security is also a perk of completing a practical nursing program. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 9% growth for LPNs or licensed vocational nurses over the next decade, with about 60,700 projected open positions each year. This growth could be due to an aging population that tends to live longer and experiences more chronic health problems, which means they require more medical attention. The median annual salary for an LPN as of 2021 is around $48,070 per year or $23.11 per hour, according to the BLS.

Is a Practical Nursing Program Right for You?

If you’re passionate about the health care field and looking for a way to get your foot in the door, practical nursing programs are worth looking into. They have a relatively low time commitment and can be found at most local community colleges. Being an LPN also offers a flexible career path to help you gain experience while determining what your next course of action is.