A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) as designated in the states of California and Texas, is an entry-level nurse that is trained for basic nursing care, procedures, and patient comfort skills.

The educational requirements for completing the LPN/LVN program will vary from state-to-state. For example, in California, the curriculum requirement for the LVN license is to complete 1,530 total hours. These hours include 576 hours in theory and 954 clinical hours. At a full-time pace, this would take approximately 12-14 months to complete the entire program. LPN/LVN coursework includes content such as anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, nursing process, communication, nutrition, psychology, human growth and development, and nursing-specialty courses. The state board must approve all LPN/LVN courses. Once the nurse has completed the required coursework, he or she may take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) in order to obtain a license to be able to work in that state as an LPN/LVN.

RELATED: RN vs LPN and Working Together: RNs and LPNs

A LPN/LVN is not an independent practitioner and practices under the direction of a physician or Registered Nurse (RN). Each state has a designated Licensed Practical Nurse (or Vocational) board that determines the scope of the Practical or Vocational Nursing Practice Act. While the LPN/LVN practices under their own license, they are still, by law, practicing under the direction of the RN and therefore the Registered Nurse is accountable for the care delivered by the LPN/LVN; regardless of whether or not the RN is in a formal supervisory position.

Each state's Board of Nursing, through the Nurse Practice Act, allows for RNs to delegate tasks and to oversee unlicensed assistive staff such as an LPN/LVN. Nurses are also authorized to assess the competency of staff to ensure the tasks that are delegated will be performed in a manner that is safe for the patient. If an RN determines or suspects a subordinate is incompetent in an assigned task, it is the obligation and expectation that the RN will intervene and assume the responsibility of the task until other care arrangements can be made.

RELATED: Difference in Workplace Roles of LPN's and RN's of Varying Education Levels

The RN is also responsible to listen to and provide assistance to problem-solve concerns brought forward by the LPN/LVN. For example, if an LPN/LVN brings forward a question of a physician's order, if the RN does not properly problem-solve and clarify the order with the LPN/LVN, the RN can be held liable if a medical error occurs.

Registered Nurses should consult with their local Board of Nursing and/or the LPN/LVN Board of Nursing for nuances in practices that are specific to their state. For many states, the Registered Nurse and Licensed Practical (or Vocational) Nurse share the same Board of Nursing.

RELATED: How to Become an RN & How to Become an LPN

Many nurses use the LPN/LVN role as a stepping-stone to obtaining a Registered Nursing license. Numerous schools across the country offer LPN to RN programs to transition the nurse to the next level of education.

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
Latest posts by Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN (see all)
  • Nurse Manager Leadership Recommendations for Staff Engagement and Success - January 2, 2018

Our Visitors Found These Nursing Topics Useful

How Violence in the Community Affects Nurses

Nurses spend their lives caring for others. They care for patients at work, take care of their families, and even look after their friends. It's ingrained in their DNA. However, nurses also view their community as their "family" and take…

What is the Difference Between a Scope of Practice and a Scope of Employment?

Each state is responsible for creating legislation regarding laws related to the practice of nursing. These laws are defined as the Nurse Practice Act (NPA). Each state's Board of Nursing (BON) is charged with further clarifying and defining the NPA…

Why 2016 & 2017 May Be the Best Time to Start a Career as a Registered Nurse

For many years now, the new graduate registered nurse has a difficult time finding a job. The 2008 recession hit the healthcare sector hard and finding a job as a new nurse graduate, or Resident Nurse, was very difficult, and…

What is Meaningful Use?

Technology is an essential part of healthcare. One of the most significant advanced in healthcare is the use of electronic health records (EHRs). Meaningful Use means that electronic health record technology is used in a "meaningful" way, and ensures that…

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is just as it sounds. Taking care of others, emotionally and/or physically, can cause you great exhaustion. Nurses are at high risk; especially those that work in the emergency room, hospice care, etc. These nurses have to think…