MEET THE EXPERT
Not sure where to begin your search for an excellent LPN program? With so many options, narrowing down the field can be daunting. Sorting through each program available to you can be like trying to find that elusive needle in a haystack. Our Best in Class profiles are a great place to start. We examined the most affordable and comprehensive online LPN programs in the country, studied their accreditation status and state board approval, and created a list of some of the best programs for aspiring practical nurses. Start your program search here.
How Do LPN & LVN Programs Work Online?
The practical nursing field is predominantly hands-on. Online LPN and LVN programs reflect this reality, and thus will usually consist of both online and in-person curriculum requirements. Let’s look at how this works.
Online vs. Hybrid
Before applying to a practical nursing program, it’s important to remember the nature of the work of LPNs – that most of it is very hands-on. Given that, any reputable program that prepares students for licensure and the NCLEX-PN will not be 100% online. It will contain several in-person clinical requirements, which help students put what they learned during their classes into action.
Most online programs are actually “partially online” or “hybrid” programs. This means that the vast majority of classroom-based courses – or perhaps all of them – will be entirely online, while the clinical work will be in-person. Though the student might not be required to complete clinicals at the school itself, they will be required to find an approved healthcare facility that is willing to work with the school to allow the student to complete clinicals there.
Online courses allow LPN students to complete their classwork when it’s convenient for them. This might be early in the morning, late at night or on the weekends. Each program will have its own system of providing the curriculum online, most with varying degrees of asynchronous learning. Though there might be occasional “real time” meetings conducted online through video chat or discussion boards, students will not have to go to campus to attend class.
Regarding the specifics of a program’s online LPN curriculum, students can expect to take the following courses or something similar to them:
Online LPN programs contain several in-person clinicals (sometimes referred to as a practicum) where students receive hands-on training under the supervision of a medical professional. Most schools will have special arrangements with healthcare facilities near the campus where students can obtain this necessary experience.
Clinicals are training opportunities that include both observational and hands-on components. These experiences provide an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned in the classroom. Students are then assessed by their instructors as to their performance and must obtain certain scores before getting credit for completing the clinical.
As a student progresses through their clinicals, their training will become more advanced. The first clinicals will focus on basic healthcare techniques and skills, such as basic medicine delivery and patient education. Later clinicals will include more advanced training, such as situations where students must demonstrate effective problem solving and solid medical judgment in decision making. Students will also encounter patients with more serious medical conditions.
Online LPN Programs by Level
There’s more than one academic track to become an LPN. Each path has advantages and disadvantages. Your professional goals and personal resources will help determine which academic path is right for you. These options include the certificate, diploma and associate degree.
How Long Does an Online LPN Program Take?
Online LPN programs can take anywhere from just under one year to approximately two years. The exact length will depend on the specific program’s structure, whether you take a full-time or part-time course load and any prior academic college credit that might transfer into the program. There are three typical tracks for LPN students:
- Accelerated/fast-track: ~ 1 year. This requires full-time student status and year-round class and clinical attendance. Accelerated programs assume incoming students will have some general education or prerequisites already completed before enrollment in the practical nursing program. Alternatively, they will heavily overload each semester, requiring as many as 22 credit hours (including clinicals) in a single semester.
- Standard: ~16 – 18 months: Standard practical nursing programs last about three semesters spanning across 18 months. Most curriculums allow two semesters for the practical nursing curriculum while the third semester is for completion of prerequisite courses, such as writing, psychology and a college level mathematics course.
- Extended: ~20 – 24 months: Students who need maximum flexibility will want to attend their program using the extended or part-academic track. This means the course load for each semester is cut roughly in half and may require one or two summer sessions. The exact length of these extended programs will depend on the pace in which students finish their online courses as well as how many prerequisites the student has already completed before entering the practical nursing program.
Are There Any Accredited Online LPN Programs?
Accreditation is one of the most important factors to keep in mind when choosing a program. Accreditation shows that a program or school meets minimum educational standards, giving students who graduate from it the same opportunities as those who graduate from similar programs at other colleges and universities. It’s also helpful for obtaining financial aid. Many providers of financial assistance, such as private organizations, state agencies and the federal government, typically award aid only to applicants who attend an accredited institution.
When it comes to finding a practical nursing program, there are two types of accreditation to consider. There’s regional accreditation that pertains to the school as a whole. Then there’s programmatic accreditation that deals with specific programs. In the case of practical nursing, the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) is the accrediting body.
One thing to keep in mind is that attending an accredited LPN program is not always required to become a licensed practical nurse. Students who graduate from a program approved by their state licensing board may still be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-PN and become licensed in that state. However, one of the drawbacks of attending a board-approved versus an ACEN accredited program is that it may make it harder for graduates to become LPNs in states beyond where the school is located.
Preparing for the NCLEX-PN
To go from a practical nurse to a licensed practical nurse, passage of the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) is required. Every state requires the NCLEX-PN. It is administered by Pearson VUE for a current cost of $200.
Topics covered in the exam include coordinated care, safety and infection control, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity and physiological integrity. The NCLEX-PN is a computer-based, adaptive test, which means the difficulty of the questions will change depending on whether the test taker gets a question right or wrong. The test taker has five hours to complete the exam, which consists of between 85 and 205 questions, most of which are multiple choice.
Given the importance of passing the NCLEX-PN, any LPN program worth enrolling in will emphasize a curriculum that can fully prepare its students to pass this crucial examination. Therefore, one good way to choose a program is to examine the NCLEX-PN passage rates of its graduates.
LPN Bridge Programs Online: What to Know
LPN bridge programs can save time and money when earning additional academic credentials for professional advancement. By taking advantage of an LPN’s prior academic coursework and real world training, students can reduce their curriculum requirements when earning a subsequent degree, certificate or diploma. For additional time savings and convenience, many of these bridge programs are available online.
Career Outlook & Growth for Practical Nurses
The professional outlook for licensed practical nurses is very promising. Due to an aging population and increased access to health insurance, the use of healthcare services is expected to rise. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that the need for licensed practical nurses will grow approximately 12 percent from 2016 to 2026. This is a bit less than some other health care professions, such as medical assistants with an expected growth rate of 29 percent during that same time period. However, the need for new licensed practical nurses is in line with many other health professions, such as assistants (11 percent).
The LPN profession serves as an excellent springboard to other medical careers. For example, licensed practical nurses can usually use their prior education and work experience to save years off their education and training for more advanced nursing careers, such as registered nurses or nurse practitioners. These nurses have many more opportunities for increased responsibilities and pay. There is also higher anticipated job growth. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the need for registered nurses and nurse practitioners will be 15 percent and 31 percent, respectively, from 2016 to 2026.
Salaries for Practical Nurses
The salaries for licensed practical nurses will vary. Geography, experience, work setting and specialization can all play a major part in determining what a licensed practical nurse can make. However, the following chart can give you a general idea of what sort of annual compensation you can expect throughout your LPN career.