Licensed Practical Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses: A Changing Demographic

Licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) provide basic medical care, usually supervised by a registered nurse (RN) or physician. Both perform similar duties but are called by different names based on the states in which they practice. Licensed practical nursing and licensed vocational nursing is regulated by individual states with some states allowing a wide range of duties and others being more restrictive.

The education necessary to take advantage of the increasing number of licensed vocational and licensed practical nurse jobs is generally a certificate. Programs, which are available at community colleges and vocational schools, can take one or two years to complete depending on whether you attend part time or full time. Programs must be approved by a state's board of nursing and graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) to obtain a license, which is required by all states.

Almost 45 percent of LPN/LVNs work in nursing care facilities or general medical/surgical hospitals, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job growth between 2010 and 2020 is expected to be faster than average at 26 percent (bls.gov, ooh, 2012).

Changing LPN/LVN demographics: Cause and effect

According to an AFL-CIO, Department for Professional Employees 2012 Fact Sheet, although the current LPN/LVN population is predominantly female (93.4 percent) and white (78 percent), the demographics have been slowly changing. Between 1995 and 2011:

  • The number of men in the profession increased from 4.6 percent to 6.6.
  • Black LPN/LVN workforce representation increased from 19.6 percent to 22.4 percent.
  • Latino LPN/LVN workforce representation increased from 3.7 percent to 8.8 percent.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Workforce Analysis predicts that the need for LPN/LVNs will increase from 618,000 in 2000 to 905,000 in 2020, a 46 percent increase. The Analysis focuses on three factors that significantly influence the future demographics of all U.S. health care workers including LPN/LVNs:

  1. Aging population: As the baby boomer population ages and lives longer, they will require more medical attention including the long term nursing care typically provided by LPN/LVNs. Many current nurses are also aging boomers who will begin retiring from the profession just as there is an increased need for them. About a third of current nurses are 50 or older. According to a 2010 AFL-CIO survey, 55 percent indicated they planned to retire by 2020. As the portion of 18 to 30-year-olds in the population declines, there is also concern about being able to attract new health care workers to licensed vocational and licensed practical nurse careers.
  2. Changing racial and ethnic composition of the population: Minority representation in nursing should increase as minorities constitute a larger portion of the population and enter the workforce in greater numbers. The practice of employing nurses from other countries will also increase diversity in the nursing workforce.
  3. Geographic location of the population: Although the urban population of the U.S. is steadily growing, many people live in rural areas and urban minority neighborhoods that often have a shortage of health care professionals. The Analysis found that minority health professionals are more willing than their non-minority counterparts to practice in underserved areas and may provide more effective medical care if they share the same culture and language as their patient population.

Three things you should know when looking for LVN/LPN jobs

Three tips can help in your job search:

  1. The South has the highest concentration of LPN/LVNs in the nation with Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, West Virginia and Tennessee in the top five.
  2. States and metropolitan areas that have the highest cost of living generally pay the highest salaries (bls.org/oes, 2012).
  3. Look for institutions with programs that mitigate career burnout, which is endemic in nursing because of the physical and mental stress.

Burnout has been directly tied to the nurse-to-patient ratio, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Some states, such as California, have mandated minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in critical care hospitals and report a consequent upsurge in job satisfaction and a decrease in patient mortality. As of 2011, 14 other states plus the District of Columbia have enacted similar regulations and 17 states have legislation pending.

LPNs/LVNs can have a rewarding career in a field that has been predicted to grow rapidly. A career in licensed practical or vocational nursing can also make an excellent jumping off point to more advanced nursing careers with additional education.


"Changing Demographics: Implications for Physicians, Nurses, and Other Health Workers," nachc.org, 2003

"Fact Sheet 2012, Nursing: A Profile of the Profession," dpeaflcio.org , April 2012

"Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses," bls.gov/ooh, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition

"Safe Nurse Staffing Laws in State Legislatures," safestaffingsaveslives.com

"State-Mandated Nurse Staffing Levels Alleviate Workloads, Leading to Lower Patient Mortality and Higher Nurse Satisfaction," innovations.ahrq.gov, October 10, 2012

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