How Hard is LPN School – (15 Biggest Challenges & How to Overcome)


Written By: Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA


Are you considering a career in nursing but do not know where to start? Have you thought of beginning your nursing career as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) but wonder, “How hard is LPN school?” That is a good goal and a legitimate question, which I will address in this article.

As you continue reading, I will explain why LPN school is hard, tell you about the 15 biggest challenges you will face in LPN school and how to overcome them, and answer some frequently asked questions about these programs. The information I provide will help you decide if becoming an LPN is the right choice for you.



IS LPN SCHOOL HARD?


As a nurse and nursing instructor, I can tell you that LPN school is hard. I can also tell you that, despite the challenges and difficulties of the programs, with the right preparation and determination, you can succeed and become a Licensed Practical Nurse!

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HOW HARD IS LPN SCHOOL?

(The following are the 15 biggest challenges you will face in LPN school and ways you can successfully overcome them.)


CHALLENGE #1: Passing the TEAS Test


About the Challenge:

LPN school is hard enough, but the challenges associated with getting into a program are just as difficult. One of the first steps to getting into an LPN program is taking the TEAS test. The TEAS test, which stands for the Test of Essential Academic Skills, is a standardized test used by nursing schools to determine a candidate’s skills and likelihood of success and to determine if they are a good candidate for admission.

The test evaluates a candidate's skills in math, science, English, and reading. The level of difficulty you experience taking the TEAS test depends on a few factors, including your previous academic success and your test-taking ability.

How to Overcome:

The best way to overcome this challenge is to prepare for the TEAS exam. There are several books you can use to study and prepare for the exam. Also, ATI, which is the creator of the examination, offers several study materials to help you prepare for success!


CHALLENGE #2: Finding the Right School


About the Challenge:

LPN schools offer excellent options for anyone who wants to begin a nursing career. One of the challenges that make LPN school hard is finding the right school. If you have never searched for a college or degree program, you may not realize the importance of finding the right school or may be unsure about what to look for.

How to Overcome:

As a nurse myself and a former nursing instructor, I believe the most important factor you should consider when choosing an LPN school is whether the program the school offers is accredited. Accreditation standards are set by the U.S. Department of Education. These standards are designed to ensure that schools meet high-quality standards for the programs they provide. Look for programs accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Also, in your search for the right LPN school, it is good to think about your long-term career goals. For example, if you know that becoming an LPN is the first step on your journey in nursing and that you plan to become a registered nurse or advanced practice registered nurse, you may want to find a school that offers bridge options for LPN graduates to continue to their RN degrees.


CHALLENGE #3: Learning to Manage Time Wisely


About the Challenge:

One of the things that make LPN school attractive to would-be nurses is that you can become a nurse in a rather short time. However, the shorter length of the programs does not mean you learn less material. It means you must learn a great deal of content in a condensed format, which can be challenging, especially if you have trouble managing your time wisely.

How to Overcome:

The time commitment required is one of the main things that makes LPN school hard. Even if you have struggled in the past, there are some things you can do to set yourself up for success. Use a planner to keep track of important dates and things you need to remember. Whether you use a digital planner or one in book/tablet form is up to you. The important thing is to have something that you can enter all your information in and keep up with it. It is easier to get organized and follow a routine from the beginning than to try and catch up once you have fallen behind.


CHALLENGE #4: Learning to Communicate Effectively


About the Challenge:

Although LPN school is hard, one of the most important things you can do to help you succeed is to learn to communicate effectively. In fact, effective, therapeutic communication is one of the most essential skills you can develop as a nurse. Strong, therapeutic communication skills are essential in providing quality patient care and fulfilling your role as an integral part of the interdisciplinary team.

How to Overcome:

Learning effective communication takes practice. The first step is to pay attention. Become an attentive listener, showing interest in what others say, including your instructors, classmates, preceptors, and patients. Study others' body language for clues about what they are thinking and feeling. For example, a patient may deny pain but wince when you touch a specific body part, which is a nonverbal way of communicating actual pain.

Think about what you plan to say before you say it. A few things you can do to ensure you communicate effectively include minding the tone of your voice, being aware of your own body language, as well as that of others, and showing genuine interest in what others say.


CHALLENGE #5: Odd Clinical Hours


About the Challenge:

Depending on how your program is formatted, you may find the clinical schedule for your LPN school is hard to adjust to. When I taught nursing and allied health, our schools worked with clinical sites and created schedules that aligned with the site's schedules as much as possible. What that means for students is if you are assigned to a surgical rotation, you may need to arrive at the hospital very early in the morning, as many surgeries are scheduled early. Although they may be rare, you may also need to complete clinical hours on an evening or night shift or on a weekend. If you have a family, especially with small children, this can be challenging.

How to Overcome:

The best way to overcome this challenge is to prepare early. You already know clinical schedules may vary from week to week, and if you have family responsibilities, then you may need extra help. Talk to your spouse, significant other, family members, or friends to see who can help get kids ready for school or pick them up. You may need to coordinate carpool days and play dates that coincide with your clinical schedule. Keep in mind LPN school does not last forever. If you can make the scheduling work and get through the program, you can reap the rewards afterward.


CHALLENGE #6: You May Not Be Able to Work


About the Challenge:

Most LPN programs are full-time, which means you will probably go to school five days a week. The intense schedule is not the only reason why LPN school is hard, but it can lead to other challenges. Because much of your time will be spent in school, you may not be able to work or may need to make significant changes in your work schedule. If your household depends on your income to survive, you may find LPN school challenging.

How to Overcome:

I understand what it means to have others depend on your income to maintain a home and family. Even if you have a spouse, significant other, roommates, or family who help with bills, if you are used to working, chances are your income is factored into how bills get paid. When you decide to go to LPN school, it is crucial that you look at your income and expenses and decide whether working while in school is the best choice for you. If you do not have one already, consider creating a budget and determine where you can cut corners on spending.

While working in LPN school is possible, it takes careful planning to accomplish a healthy balance between work and school. So, take your time and consider all your options before making changes to your work schedule or committing to one specific program.


CHALLENGE #7: Learning to Trust Your Instincts


About the Challenge:

In LPN school, it is natural to feel a sense of insecurity or to be afraid of making important decisions. In fact, one of the biggest challenges LPN students face is learning to trust their instincts. We are all born with natural instincts about things that are safe or unsafe and what feels right or wrong.

The more we mature and experience life, the more pronounced these instincts become. The principles of instincts apply to nursing students. When you first begin your program, you may feel out of place or unsure when it comes to making decisions, and this is normal.

How to Overcome:

To overcome the challenge, look to your instructors and preceptors for guidance and advice. Ask questions, follow preceptors, and watch how they interact with patients, families, and staff. Then, put what you learn into practice. The more you learn and care for patients, the more confident you will become in trusting your instincts.


CHALLENGE #8: Learning the Norms So You Can Identify What Is Abnormal


About the Challenge:

One thing I find common in nursing students is that there seems to be an urgency to identify problems as soon as the patient arrives, even when they lack an understanding of what to look for. While this is commendable and part of a nurse’s job, it is impossible to identify true abnormalities until you understand what the norm is, or should be. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the “norm” varies based on several factors, such as age, gender, and previous health conditions.

How to Overcome:

To succeed and overcome this challenge that makes LPN school hard, you must dedicate yourself to learning the foundational content of the program. For example, to identify abnormal symptoms associated with the gastrointestinal system, you must understand the way the system functions normally.

For instance, in anatomy and physiology, you will learn about each body system, the organs in those systems, and how they work together. If you study and grasp a deep knowledge of anatomy and physiology, when your patients present with abnormal symptoms, you can pick up on that more easily, therefore overcoming the challenge.


CHALLENGE #9: Grasping Some of the Foundational Nursing Courses


About the Challenge:

To become a licensed practical nurse, you must learn critical information. The foundational courses in LPN school can be challenging. Classes like Anatomy and Physiology, Pharmacology, and Psychology are part of what makes LPN school hard.

How to Overcome:

There is no way of getting around learning tough material. However, you can learn ways to maximize your learning potential and succeed in your classes. One of the most important habits you can develop that will contribute to your success is to study daily. Set aside time each day to study, making sure you are free from distractions so you can concentrate. Use study guides and follow your course syllabus. Also, consider forming or joining a study group. The most important tip to overcome this challenge is to be consistent.


CHALLENGE #10: Learning the Art of Prioritization


About the Challenge:

One of the main qualities of a good nurse is the ability to prioritize. Prioritization is a skill that can take time to develop and is one of the things that students feel makes LPN school hard. Prioritizing means making decisions about the order in which you will complete tasks. In LPN school, it can be hard at first to know which task is the most important or what patient needs care first.

How to Overcome:

Like many other things that make LPN school seem hard, you will learn about prioritization as you go. You can develop the skill of prioritization by asking questions and communicating openly with program faculty, preceptors, patients, and your team.

In LPN school, you will learn which symptoms require immediate attention versus those that can be addressed a little later, which allows you to prioritize the order in which you care for patients.

The most important advice I can give you as a nurse and healthcare instructor is do not be afraid to ask questions until you get a clear understanding. Your instructors and preceptors are there to help you succeed, so, rely on their knowledge and experience to guide you.


CHALLENGE #11: Dealing with Difficult Patients or Their Loved Ones


About the Challenge:

No doubt, LPN school is hard, and one thing that makes it hard is when you must deal with difficult patients and their families. I remember when I first began nursing school, I was assigned to a male patient and was warned that he was rude, often inappropriate with female nurses, and known to curse at everyone. To say the least, I dreaded going into his room. Everything the staff told me was true... at first. He was quite rude, answering my questions with harsh tones or sometimes ignoring me altogether. He refused baths and complained about everything I tried to do for him. Then it hit me, how must HE be feeling?

How to Overcome:

One of the fastest ways to overcome challenging, difficult patients is to be compassionate. For instance, when I took the time to look at the situation with my patient from what could have been his point of view, my perspective on the situation changed, and his attitude toward me changed. Am I telling you that every time you show compassion or empathy, your patients will be receptive, and you will have a great day? No, I am not. What I am telling you, though, is that if you want to overcome the challenge of dealing with difficult patients, family, and loved ones who seem dissatisfied, try showing some compassion.

Remember, needing medical care is not anyone’s idea of a “walk in the park.” It can be painful and frightening. Many times, patients and their families present with a difficult or ungrateful attitude because they are afraid. Imagine being in their situation; think of how you would prefer to be treated and treat them that way. I have been a nurse for more than 25 years, and I can tell you, without a doubt, when you find ways to show compassion in nursing, you can accomplish so many positive things for your patients, yourself, families, and the profession.


CHALLENGE #12: Long Hours of Studying


About the Challenge:

Another reason LPN school is hard is you must dedicate long hours to studying. As an LPN student, you will learn a large amount of content in a short time, usually 16 to 18 months. To succeed, you must dedicate time outside of the classroom and clinical setting to studying and learning.

How to Overcome:

I wish I could give you an easy tip for overcoming this challenge, but the simple truth is the only thing you can do is get serious, dedicate time to studying, and keep pushing forward until you successfully complete the program. You can make the task of studying easier by designating a set amount of time each day to studying.

As instructors, my colleagues and I typically recommend that nursing students spend at least three hours per week for each credit hour they are pursuing dedicated to studying. For instance, if you enroll in five credit hours for the semester, you should plan to spend at least 15 hours outside of the classroom or clinicals studying.


CHALLENGE #13: Lacking Self-Confidence


About the Challenge:

As you begin your journey to becoming an LPN, it is normal to feel a bit overwhelmed and feel a sense of being self-conscious. Many nursing students lack self-confidence, and there is nothing wrong with feeling that way. When you lack self-confidence, it can leave you questioning every decision you make and wondering if you should even become a nurse.

How to Overcome:

The important thing is to realize that you are not alone in this journey. Do not let doubt and insecurity creep in and steal your goals and dreams. LPN school is hard, and it can test your sense of confidence, but you have what it takes!

Surround yourself with people who encourage you. Find classmates to form study groups with and encourage one another. Most importantly, never forget why you chose to go to LPN school. Keep your dreams in front of you and pursue them until you achieve them!


CHALLENGE #14: Preparing for the NCLEX-PN


About the Challenge:

You already know that LPN school is hard. What you may not have considered is all of the tests and clinicals you must accomplish in school are not all you have to prepare for. Once you graduate from your LPN program, you must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) to become a licensed nurse.

How to Overcome:

Accredited LPN programs integrate test-taking strategies throughout the program to help you prepare for the NCLEX. The types of questions your instructors use on tests, your clinical experiences, and hands-on lab and clinical simulations are designed to help you succeed.

In addition to learning in the classroom, you can purchase NCLEX prep books, such as Next Generation NCLEX-PN Prep, or download free study guides and tests. The more you study and the more resources you have on hand, the better your chances of success on the exam the first time.


CHALLENGE #15: No Time for Yourself...


About the Challenge:

When you pursue your LPN degree, you will quickly feel the pressure of feeling there are too few hours in the day to accomplish all the things you need to do. Time for personal obligations, family time, and self-care seems to disappear, replaced with hours of studying, completing assignments, and going to clinicals.

How to Overcome:

As a nurse and healthcare educator, I cannot stress to you enough the importance of taking time for yourself. Granted, that 7-day cruise or trip to the mountains may have to wait, but it is still possible to schedule some time for what is important.

To overcome this, you must be intentional about taking some personal time. Whether you wake up a little earlier a few days a week and go for a morning walk, take the long way home from class or clinicals, or spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon relaxing, you will find that taking time for yourself can help you recharge and improves your chance of success in your program.



MY FINAL THOUGHTS


If you want to become a Licensed Practical Nurse, it is normal to wonder, “How hard is LPN school?” Students in these programs face a number of challenges, but it is possible to succeed and have a wonderful nursing career. As you research LPN programs seeking the one that suits you, consider the 15 biggest challenges you will face in LPN school and how to overcome them featured in this article. If you know potential challenges or struggles, you can prepare to address and overcome them and achieve your goal of becoming an LPN!



FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR EXPERT


1. How Long Does LPN School Take?

The length of LPN programs varies, with most taking between 16 and 18 months to complete.


2. Is It Normal To Struggle In LPN School?

LPN school is hard, and it is normal for students to struggle at times. However, with determination and hard work, you can succeed!


3. Which Year Of LPN School Is The Hardest?

LPN school typically takes less than two years to complete, so, the first year of the program is the most difficult. During the first nine to twelve months, you will learn foundational nursing concepts and skills and begin your clinical rotations.


4. What Are The Hardest Classes In LPN School?

According to many of my former students, some of the most challenging classes that make LPN school hard are pharmacology, medical-surgical nursing, and anatomy and physiology.


5. How Many Hours Do I Need To Study In LPN School?

It is recommended that nursing students study at least three hours per week for each credit hour they are enrolled in per semester. So, a student enrolled in 10 credit hours for a semester should plan to spend at least 30 hours dedicated to studying.


6. Is It Hard To Work During LPN School?

While it is possible, working while in LPN school is hard. Most LPN programs are designed in a full-time format, requiring you to attend school five days per week. When you add in the extra time for studying and completing assignments, I would strongly recommend weighing carefully whether you work while in the program or not.


7. What Percent Of LPN Students Drop Out?

Some LPN schools report drop rates as high as 40%. However, do not compare your likelihood of success to others. There are many factors that could lead to a student dropping out of the program. While LPN school is hard, you can succeed!


8. Is It Common To Fail LPN School?

Some students do fail out of LPN school. I like to encourage students to look at their situation independently of other students' situations. One person's weakness and reason for failure may be something that you find easier to accomplish.


9. What Next After Failing LPN School?

If you fail nursing LPN school, the next step is entirely your decision. If you truly desire to become a Licensed Practical Nurse, talk to your program coordinator and academic advisor and develop a plan to start again. If you failed and have begun to second-guess whether this is the right career path for you, there are many options. You can work in healthcare without a nursing degree. A few options include becoming a Medical Office Assistant, Phlebotomist, or Lab Tech, or Pharmacy Technician.


Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).