What is the Difference Between an LPN and RN?

Careers in nursing take on many forms, and there are many jobs you can pursue with an LPN or RN license. Knowing the difference between these two options can help you find the right career options to meet your needs.

The field of nursing is expected to grow by hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next decade, and entering a nurse training program now can provide you with a vast array of career opportunities. Job growth is expected throughout hospital systems as well as nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and geriatric care facilities. Becoming a nurse now can help ensure a lifetime of rewarding work caring for people in need.

You may be wondering just what is the difference between LPN and RN licensure. The following guide walks you through all of the basic differences as well as similarities between these two career options. Once you have this information, you can decide which career path is meant for you.

Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed practical nurses, also referred to as licensed vocational nurses, provide basic nursing care to patients in a wide range of medical settings. They typically work under the direct supervision of RNs or physicians. As an LPN, you can offer routine care, assistance with daily living skills, and provide emotional support for patients and their families. An LPN may work nights and weekends as well as daytime weekly shifts, and they may be on duty to help assist in medical emergencies, such as performing CPR.

While this career path doesn’t include working on more advanced medical procedures, it does provide a path toward becoming an RN if you should choose to continue your education.

Registered Nurse

A registered nurse is a nurse who has acquired a 2- or 4-year degree in nursing. They are licensed to provide medical care, including assistance to doctors during procedures. Their job duties are more involved than those of an LPN, but they still provide some of the same basic levels of care that LPNs do. As a registered nurse, you may be called upon to administer medications, assist with patient assessments, tend to wounds, and perform certain laboratory tests.

An RN can work in a hospital, nursing home, school, or medical practice, but there are many other career opportunities for experienced registered nurses. To become an RN, you need to complete a nursing degree at an accredited institution, and you may have to work under close supervision at the beginning of your career to provide additional training opportunities. Nurses are expected to stay on top of current medical technology and procedure advances, which may mean going to back to school occasionally to undergo further training.

Educational Requirements

The educational requirements for LPNs and RNs do differ to a certain extent, but some of the coursework may be similar. Diploma and degree programs for both careers can include basic nursing, HIV/AIDS training, and mental health.

Training to become an LPN includes clinical classes that provide hands-on experience as well as in-person courses, and RN programs include these same requirements. However, the depth of knowledge for an RN program tends to be greater than that for an LPN degree. For example, an RN student may have to take courses in public health nursing, nursing research, microbiology, and medical ethics. These courses may not be required of LPN candidates

Whether you want to become an LPN or RN, you’ll need to have at least a high school diploma or GED. If you already hold a 2- or 4-year degree, you may be able to enter a transfer program that uses some of those credits toward completing your nursing degree program.

Diploma and Degree Programs

When it comes to choosing a degree program, there are many different options to choose from. Whether you are a current LPN who wants to become an RN or you are a high school student considering a career in nursing, there is a degree path to fit your needs. Here are just some of the many options to consider.

  • LPN Diploma: A diploma program offered at trade schools that leads to LPN licensure
  • LPN Associate’s Degree: A 2-year degree program offered at community colleges that leads to LPN licensure
  • ADN Program: An associate’s degree in nursing leading to RN licensure
  • BSN Program: A baccalaureate program in nursing leading to RN licensure
  • LPN to RN Bridge Program: Accelerated degree program for LPNs wishing to obtain RN licensure
  • RN to BSN Program: An accelerated baccalaureate program for working RNs wishing to complete a four-year degree

If you are interested in learning more about the different degree programs available, click here for more information.

Licensing Exams

Before becoming eligible to apply for work in nursing, both LPNs and RNs must sit for licensing examinations. These tests are held online and at designated testing facilities. RNs must take the NCLEX-RN exam, while LPNs must take the NCLEX-PN exam. Both exams include multiple choice and practical tests to assess your ability to provide excellent patient care.

Once you have successfully passed the exam, you will be licensed for work in the state you reside in. However, some states have reciprocity agreements. This means that you might live in one state but be licensed in another. This is key for nurses living close to a state border who might want to seek work in the neighboring state.

Where to Study

Where you study will depend upon a number of factors, including where you live and which degree program you wish to pursue. Community colleges typically offer degree programs for both RN and LPN candidates, but these are 2-year degree programs. If you wish to obtain a 4-year degree, you’ll need to attend an accredited college or university. Click here to learn more about degree programs near you.

Keep in mind that earning an associate’s degree can qualify you to transfer credits to a 4-year school down the road. Be sure that the community college you attend offers transferable courses. In some cases, public community colleges have relationships with public universities to provide seamless credit transfers.

Expected Job Duties

LPN: An LPN provides supportive care for patients in addition to basic nursing. In a hospital setting, you might accompany patients to laboratory facilities or the radiology department for tests, or you might provide care with repositioning bed-bound patients. You might be called upon to start an IV drip, administer injections, or assist with bathing and grooming.

LPNs working in home health care might help with daily living needs, such as feeding, dressing, and assistance with rehabilitation exercises. You may also provide these same services to nursing home, hospice, or medical rehabilitation patients. Experienced LPNs may serve as charge nurses acting in a supervisory capacity to oversee other LPNs and CNAs. An LPN can choose to stay in general nursing or specialize in any number of medical fields.

RNs: The specific roles of RNs can depend on the state regulations guiding medical care. However, they typically provide a wide range of medical support services, including wound care, suturing minor wounds, administering medications, monitoring vitals, and providing emergency medical treatments. They also provide the same supportive care services that LPNs do, and they may also supervise LPNs working in their units.

Nurses can work in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and medical practices. RNs can specialize in a number of areas, including medical-surgery, obstetrics, oncology, and pediatrics. To specialize in these areas, RNs may decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree for advanced training.

Career Outlook

Nursing is among the fastest growing career fields today. With job growth ranging between 11% and 15% over the next decade, there’s no better time than now to begin looking for a nursing degree program. Depending on the area you live in, the need may even be greater than the national average. With this increased demand comes the demand for experienced nurses, so the more education you have, the easier it will be for you to command a higher salary.

  • Expected job growth for LPNs by 2026: 12%
  • Expected job growth for RNs by 2026: 15%

Salary Outlook

Both LPNs and RNs can make comfortable livings. LPNs tend to make less than RNs, but still command a salary commensurate with advanced training. Income can vary depending on the setting, with jobs with government agencies and private hospitals paying a bit more than those in nursing homes or public health.

  • Average salary for licensed practical nurses is $44,090 per year or $21.20 per hour
  • Average salary for registered nurses is $68,450 per year or $32.91 per hour

It’s important to note that the average pay for RNs does depend on your level of schooling. An RN with a BSN can make more than an RN with an ADN. RNs with BSN degrees can also enter a range of specialty jobs, such as charge nurse or nursing administrator, which can also pay significantly more. For example, a nurse anesthetist can make an average salary of $164,030 per year, or $78.86 per hour, with a BSN degree.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Whether you become an LPN or RN, your career opportunities don’t have to end with obtaining your license. You can go on to receive your BSN, or upon completion of a four-year program, you can also enter a graduate degree program. With an MSN (Master’s of Science in Nursing), you can become a nurse practitioner or a nurse educator. Talk to the guidance department at your college of choice to go over the different career paths you might be interested in so you can be sure your coursework aligns with those goals.

Are you interested in a career in nursing? Click here to learn more about nursing degree programs that might be a great fit for you, and get started on the path to a successful and rewarding career.

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