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LPN vs. RN Guide: Which One is Better for You?

LPN vs. RN Guide: Which One is Better for You?

Nursing careers are in high demand as the population grows older and more healthcare professionals are needed. In 2016, there were more than 700,000 licensed practical nurses and almost three million registered nurses in the United States. Between 2016 and 2026, the job growth rate for LPNs and RNs is about 12-15% which could result in about 527,000 new nursing jobs. The following is our LPN vs. RN guide and the differences between an LPN and an RN licensure.

LPN vs. RN


Similarities vs. Differences

The overall scope of the jobs is the same for LPNs and RNs. Taking care of patients, making sure they receive the necessary treatments, and helping them recover in an efficient but quick manner is what LPNs and RNs are for. However, the way they fulfill their duties is different: they usually have different duties, work in different settings, and must complete different educational and licensing requirements. They also have different statuses and different salaries.


LPN vs. RN: Responsibilities and Income

RNs go through intensive training to be able to diagnose and treat patients. LPNs work under RNs and physicians. Unlike RNs, they can’t officially diagnose and treat patients. Because they receive more training and have more responsibilities, RNs earn an average of $71,730 a year while LPNs earn an average of $46,240 a year.


LPN vs. RN: Work Setting

RNs can assist surgeons, care for patients suffering from several illnesses (such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes), and provide bedside care and education. RNs can also hold supervisory positions and their responsibilities are directly related to their area of expertise and specialization. RNs who have gone through advanced training can also work in emergency rooms and pediatric hospitals.

LPNs often work in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and residential care establishments. Due to an increase in chronic disease, demand for LPNs is growing and there are often career advancement opportunities in these settings.

LPNs also work in hospitals and are responsible for several duties. While specific duties are largely dependent on the state and an LPN’s individual credentials, general responsibilities include bathing patients, administering medication (in certain instances), emptying bedpans, and taking a patient’s vital signs.


LPN vs. RN: Education and License

RN programs usually cost more than LPN programs and last between 1-3 more years than an LPN program. RNs must either earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN), which is a two-year program, or earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which is a four-year program. Nurses with a BSN have several career options, including management positions. Earning a master’s degree also allows nurses to specialize in certain roles such as anesthetist, midwife, or clinical nurse.

In order to practice, RNs have to pass the written and practical sections of the National Council Licensure Examination after graduating from an approved nursing program. Licensure requirements vary by state and RNs have to complete continuing education credits annually to retain their license.

LPN programs can be found in community colleges and technical schools. Classes consist of in-classroom studies and projects as well as hands-on experience in clinical settings. Each institution has its own admission requirements and credit policies, and some will allow LPN credits to count for a nursing degree requirement.

LPNs must go through a background check and provide their fingerprints to begin the licensing process. Just like RNs, LPNs have to pass a national licensing exam (the NCLEX-PN) and complete continuing education credits annually to maintain a valid nursing license. Each state has their own continuing education requirements.


LPN: Certificate and Diploma Programs

LPNs, also known as LVNs (licensed vocational nurses), have to complete at least a year of training through a certificate or diploma program. Afterward, they must pass their state-sanctioned NCLEX-PN exam.

Program requirements, whether it’s a diploma or certificate program, usually include clinical work, 40-60 credits of coursework, and a capstone project – lasting at least 12 months. Clinical simulations and in-person components are required for all practical nurses, whether it’s an on-campus or online program. Designated local facilities are assigned to online students so they can complete their in-person component requirement. Clinical simulations may include taking care of several patients over a long period of time or placing them in single challenging scenarios.

Each state has its own requirements regarding clinical training. Depending on the state, an LPN program may take as long as 18 months to complete.


RN: ADN Program

The associate degree in nursing program prepares students with the fundamental training needed to develop care plans and deliver clinical health services.

ADN programs usually require at least 60-semester credits or two years of study. Some programs may offer accelerated options which allow students to earn their associate degree in just 18 months. LPNs can use their knowledge to help them earn an ADN as part-time students.

ADN programs are offered on-campus and online. Students taking online classes are provided with designated training sites for clinical practice and nursing simulations requirements. Some weeknight and weekend classes may also be available, making these programs flexible enough to fit around a student’s schedule.


RN: BSN Program

For students who want to push their learning further, BSN programs offer a professional-level introduction to nursing. BSN students can expect to take part in specialization opportunities, core nursing classes, and extensive clinical training. Some of the concentrations offered in the BSN program include midwifery, nurse anesthesiology, orthopedics, pediatric endocrinology, and a psychiatric-mental health concentration.

Full-time BSN students can usually complete their program in about four years, while part-time students can usually complete it in five to seven years. Some of the requirements include 120-semester credits and NCLEX-RN preparation classes (taken in the last semester). Students can slow their degree progress if necessary to accommodate either a work schedule or if they simply want to accumulate more hours in a specialty area such as anesthesiology.

Some schools offer accelerated BSN programs that can be completed in as few as two years. Students are required to take 8-week classes year-round, have prior work experience, and fulfill prerequisite courses. Accelerated BSN programs are a great fit for working LPNs and associate-level RNs who want to progress in their careers.

Graduation timelines will depend on a student’s individual course structure. Several universities offer self-paced online programs where students can take as many courses as they want during each term.


LPN and RN Online Programs

Hybrid programs are available for students that lack an extensive clinical background and significant career experience. Students will take online classes and then go to designated training sites to complete any clinical work requirements. Students will participate in several clinical settings, allowing them to experience different patients and working with diverse teams.

Online students will generally do their clinical training at hospitals and primary care clinics, where they have the opportunity to explore public health issues and assess any community health needs. Students who are working as nurses may be able to satisfy some of their clinical requirements through their work if approved.


LPN and RN Licensure


Requirements for LPNs

Once a student graduates and receives a nursing certificate, diploma, or degree from an accredited program approved by their state’s nursing board, they can take the NCLEX-PN exam to receive their licensure. Students with military or international nursing experience can inquire about alternative routes for LPN licensure. Students who plan to work in a different state than their licensing state may acquire licensure through endorsement.

To register for an NCLEX exam, students must pay an exam fee, pay any state-mandated charges, submit formal exam and licensure applications, and be subject to a background check. The exam is usually administered through a computer adaptive format, which means every question and the difficulty level is based on prior responses.

The NCLEX is a pass or fail exam. It takes five hours and is comprised if 85-205 questions. The questions are divided into four categories: physiological integrity, health promotion and maintenance, safe and effective care environments, and psychosocial integrity. Once an LPN receives their license, they must complete a continuing education program that’s approved by the state, be employed as an LPN, and submit fees for renewals every 2-3 years.


Requirements for RNs

Once a student earns their AND or BSN through a program accredited by their state’s nursing board, they can take the NCLEX-RN to receive their nursing license. Before taking the exam, students must send their applications. Depending on the state, a student can send a combined NCLEX and licensing application or send two separate applications. Once a student receives an authorization e-mail from NCSBN, they can pay the fee and schedule their test date.

The NCLEX-RN exam shares some similarities with the NCLEX-PN: they draw their question from the same four categories, the exam is a computer adaptive test, and it’s a pass or fail exam. However, the NCLEX-RN may last up to six hours and consists of 75-265 questions. Also, even though they share the same four categories for the questions, the NCLEX-RN will include more advanced case scenarios. Students should be notified of the results 2-6 weeks after their exam took place.

Just like LPNs, RNs have to renew their licenses, but this time it’s every 2-4 years (varies by state). In order to renew, RNs must have employment, clinical contact hours, and complete continuing education annually. The state determines the continuing education guidelines and may sometimes include specialized training in areas such as HIV/AIDS, child abuse, human trafficking, and opioid addiction.

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