The transition from a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) to a Registered Nurse (RN) is an exciting career step in nursing. LPNs can advance their careers by enrolling in LPN to RN bridge programs to enhance their skills, education, and abilities.
If you’re an LPN who has completed a nursing diploma program and want to know more about this next move, Incredible Health has compiled everything you need to know.
- What is an LPN?
- What is an RN?
- What are the differences between LPNs and RNs?
- What are the benefits of LPN to RN programs?
- What are the requirements of LPN to RN programs?
- What are pathways for becoming an RN?
What is an LPN?
LPNs are nurses who have graduated from a practical nursing program and passed a nursing board exam to become licensed in their state. LPNs are also called Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN) in Texas and California.
What is an RN?
Registered Nurses (RN) have also graduated from a nursing school and passed the NCLEX-RN exam in their state. They hold a college degree in nursing, so they have more advanced education than an LPN.
What are the differences between LPNs and RNs?
Although they may work together in many settings, LPNs and RNs are very different.
|Program length||1 year||2- or 4-year program|
|Program complexity||Teaches basic hands-on care||Includes nursing theory and evidence-based practice|
|Prerequisites||High school diploma||High school diploma and some may require college courses|
|Diploma earned||Diploma from their nursing school||Associate’s or bachelor’s nursing degree|
LPN and RN responsibilities differ in their scope of practice. Scope of practice means what is allowed under the terms of their license. Each state’s Nurse Practice Act defines what nurses can do in their state.
States vary on what their LPNs are allowed to do. According to the National Council on State Boards of Nursing, LPNs in most states are allowed to:
- Assess and monitor vital signs
- Administer meds and injections (except high-risk medications such as heparin)
- Monitor blood transfusions
- Perform basic nursing care (wound care, catheter insertion, nasogastric tubes, etc.)
- Provide safety and comfort for patients (bathing, dressing, toileting)
- Reinforce patient teaching
In most states, LPNs are not allowed to:
- Independently develop the plan of care
- Make changes in the plan of care
- Perform telephone triage
The scope of practice for RNs allows them to perform all of the LPN tasks plus additional responsibilities such as:
- Assessing, monitoring, and revising nursing care plans
- Delegating tasks
- Hanging blood products and IV fluids or meds and start transfusions
- Initiating, administering, and titrating routine and high-risk IV push meds
- Performing admissions and discharges, or make referrals
- Providing patient education
LPN and RN programs differ in length and complexity. LPN programs typically last one year and teaches students the basics of hands-on nursing care.
RN programs last 2–4 years and cover more courses such as research and management. They may also require certain college courses before admission.
LPNs and RNs earn different diplomas. LPNs who complete their nursing program earn an LPN or LVN diploma. RNs earn either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
After graduation, both nurses must pass the NCLEX board exam to become licensed nurses in their state. LPN/LVNs take the NCLEX-PN, whereas RNs take the NCLEX-RN.
Salaries vary regionally. California, Hawaii, and Oregon are among the highest paying states for RNs. Incredible Health’s free nursing salary estimator tool can show you what you might make in your state.
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What are the benefits of LPN to RN programs?
LPNs wanting to level up in their careers can explore LPN to RN programs. Completing an LPN to RN program prepares nurses to apply for an RN license.
Career advancement opportunities
RNs have multiple advantages over LPNs, including greater job opportunities because they have college degrees. RNs can hold supervisor or manager positions because they have a greater scope of practice.
What are the requirements of LPN to RN programs?
Nurses returning to school for an RN degree must devote time to their education. Overall, LPN to RN bridge programs may take 2–4 years, depending on whether students attend classes part- or full-time. However, some online programs advertise that their coursework can be completed in as few as 12 months.
Application prerequisites for most LPN to RN programs include:
- High school diploma or GED
- Active, unencumbered LPN license
- Diploma or transcript from an accredited LPN program
- GPA of 2.0 or higher (schools vary)
- 6-12 months of work experience (determined by the state board of nursing)
- Current BLS/CPR certification
- College credits in general courses including Algebra or Statistics, English Composition, Human Growth and Development, Microbiology, Psychology, and Sociology
Additionally, some schools require:
- Writing samples
- National League of Nursing (NLN) Acceleration Challenge exams
- Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exams
LPN to RN courses vary by school but generally include adult nursing and assessment, pediatric nursing and assessment, pharmacology, and communication.
What to expect as a student
As a student, nurses will attend classes or lectures to learn nursing theory and complete clinicals for real-world nursing experiences. Here’s a sample class schedule for an LPN to RN program:
- Semester 1
- English Composition I (3 credits)
- Fundamentals of Biology (4 credits)
- Semester 2
- Introduction to Psychology (3 credits)
- Microbiology (4 credits)
- Human Anatomy and Physiology I (4 credits)
- Evidence-Based practice (1 credit)
- Semester 3
- Intro to Speech (3 credits)
- Human Anatomy and Physiology II (4 credits)
- Medication Math I (1 credit)
- Lifespan Growth and Development (3 credits)
- Nutrition (3 credits)
- Semester 4
- Transition to RN (3 credits)
- Semester 5
- Concepts of Nursing Practice I (5 credits)
- Concepts of Nursing Practice II (5 credits)
- Semester 6
- Concepts of Nursing Practice III (5 credits)
- Psychiatric Nursing (4 credits)
- Semester 7
- Concepts of Family Nursing (4 credits)
- Complex Issues in Healthcare (5 credits)
- Nursing Leadership (2 credits)
Expert advice from nurses like you
Students pursuing an LPN to RN program must also consider the financial commitment. The estimated cost for ADN programs is between $6,000-$20,000 at public schools or $30,000-$100,000 at private schools. BSN programs can cost $40,000-$100,000.
Aside from tuition, nursing students are also responsible for lab fees, textbooks, and other student fees such as parking passes or library cards.
LPN to RN students may qualify for federal student aid, grants, or scholarships while pursuing their college degrees.
What are pathways to becoming and RN?
As an LPN wanting to advance your career, the first step is choosing a degree path. There are two choices for LPNs, either ADN or BSN program.
LPN to ADN
Nurses who want to become an RN often choose the ADN route. The LPN to ADN program is the shorter path and rewards students with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN).
Later on, ADN nurses can explore RN to BSN programs, which last 1-2 years.
LPN to BSN
The more expensive and longer path is the LPN to BSN degree option. It takes nearly twice as long but rewards nurses with a 4-year college degree. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is the better option for nurses who want to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice degree or want to be managers or leaders in their specialty. Most employers will be requiring a BSN in order to get a job, so this is something you want to think about.
Both degrees qualify you to take the NCLEX-RN board exam. After you pass this exam, you’ll become a licensed RN!
Now you know the ins and outs of moving from an LPN to an RN so you can make the right choice for your future. And remember, no matter your choice, you will be making a difference in your patients’ lives!
If you’re still undecided, check out Incredible Health’s nursing career resources for more help planning your next move.
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- “Nurse Practice Act.” ncsbn.org. Accessed July 1, 2022.
- “Practical Nurse Scope of Practice White Paper”. ncsbn.org. Accessed June 27, 2022.
- “Registered Nurses”. bls.gov. Accessed June 27, 2022.
- “Transition LVN to RN”. howardcollege.edu. Accessed July 2, 2022.