If you feel called to the nursing profession, understanding the key differences between a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and a Registered Nurse (RN) can help you decide your career path. Each option comes with unique roles within the healthcare industry.
LPNs and RNs are two of the most common types of nurses. As the U.S. population continues to age, the demand for both is expected to rise. Before you decide whether to become an LPN or an RN, check out the information in this article that explores both nursing positions. In this article you’ll learn:
- Similarities between LPNs and RNs
- Differences between LPNs and RNs
- Education paths for LPNs and RNs
- Career outlook and advancement for LPNs and RNs
- Deciding which career is best for you
Similarities between LPNs and RNs
To compare the similarities between the two nursing licenses, you first must understand the scope of practice for each. LPNs and RNs are both involved in direct patient care to varying degrees. One of their main tasks is to ensure the emotional and physical well-being of their patients.
Another parallel between LPNs and RNs is their employability. Employment opportunities are plentiful regardless of which nursing career path you choose. Both LPNs and RNs can work in healthcare settings like hospitals, medical offices, nursing homes, and urgent care.
Differences between LPNs and RNs
When it comes to differences between the two nursing careers, one of the most prominent is the level of education required for each. Some healthcare employers require RNs to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) which can take up to 4 years.
LPNs can finish their ADN degree in about 2 years or a certificate program in as little as a year. It depends on whether they attend full- or part-time. Sometimes you will hear LPNs referred to as Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs). LVNs are the same as LPNs and both work under the supervision of RNs. The difference is in name only. Some states, like CA and TX, use LVN while the rest of the country uses LPN.
Another difference between LPNs and RNs is the level of care they can administer. RNs can administer medications, create and manage healthcare treatment plans, and assist doctors and surgeons during exams and treatments.
|Requirements||Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)||Registered Nurse (RN)|
|Education||12-18 months in an accredited nursing program||4 years BSN degree from an accredited nursing program|
|Job duties||Beside patient care; recording patient history; giving medication prescribed by a doctor; taking vitals.||Administering medications and prescribed treatments; assisting in medical duties; beside care; educating patients and families on care and treatment plans; supervising LPNs and vocational nurses.|
|Licensure||Verification of graduation from an approved LPN nursing education program, plus successful completion of the NCLEX-PN exam.||Verification of graduation from a BSN program, plus verification of successfully passing the NCLEX-RN exam.|
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Education paths for LPNs and RNs
The education paths for LPNs and RNs looks quite different. LPNs spend fewer hours in nursing school and take a different version of the NCLEX exam to earn their licensure. RNs commit to more schooling and take on additional coursework that includes management skills.
Some RNs choose to earn their licensure before completing a BSN degree program. They work while attending an online or local BSN program to advance their education.
There are several reasons why earning a BSN degree is worth the time and expense. According to the most recent data, only 56% of RNs in the U.S. have a BSN degree.
As more healthcare facilities and states begin requiring BSN degrees to work as an RN, those numbers are expected to increase. This is especially true for Magnet® hospitals.
Most RNs have completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree before taking the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain their licensure. While you can become an RN without first earning a BSN, more healthcare employers are requiring a BSN for RN positions.
If you’re an RN without a BSN degree, you can fast-track your education to earn your degree. If you have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, you can complete the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program which can be completed in 2 years or less.
Conversely, LPNs only need to complete an ADN or a one-year practical nursing certificate from an accredited nursing program and pass the NCLEX-PN exam to earn their licensure.
Since LPNs require less schooling, their financial commitment is less than RNs. Depending on the length of the program, most LPNs can expect to invest between $5,000 and $25,000 in their education. That cost covers all books, fees, and tuition.
RNs spend considerably more for their educations because they must earn a BSN, which takes up to four years. Selecting a BSN program adds to the financial cost, estimated at between $40,000 and $200,000.
Career Outlook and Advancement for LPNs and RNs
Demand for both LPNs and RNs continues to rise, with the need for RNs slightly higher because of their advanced education levels and management skills. The nursing profession continues to grow rapidly because of an aging population that requires ongoing healthcare services.
In addition to giving nurses more job options, a Registered Nurse certification increases a nurse’s earning potential. The average salary for an LPN in the United States is $51,850. This compares to an average salary for an RN of $82,750.
For licensed practical nurses, California tops the list of highest-paying states with an average annual wage of $65,140. Alaska comes in second with an average salary of $63,650. Washington state tops out at $63,250.
Again, California is the highest-paying state for RNs, with an annual average salary of $124,000. Following is Hawaii, at $106,530, and Oregon at $98,6300. Washington, D.C. also ranks among the top-paying U.S. regions with an average RN salary of $98,540.
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Deciding which is best for you
Choosing whether to become an LPN or an RN can be difficult. You must weigh the pros and cons of both nursing roles to determine which one fits your nursing career path. If you enjoy bedside patient care and do not want to go into debt to become a nurse, choosing an LPN program may work well for your career goals.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys enrichment and career growth, becoming an RN might make more sense. An RN licensure and BSN degree opens the door to career advancement.
LPNs have several career opportunities if they want to grow in their nursing field. Among their options:
- Earn a BSN degree to qualify for nursing positions not open to LPNs, such as supervisory roles.
- Pursue certification to demonstrate advanced competency in a specific setting or nursing specialty.
RNs also have plenty of career advancement opportunities. As an RN, you can:
- Become a nurse manager or supervisor for a clinic, hospital, or urgent care.
- Continue with your education to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.
- Pursue certification in a nursing specialty open to RNs.
Long-term vs. short-term goals
Examining your long- and short-term goals can help you decide whether to become an LPN or RN. If your short-term career goals include becoming a nurse as soon as possible, then choosing the LPN career path may be best. You can complete the required schooling, take your NCLEX exam, and be working in the healthcare setting of your choice in about a year.
If your long-term nursing career goals include learning new skills or gaining management experience, it’s worth the effort to attend the extra schooling to become an RN.
Now that you have more information comparing LPN and RN nursing career choices, you can make an informed decision about the right choice with your short- and long-term goals in mind. It’s never a bad idea to make a pros and cons list for each nursing degree to help you choose if you’re still struggling.
Just remember that no matter whether you become an LPN or an RN, you’re making an impact in the healthcare world. Join our nursing forum and let us help you in your next steps!
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- About Nursing Licensure. ncsbn.org. Accessed May 19, 2022.
- ANCC Magnet Recognition Program®. nursingworld.org. Accessed May 26, 2022.
- Becoming an LPN or LVN Cost. education.costhelper.com. Accessed May 19, 2022.
- Becoming a Registered Nurse Cost. education.costhelper.com. Accessed May 19, 2022.
- Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses. bls.gov. Accessed May 19, 2022.
- LPN vs. RN Infographic: What’s the Difference? goodwin.edu. Accessed May 25, 2022.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook. bls.gov. Accessed May 19, 2022.
- The Differences and Similarities Between LPNs and RNs. chartercollege.edu. Accessed May 19, 2022.
- Types of Nursing Specialties: 20 Fast-Growing Nursing Fields. gmercy.edu. Accessed May 19, 2022.
- Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash