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LPN vs. RN: What’s the Difference?

Breaking down the differences between these two nursing tracks, Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) vs. Registered Nurse (RN), from education to job duties.

Group of nurses, LPNs and RNs

As the demands in healthcare rise, the need for nurses increases as well. Both licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) are in high demand across all healthcare specialties. If you have aspirations of becoming a nurse, you may be wondering: What’s the difference between LPNs and RNs? Which nursing education route should I take? Here’s everything you need to know about the differences between an LPN vs. RN, from education and training to job duties and salaries.

First, what is an LPN? 

While you’re probably familiar with what a registered nurse is, the LPN’s role may be new to you. There’s a common misconception that LPNs aren’t “real nurses,” but they are indeed real, practicing nurses. While RNs sit for the NCLEX-RN, LPNs sit for The National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) and, therefore, have a license to practice nursing. Additionally, Texas and California have licensed vocational nurses (LVNs). But LPNs and LVNs are the same types of nurses, with the only difference being the name. 

RNs and LPNs frequently work collaboratively in healthcare settings, with the RN usually leading the team. Additionally, some RNs started their careers as LPNs and gained hands-on experience before transitioning into the RN role

 

LPN vs. RN duties

LPN duties

LPNs provide nursing care under the supervision of an RN or other healthcare providers, such as physicians or nurse practitioners. While each state has a different scope of practice, every facility has its own policies and procedures related to the care LPNs can give. 

Depending on the scope of practice, LPNs perform a mirage of duties that may include:

  • Monitoring patients’ vital signs
  • Wound care 
  • Communicating with patients, caregivers, and other members of the patient’s healthcare team
  • Documentation
  • Administering medication
  • Collecting specimens
  • Drawing blood
  • Performing care and administering medication to patients with nasogastric or gastrostomy tubes
  • Starting IVs

Please note this is not an all-inclusive or exhaustive list, and some facilities require LPNs to obtain additional certification for IV insertion.

RN duties

RNs have a broader scope of practice and more in-depth knowledge than LPNs, typically serving as supervisors in settings where RNs and LPNs work together.

Depending on their state’s scope of practice, the facility, and their specialty, standard RN duties include: 

  • Administering and monitoring medications
  • Developing and implementing care plans
  • Patient’s initial assessment
  • Performing admissions
  • Discharge planning and education
  • Documentation
  • Wound care
  • Performing diagnostic tests
  • Collaborating with physicians, nurse practitioners, and other members of the medical team
  • Educating and training for patients and caregivers
  • Managing the patient’s care
  • Administering medication
  • Give medication through IVs

Please note this is not an all-inclusive or exhaustive list. RNs can also choose to specialize in specific patient populations or obtain certification in different specialties. For example, some RNs choose to certify in critical care, neonatal, oncology, or leadership.

 

Salary and job outlook for LPNs vs. RNs

Although LPNs and RNs perform some of the same duties, RNs typically earn a higher salary than LPNs because they can perform more complex and high-level care and have more education and a broader scope of practice. Also, salary in both roles depends on education level, experience, geographical location, and the facility. Here’s the mean salary for LPNs and RNs according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

 

Mean annual wage

Mean hourly average

Projected growth from 2019-2029

RN

$80,010

$38.47

7%  

LPN

$50,090

$24.08

9% 

 

 

Differences in education requirements for LPNs and RNs

LPN education requirement

LPNs complete an accredited practical nursing program, and typically these programs last one to two years. Depending on if the program is a one-year diploma program or a two-year associate degree program, graduates earn a certification or an associate’s degree after finishing the program. Upon completion of an accredited practical nursing program, eligible candidates can sit for the NCLEX-PN.

Because LPNs spend less time in their nursing program, they often have a large amount of clinical and lab hours and hands-on training.

RN education requirement

There are three education paths for RNs:

  1. A two-year associate program. You can most often find these programs at community colleges.
  2. A diploma RN program. These programs are offered at hospitals.
  3. A Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN). These are typically three or four-year degree programs at colleges and universities. 

Aspiring RNs can enter pre-licensure BSN programs and complete their prerequisites for the first two years and the nursing courses for the last two. After completing the program, eligible candidates can sit for the NCLEX-RN. Note: Aspen University’s accelerated BSN Pre-Licensure program can be completed in three years.

Overall, LPN programs tend to focus on the how, while RN programs focus on the how and why. 

 

LPN vs. RN: The Bottom Line

Title:

LPN

RN

School curriculum may include:

  • Human Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Intermediate Algebra

Basic or entry-level understanding of:

  • Fundamental or Basic Concepts of Nursing
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Adult Health
  • Maternal and Child Health
  • Pharmacology
  • Human Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • College Algebra
  • Public Speaking

In-depth understanding of:

  • Health Assessment
  • Fundamentals of Nursing
  • Professional and Legal Aspects of Nursing Practice
  • Community Health
  • Child Health 
  • Adult Health
  • Pharmacology

Transition to Professional Practice

Clinical and lab hours needed to complete nursing program:

Yes

Yes

Career opportunities:

  • Nursing homes
  • Home health care agencies
  • Correctional facilities
  • Health departments
  • Schools
  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Physician offices
  • Outpatient centers
  • Dialysis clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Insurance companies
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Surgical centers
  • Colleges and universities
  • Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals
  • Home health care agencies
  • Hospice agencies

Education pathways:

  • One-year practical nursing program (diploma)
  • Two-year practical nursing program (associate’s degree in applied science)

Usually found in technical or community colleges

  • Two-year associate science in nursing degree
  • Diploma RN program
  • BSN program

Usually found in community colleges or 4-year colleges or universities 

 

Whether you’re an LPN who’s considering becoming an RN or an associate-prepared RN who wants to further your education, Aspen University’s BSN programs have something to offer all nurses. 

 

Portia WoffordPortia Wofford is an award-winning nurse, writer, and digital marketer. After dedicating her nursing career to creating content and solutions for employers that affected patient outcomes, these days, Portia empowers health practices to increase growth opportunities and become the number one providers in their communities through engaging content that connects and converts. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest.


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