Registered Nurses and Licenced Practical Nurses have a fair amount of things in common. Both professions are invaluable to the healthcare industry and LPNs, just as much as RNs, play a great role in saving lives, helping millions of people, and making patient care a little better every day.
While both career paths share this underlying importance, they are quite different in many ways. LPNs and RNs undergo different education, training, and certification paths which prepare them for distinctive scopes of practice. Their job prospects, work environments, as well as salary potential also differ. In this article, we will explore what those differences are and how much they can impact your nursing career.
So if you already have your heart set on nursing but find yourself at a crossroads trying to decide between the LPN and the RN route, we are here to help. Let’s discuss the ins and outs, the similarities and differences between LPNs and RNs.
LPN or LVN: What’s the difference?
You may have seen the terms LVN and LPN used interchangeably and find yourself wondering what’s the connection between the two. The answer has to do with terminology. LVN, or Licensed Vocational Nurse, is the title that Licensed Practical Nurses hold in some states, mainly Texas and California. Essentially, LVN and LPN are the same job – only with different names. Because Licensed Practical Nurse is by far a more widespread job title, that’s the one we will use in this article.
LPN vs. RN: Education Process and Length of Study
There is no better place to start exploring the differences between LPNs and RNs than the first stage: education and training. Most of the subsequent differences between these two career paths naturally stem from the education level and length of study associated with each career.
To begin their nursing career, aspiring Licensed Practical Nurses must enroll in a practical nursing program which generally takes around one year to complete. Some of the courses LPNs must take include nursing, biology, and pharmacology. In addition to the theoretical studies, LPNs must fulfill a certain number of supervised clinical hours. Upon completing the program, the learners are eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) – a comprehensive exam that one must pass to become licensed as an LPN.
Learn more about Nightingale College’s Practical Nursing Diploma Program.
Things stand a little bit differently for Registered Nurses.
In order to become an RN, you can either pursue an Associate’s Degree in Nursing or a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. An ADN usually takes around two years to complete, while a BSN program typically spans up to four years. Courses like social, behavioral, and physical science and hands-on clinical experience are required for both ADN and BSN programs. However, BSN studies also dive into subjects like leadership and management, preparing RNs for a wider pool of career opportunities. After completing the program of your choice, you can gain RN licensure by passing the NCLEX-RN.
The educational path towards LPN licensure is reasonably straightforward – you must pursue and complete a Practical Nurse Diploma Program, which on average takes about a year. On the other hand, Registered Nurses will have to spend anywhere from two to four years studying, depending on their chosen program, ADN or BSN.
LPN vs. RN: Work Settings
One important difference between the two professions is the work environment. Most Licensed Practical Nurses work in long-term care settings. The Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) indicates that almost 40% of the 721,700 LPNs employed in the healthcare sector in 2019 were working in nursing and residential care facilities. Hospitals employ significantly fewer, around 15%. Physicians’ offices and home healthcare services are also on the list of healthcare institutions that hire LPNs, although to a lower degree.
Registered Nurses are mostly employed by hospitals. Over 60% of the 3.1 million RNs from the United States work either in a state, local or private hospital. 18% of RNs work in ambulatory healthcare services, while only 7% seek employment in nursing and residential care facilities.
LPN vs. RN: Differences in Duties and Responsibilities
The differences in work environments are striking, mostly because of the job responsibilities each career entails. LPNs provide a more basic level of care, while the duties of an RN are more complex. Let’s take a closer look at the responsibilities of an LPN versus those of an RN:
LPN Job Duties:
- Licensed Practical Nurses are responsible for monitoring a patient’s health by performing basic tasks like checking blood pressure or temperature.
- They can administer basic levels of care, such as changing bandages, cleaning wounds, or inserting catheters.
- LPNs ensure a patient’s basic level of comfort. In this regard, they help patients bathe, get dressed, eat, or perform other daily activities.
- LPNs report any changes in a patient’s status, any symptoms they observe, or concerns they may have to RNs or doctors.
RN Job Duties:
- Registered Nurses have to assess the patients’ conditions when they first come in.
- They are responsible for recording the patients’ medical histories and keeping track of their symptoms.
- RNs are generally in charge of administering medication and treatments, drawing blood, inserting IV drips.
- They work closely with physicians and other members of the healthcare team to develop and implement treatment plans.
- RNs operate and monitor medical equipment.
- They can perform diagnostic tests and, in some cases, they help analyze the results.
- Registered Nurses also act as educators to their patients, teaching them how to keep illnesses or injuries in check or continue treatment at home after being discharged.
- RNs also oversee LPNs and CNAs.
- The duties of the Registered Nurse can become more focused should they pursue a specific area of nursing. For instance, some of the responsibilities of an Oncology Nurse might differ slightly from those of a Geriatric Nurse, a Neonatal Nurse, or an Orthopedic Nurse.
LPN vs RN: Salary Differences
The difference in education, level of training, and overarching duties lead to one of the most significant differences between Licensed Practical Nurses and Registered Nurses – their earning potential. It’s no secret that the more you advance your education, the higher you can expect your paycheck to be. But what exactly are the salary differences between LPNs and RNs?
According to the most recent Bureau of Labour Statistics data, the average annual wage for Licensed Practical Nurses across the US is $50,090. The top-paying states for LPNs are Alaska, with annual salaries of $67,620; California, where LPNs earn $64,090; and Massachusetts, with yearly salaries of $60,040.
For Registered Nurses, the average salary reported by the BLS is $80,010. In California, you can expect to make up to $120,560 yearly. In Hawaii, your chances of securing a three-figure paycheck are also relatively high. The mean salary for RNs in Hawaii stands at approximately $104,830. Massachusetts is third among the top-paying states for RNs with average wages of $96,250.
As you can see, on average the salary difference between LPNs and RNs is around $30,000 yearly. Bear in mind that wages vary significantly based on many factors like location, employer, certifications, years of experience, and much more.
LPN vs. RN: Job Outlook
Because of the nursing shortage that’s currently crippling the United States healthcare system, the demand for all types of nurses is incredibly high. Filling some specialties is more pressing than others. Let’s look at the difference between LPNs and RNs on the job outlook front.
According to the BLS, the employment of Licensed Practical Nurses is expected to grow 9% by 2029. That means that over 65,700 more LPNs will be needed to ensure adequate levels of care. One of the main reasons for the great job outlook for LPNs is related to the aging of the baby-boomer population. As the “silver tsunami” approaches, the need for healthcare services directed toward the older population is expected to increase. Hence, more LPNs will be needed in residential care facilities and home health environments to care for the seniors.
The job prospects for RNs are equally promising. BLS data indicates that by the end of the decade, the employment of Registered Nurses is projected to grow by 7%. This translates into more than 221,900 RNs needed to join the workforce. On average, there will be around 175,900 job openings for RNs each year over the next ten years.
Overall, both LPNs and RNs have excellent job prospects. The employment for both professions is projected to grow much faster than the national average for all occupations, which currently stands at four percent.
LPN vs. RN: Certification Opportunities
While certification is voluntary in most cases, it is a great way to boost your nursing career – regardless of the level of nursing you’re currently in. The programs you pursue will prepare you with the skill and knowledge to demonstrate quality patient care. Getting certified shows interest and initiative on your part, making you all the more valuable on the job market. Because a current, unencumbered RN license is a standard eligibility criterion for pursuing certification, more certification options are available for Registered Nurses than for LPNs. There are still several highly desirable opportunities to choose from, even for LPNs.
Some common LPN certifications include:
- IV Therapy Certification allows you to administer medication intravenously.
- Long Term Care Certification will give you an edge in providing care in long-term care facilities.
- Wound Care Certification is a common recommendation for LPNs working in hospital settings. It allows them to clean and treat diverse wounds.
Licensed Registered Nurses have an even wider pool of certifications to choose from based on their ambitions, interest, and career goals. Some of these are:
- Nurse Executive Certification – an essential addition to the resume of any RN hoping to pursue managerial positions
- Nursing Informatics Certification allows RNs to blend their interest and pursue jobs that connect technology and nursing.
- Neonatal Care Certification is directed at RNs who want to dedicate their professional expertise to caring for infants born with acute, critical conditions or diseases. This is just one example of a specialty certification. There are many other options to choose from.
Find the top nursing certifications for both RNs and LPNs.
LPN vs. Other Nursing Levels
By now, you should have a pretty clear idea of the differences between LPNs and RNs. But nursing is a field with far more career tracks so let’s take a quick look at how LPNs measure up against some other typical nursing levels.
LPNs vs. CNAs
Due to their limited training, Certified Nursing Assistants offer only the most basic level of care. A CNA certification takes 4 to 12 weeks to obtain. As a result, CNAs help patients with their daily activities (eating, bathing, getting dressed), help move patients around, and fulfill some other basic tasks. CNAs always work under the direct supervision of higher-ranking nurses, like LPNs or RNs.
LPNs vs. APRNs
APRNs are Master educated nurses, so the differences between these two levels of nursing practice will be quite striking. While LPNs offer more basic levels of care, APRNs are far more specialized. LPNs work under the supervision of Registered Nurses, but Advanced Practice Nurses have a lot more autonomy in their practice.
LPN or RN: Which Career Path Is Best for You?
Undoubtedly, both the role of LPN and RN are crucially important to the smooth functioning of the healthcare system and to ensure quality care is offered to those who need it. On one side, it may be easier to become an LPN – it takes less time, the programs are less complicated, and most often less expensive. However, if Registered Nursing is your end goal, it may be worth considering a BSN degree.
In the end, it’s up to you to decide what you want to get out of a nursing career. Do you want to enter the workforce in as short a time as possible, or would you rather spend more time studying and pursue a job with higher salaries and better advancement opportunities? Do you want first to test the waters, or are you committed to becoming a full-time Registered Nurse? Both careers are excellent in their way; you have to choose the one that works for you. In the LPN vs. RN debate, you are the one calling the shots!
And we are here for you whichever way you’re leaning.
Enroll in Nightingale College’s PN Diploma Program and start your LPN journey!