When most people think of a nurse, they don’t know the difference between LPN vs RN. However, the truth remains that despite the similar titles, LPNs (also known as licensed vocational nurses, LVN) and RNs have very different roles and responsibilities in their respective job settings.
If you’re considering the option to go into nursing, understanding the many differences between becoming an LPN vs. RN can help you make a better decision regarding which nursing career path is right for you.
LPN vs RN Job Responsibilities
With a general idea of how to become a LPN, or how to become a registered nurse, you can better determine which job is more suitable for you. It is worth noting that each state has its own specific requirements and job responsibilities outlined for LPNs and RNs, so speaking generally as to what a “typical” day looks like in each position is quite difficult. Still, there are a few generalizations that tend to remain true regardless of where you work.
For starters, RNs tend to have a higher level of responsibility when it comes to working with patients, in addition to being more independent in their work. As a result, they also tend to earn more and are required to complete more training. Furthermore, both jobs offer a great deal of variety; LPNs and RNs alike tend to enjoy the fact that each day comes with new and unique challenges.
Typical LPN Job Duties
A licensed practical nurse has a few main job duties for which he or she is responsible. These include:
- handling basic care, such as changing bandages
- assisting patients with dressing, bathing, etc.
- monitoring patient vitals carefully
- keeping track of health records
- providing vital information to doctors and RNs
In many settings, an LPN will actually report directly to an RN, so it can be useful to think of a licensed practical nurse as being one step below a registered nurse in terms of “climbing the ladder.” Of course, this isn’t to say that working to become an RN is a better decision based on that alone. Many people find themselves more fulfilled in the position of LPN.
Typical RN Job Duties
Generally, a registered nurse will have more responsibilities in terms of caring for patients due to the higher level of training and education required. In addition to being held responsible for handling the basic duties of an LPN, they will also have addition job requirements, such as:
- writing customized care plans for patients
- working with patients’ families
- handling diagnostics and interpreting test results
- carrying out treatments and providing medications
- utilizing medical equipment
As you can probably see, registered nurses tend to work more directly with patients and have a higher level of involvement in their treatment and care. Furthermore, they take on the added responsibility of working with a patient’s family members and loved ones. Of course, a specific registered nurse job description can vary greatly from one state to the next, and differences may also arise based on the particular work setting (hospital, pediatric clinic, etc.) in which you’re working.
Speaking of work environments, it’s also worth taking the time to understand the various settings in which an LPN vs. RN may work on a daily basis, along with the types of salaries that can be expected in each position.
Salaries and Work Settings
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a registered nurse is around $65,000 per year, whereas the average LPN salary is closer to $40,000. That’s a difference of about $25,000 per year, which is a significant amount, though it is also worth noting that a larger investment will be required up-front to pay for the additional education and training required to become a registered nurse. If interested, we have conveniently provided an article specifying the nursing salaries for different types of nurses.
When it comes to work settings, most LPNs (around 30% of them) find themselves in long-term care facilities, such as nursing and retirement homes. In this type of work setting, LPNs typically assist in bathing and providing general care to patients, taking their vital signs, and helping with the administering of medications. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that a lot of LPNs will opt for working in long-term care facilities because their chances of promotion/moving up are much higher in these settings. Within a few years, many LPNs in this setting will find themselves in supervisory roles.
LPNs who don’t go into long-term care typically work in hospitals and doctor’s offices, though with a higher number of RNs working in these settings, their chances for advancement aren’t quite as high.
Demand and Job Outlook
Both LPNs and RNs have a high demand, with the need for these professionals only expected to continue growing over the years. This is good news for those considering either career as an option. However, it is worth noting that the demand for RNs is currently growing at a higher rate than LPNs. Specifically, the projected growth for LPNs is 22% through 2020, whereas the RN projection is closer to 26%. Not a huge difference, but still something worth keeping in mind as you decide which career option is best for you.
Education and Training Requirements
Aside from the differences between LPN vs. RN job responsibilities, there are also some major differences in the education and training requirements for each position. By understanding how to become a registered nurse and how to become a licensed practical nurse, you can better understand what to expect when it comes time to explore LPN programs or RN programs for your ideal career path.
For readers who have already earned a Bachelor’s degree there are programs available to accelerate your schooling — accelerated nursing programs.
LPN Training and Education
If you’re looking for the fastest path to working in the nursing field, then a career as an LPN may be your best option; it takes significantly less time to complete the formal educations to become an LPN than it does for an RN. As a result, you can also expect to spend a lot less on your education and training. In fact, depending on how many courses/credit hours you’re able to take at once, it is possible to complete your formal education requirements to become an LPN in as little as a year.
Depending on the state in which you live, you typically have two options when it comes to how to become a LPN. You may either complete a specialized certificate program, or you may complete an Associate’s degree program, or complete an online Associate’s degree in nursing. Which option is best for you will vary based on your long-term career goals. Because certificate program credits cannot be applied to future higher education, you will typically only want to utilize this option if you don’t plan on furthering your education (such as becoming an RN) down the road.
On the other hand, if you have any aspirations to take your nursing career further, then completing an Associate’s program is generally going to be your best option. With Associate’s degree credits, you can always apply those credits to further higher education, such as a Bachelor’s degree.
Regardless of the path you choose to take in completing your LPN educational requirements, you’ll want to find an accredited school through which to obtain your degree or certification. Depending on your current lifestyle and scheduling needs, you may consider a program that meets for classes at a physical campus or even online associate programs. Either way, you can expect to take classes in the following subject areas:
- nutrition and diet
- medical terminology
- nursing care
In addition to these core classes, some degree programs will also require you to take certain general education prerequisites before enrolling. Furthermore, depending on the level of demand for the program in which you’re enrolling, you may also be required to take an entrance exam.
RN Training and Education
Wondering how to become an RN? Much like the path to becoming an LPN, you have options to choose from. In order to become an RN, you can choose from the three following options for completing your education:
- obtaining a diploma
- completing an Associate’s degree program
- completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
The most common route people take in order to become an RN is to complete an Associate’s degree program in nursing. This typically takes around two years, though this will again depend on whether you take classes on a full- or part-time basis.
So, how can you determine which education option is best for you? If you plan on working as a registered nurse indefinitely, then a simple diploma program may be suitable for you. However, much like a diploma program’s credits don’t transfer to higher education for LPNs, the same applies to RNs. Therefore, if you plan on ever furthering your education, such as enrolling in RN to BNS programs, then you’ll probably want to opt for an Associate’s degree program. This way, your credits can be transferred to your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program down the road.
LPN Certification and Licensure
Upon completion of your formal education requirements to become an LPN, you’ll also need to become licensed in the state in which you plan on working. Once you’ve graduated from your degree or diploma program, you will be able to sign up to take the NCLEX-PN, which is short for the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses.
You will take this exam on a computer at a local testing facility, and it will consist of anywhere from 100-200 test questions over the course of an allotted five hours. Some of the more common subject areas for questions on this exam include:
- health care and maintenance
- safety in the workplace
- physiological and psychosocial guidelines
The multiple-choice test may be re-taken anywhere from 45 to 90 days later if you don’t pass the first time around. However, considering the fact that you must generally pay out of your own pocket to take the exam each time, you’ll obviously want to do your best to pass the first time around.
Once you’re certified as an LPN, you can make yourself more competitive in the field by obtaining additional certifications and credentials through a local college or other program. For example, you could consider an additional certification in long-term care if you wish to work in a nursing home. If you’re interested in finding out more about RN to BSN programs online, check out RNtoBSNOnlineProgram.com.
RN Certification and Licensure
Much like the process of becoming an LPN, you will need to pass a national examination in order to become a registered nurse after completing your formal education requirements. The specific exam you will need to pass is the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Much like the LPN exam, this is a computerized test that is multiple-choice in nature and that you may re-take if you don’t pass the first time around. Upon obtaining your certification as an RN, you can officially begin applying for jobs and working in the field.
Which Path is Right for You?
Now that you have a better idea of what it’s like working as an LPN vs RN, along with the different requirements needed to work in these careers, hopefully you’ll be in a better position to make a decision on your own nursing career. Keep in mind that you can always start off by completing an Associate’s program to become an LPN and, if desired, return to school later on to become an RN. This is a common path that many people choose to take in order to improve their earnings potential and level of job responsibility/independence.
Generally speaking, if you’re looking to get your foot in the door in the nursing field and don’t want to make a huge time or financial investment, then a career as an LPN is likely a good place to start. On the other hand, if you want to earn a higher salary and have a stronger job outlook (in addition to having a wider selection of settings to work in), then a career as a RN is probably a better option. However, it is worth noting that you will need to invest more time and money into your education right off-the-bat with this option.
LPN vs RN. Choosing the Right Program
Regardless of the path you choose to take in order to get started in your nursing career, the fact remains that choosing the right degree program is important. After all, your degree program will ultimately set the stage for your future performance as a nurse, whether you become an LPN or RN.
Specifically, you’ll want to find a degree program that is fully accredited. These days, many students working to become a nurse also choose to enroll in fully online degree programs. Taking this route has a number of advantages. For starters, it allows you to broaden your horizons when it comes to the school you choose, since you’re not bound for geographical constraints. For instance, a few of the top schools that have fully online programs include:
- Kaplan University
- Capella University
- Grand Canyon University
Furthermore, by enrolling in an online degree program, you can enjoy the added convenience of taking classes from your own computer and more or less at your own pace. This makes it much easier for those with already busy schedules to complete their nursing programs—such as those working full-time jobs or taking care of a family.
The Bottom Line
Both LPN and RN paths can be rewarding career options for those who enjoy helping others and working in a hospital or similar setting. While RNs generally have more responsibilities and take on supervisory roles over LPNs and also have higher earning potential, working as an LPN can be a great starting point or even long-term career option for many. Ultimately, it’s most important to consider your short- and long-term career and earnings goals when deciding which option is for you. From there, you can begin exploring your schooling and degree options, and ultimately choose the option that’s best for your needs.
Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between LPN vs. RN careers and what each entails, what steps will you take to pursue your career goals?