RN vs. LPN: What’s the Difference Between RN and LPN?

If you’re considering a career in healthcare, you might be curious about the differences between some of the most common nursing career paths. In particular, you might be interested in what makes a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) different from a Registered Nurse (RN). While both take care of patients in a variety of healthcare settings, these types of nurses have different job responsibilities, degree programs, licensing requirements, salaries, and job outlooks. So as you plan your nursing education, take a look at the key differences between the LPN and RN career paths.

Job Duties of RN vs. LPN

Every job in healthcare has its own unique role in meeting the needs of patients, so it’s no surprise that LPNs and RNs have different job responsibilities.

LPN Job Duties

In general, LPNs are responsible for providing basic care for patients, often while an RN supervises. Some examples of patient care within the scope of practice of a licensed practical nurse include:

  • Feeding patients
  • Bathing and dressing patients
  • Cleaning wounds
  • Changing bandages
  • Monitoring blood pressure
  • Checking temperatures
  • Inserting catheters
  • Talking to patients about their health
  • Reporting symptoms, vital signs, and more to other medical professionals

LPNs can work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and home health care.

RN Job Duties

In healthcare settings where LPNs are part of the medical team, RNs usually supervise them as part of their job. But when there are no LPNs working, RNs have to perform their job duties, in addition to the following:

  • Give patients medication
  • Operate medical equipment
  • Create patient care plans
  • Draw blood
  • Insert IV drips
  • Collect lab samples
  • Perform diagnostic tests and read results
  • Collaborate with the rest of the medical team for proper patient care
  • Give patients treatment instructions for when they leave the healthcare facility

Note that most RNs work in general medical or hospital settings, as about 58% choose this type of health facility. The rest work in doctor’s offices, home health care, and nursing homes. Additionally, some RNs choose a specialization within the nursing field, such as pediatric, geriatric, or neonatal care.

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Education Requirements of RN vs. LPN

Another difference between LPN and RN is the type of nursing program that’s required. LPN programs and RN programs differ in length and coursework.

LPN Programs

To become a licensed practical nurse, you have to complete an LPN program. You can do this in as little as one year if you choose a diploma program at a local community college. If you want to earn an associate degree rather than a diploma, it will usually take about two years to complete the practical nursing program.

Either way, you’ll learn basic nursing knowledge in the classroom, such as human development, nutrition, biology, pharmacology, and nursing care for patients of all ages. You’ll also get supervised clinical experience.

Note that if you’re in California or Texas, you’ll need to look for LVN programs instead of LPN. That’s because, in these states, licensed practical nurses are called licensed vocational nurses, or LVNs, but the education you’ll get is the same as in every other state.

RN Programs

To become an RN, you’ll need a college degree rather than a diploma. There are two main ways to get the education you need to become a registered nurse. One is to get an associate degree in nursing (ADN), which usually takes two to three years. Coursework goes over advanced healthcare concepts, evidence-based nursing skills, mental health, and more.

The other option is to get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Like other bachelor’s degrees, the BSN can take four to five years to complete. But it can make new nurses more competitive in their job search, putting them closer to accomplishing their career goals as they work in the medical field.

Licensure for RN vs. LPN

Whether you want to become a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse, you need to complete an approved nursing program and then pass the NCLEX exam to get licensed.

Getting Licensed as a Practical Nurse

Once you finish a practical nursing program, you’ll get a certification as this type of nurse. But to get licensed—and get a job as an LPN—you need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). More specifically, you need to pass the NCLEX-PN, as this is the test made for practical nurses.

Getting Licensed as a Registered Nurse

To become a registered nurse, you need to first complete an RN program to get the certification. Then you need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

RN vs. LPN Salary

Another difference between LPNs and RNs is the average salary.

LPN Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), licensed practical nurses made a median rate of $48,820 per year, or $23.47 per hour, in 2020.

RN Salary

RNs usually have a higher salary than LPNs on average. The BLS reports that the median RN annual salary in 2020 was $75,330, or $36.22 per hour.

Job Growth for RN vs. LPN

The outlook for most nursing jobs is bright, as there’s high demand in healthcare. This is largely due to one of the biggest generations—the baby boomers—getting older. Of course, different areas of the medical field have varying predictions for job growth.

Job Outlook for LPNs

The BLS reports that the demand for LPNs will grow by 9% from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than the average job growth. Demand will be especially high in-home health care and residential care facilities due to greater numbers of older patients.

Job Outlook for RNs

The BLS predicts a slightly lower—but still promising—job outlook for RNs, as demand for this role will increase by 7% from 2019 to 2029. This is due to an aging population, increased focus on preventive care, and higher rates of chronic issues like obesity and diabetes.

As you can see, there are some big differences between licensed practical nurses and registered nurses. If you’re not sure which type of nursing degree you want, it may be best to start as an LPN, as this is the fastest way to enter the healthcare field. If you find you eventually want to become an RN instead, you can always further your education by enrolling in an LPN-to-RN program. To get started on the path to becoming a licensed practical nurse, start looking at LPN programs in your state today!