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Licensed Practical Nurse vs Registered Nurse - How to Grow as a Nurse

Nursing is a unique field due to the varying levels of education and licensure that allow a person to practice as a nurse. Two of the most common types of nurses are License Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs). Exact differences between these two types of nurses vary by state and are outlined in each individual state's Nurse Practice Act. The local State Board of Nursing can also provide clarification on differences between the two roles at the state level.

Licensed Practical Nurse Job Description LPNs work in many different settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and doctors' offices. They are part a comprehensive health care team including certified nursing assistants (CNAs), RNs and physicians. LPNs provide basic nursing care to patients of all ages. Depending on the setting, they may practice individually, but often they work in conjunction with RNs. Specific scope of practice varies by state, but generally, an LPN can administer oral medications, give intramuscular injections and perform certain procedures. LPN's may also be responsible for other aspects of patient care such as assistance with bathing, dressing, eating or ambulating. LPNs may perform assessments of patients such as taking a pulse, taking a blood pressure reading or listening to a heartbeat. Shift work is typical of nursing and may require working evenings, nights, weekends and holidays. As LPNs are at the entry level of the nursing profession, pay is less than an RN. According to Payscale.com, in 2012 the yearly salary for an LPN ranged from $28,125 to $50,684 with a median salary of $37,381.

Registered Nurse Job Description

RNs are an integral part of the health care team. RNs provide comprehensive nursing care, above and beyond the scope of an LPN. RNs are responsible for formulating nursing diagnoses, establishing nursing patient care plans, and performing nursing patient assessments. RNs delegate patient care tasks to other nursing staff, including LPNs. RNs can also perform advanced nursing procedures such as central line care, intravenous medication administration and chemotherapy administration. Depending on the setting, RNs may supervise one or more LPNs. RNs usually work shifts which may include workings nights, evenings, holidays and weekends. RNs carry more responsibility and as such, are more highly compensated than LPNs. According to Payscale.com, in 2012 the yearly salary for an RN ranged from $40,999 to $79,334 with a median salary of $55,043.

Differences in education

LPNs are graduates of a nursing program that generally lasts six to eighteen months. The program awards a certificate, but no degree, to its students. LPN nursing programs may be flexible with classes in the evenings or part-time schedules. Curriculum covers the very basics of nursing education. Graduates of a LPN program are eligible to sit for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing exam for LPNs, the NCLEX-PN. Once the exam is passed, students may then apply for licensure as a LPN from the state.

In contrast, RNs earn either an Associate's or Bachelor's degree. These degree programs vary from two years in length for an Associate's degree to four years in length for a Bachelor's degree. More in depth nursing education is provided, along with more foundational courses such as biology, chemistry and human anatomy. Bachelor degree programs also provide a stronger focus on nursing theory and research. Graduates of nursing program earning an Associate's degree or Bachelor's degree are eligible to sit for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing exam for RNs, the NCLEX-RN. Once the exam is passed, students may then apply for licensure as an RN from the state.


Educational opportunities are available for LPNs who wish to become RNs without having to start from the beginning. Known as LPN to RN bridge programs, LPNs are given credit for the nursing education and experience already earned prior to starting a RN program. These programs are typically shorter than a traditional Associate's or Bachelor's degree program because the education and experience of the LPN is taken into account. The LPN to RN programs allow a LPN to earn an Associate's degree while the LPN to BSN programs provide a Bachelor's degree. These programs are widely available at many community colleges and universities around the country. One advantage of shift work is the ability to work evenings and weekends, which may make attending classes during the day easier, while still being able to maintain an income. Traditional classes also offer the benefit hands-on, face to face instruction, which some students may find to be beneficial.

LPN to RN online degree programs can be an excellent choice for a working LPN. Due to the shift work nature of the nursing, trying to attend school on a traditional schedule can be difficult. LPN to RN online programs allow students to study and complete coursework when it is most convenient, providing the ability to work around various shifts. While the coursework of a LPN to RN program can be completed online, it is important to note that clinical experiences must be completed in person. Clinical experiences can be arranged locally so no travel is needed. The number of clinical hours required varies by state. LPN to RN online degree programs can be a convenient choice for a busy working LPN, but the tuition cost may be higher than a traditional on campus program. An online based program will also require the student to be very familiar with computers and other technologies as this will be the main form of contact and education provided.

Admission requirements to LPN to RN programs can vary by school. A valid LPN license with recent work experience is typically required. Additional coursework may be required prior to admission to the LPN to RN program if certain subjects were not part of the LPNs education. Requirements may include biology, chemistry, mathematics and psychology. Passing grades are necessary in prior coursework with a minimum grade point average requirement. If more than five years has lapsed since prior coursework was completed, a refresher course may be required. Some schools require passing an assessment test prior to admission. LPNs may also need to provide letters of recommendation or write an essay prior to admission.

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