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.
LPN to RN
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.