Registered Nurse vs. Licensed Practical Nurse
Before you decide on an entry-level nursing program, compare RN vs. LPN education requirements.
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Even though they sound similar, if you compare registered nurse vs. licensed practical nurse careers and education you’ll see they have fairly little in common in terms of job tasks, educational paths, and salary ranges.
LPNs usually provide more basic nursing care and are responsible for the comfort of the patient. RNs on the other hand, primarily administer medication, treatments, and offer educational advice to patients and the public.
Here’s a breakdown of the key distinctions between these two in-demand positions:
Licensed Practical Nurse:
Job Duties: Provide basic medical and nursing care such as checking blood pressure and inserting catheters, ensure the comfort of patients by helping them bathe or dress, discuss health care with patients, and report status of patients to registered nurses and doctors.
Education: You must complete an accredited practical nursing program which usually takes about one year to complete. These programs are most often taken at technical or community colleges. Courses usually combine academia in nursing, biology, and pharmacology, in addition to supervised clinical experiences.
Licensing / certification: After completing your practical nursing course from a state-approved program, you’ll receive a certification in practical nursing. Once that is completed, you must take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) in order to obtain a license and be able to work as an LPN.
Pay: Median annual salary: $48,070
Job Growth: 6% increase through 2031
Typical career steps: After gaining experience, many LPNs advance to supervisory positions. With additional education one may even advance into other medical specialties such as registered nurses.
Job duties: Administer medication and treatment to patients, coordinate plans for patient care, perform diagnostic test and analyze results, instruct patients on how to manage illnesses after treatment, and oversee other workers such as LPNs, nursing aides, and home care aides.
Education: Three educational options are available: a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN), an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or a diploma from an approved nursing program. BSNs usually take four years to complete, whereas ADN and diploma programs usually require two to three years to complete. All programs include courses in social, behavior and physical science in addition to clinical experiences in various workplaces.
Licensing / certification: All registered nurses require a nursing license acquired by completing an accredited nursing program and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Some RNs may choose to become certified through professional associations in certain specialties. Certification is usually voluntary, but some advanced positions require it.
Pay: Median annual salary: $77,600
Job growth: 6% increase through 2031
Typical career steps: Most RNs begin as staff nurses, but with experience and continuing education there is opportunity to move into management positions such as chief of nursing. Other options include becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) or moving into the business side of health care.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics; Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses; Registered Nurses.
The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience, and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.