Registered Nurse Career and Degree Guide
A Guide to LPN-to-RN Bridge Programs
An LPN-to-RN program is an educational path designed specifically for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) looking to further their education and career. The program uses your LPN education and experience as a starting point and offers in-depth curriculum at an accelerated pace.
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While licensed practical nurses (also called licensed vocational nurses, or LVNs, in California and Texas) are an integral part of a health care team, your career options and salary are limited unless you become a registered nurse (RN). And in order to work as an RN, you must have either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
An LPN interested in becoming an RN can take one of two degree paths:
- LPN-to-ADN is a shorter path that will earn you an ADN.
- LPN-to-BSN takes about twice as long and results in a BSN.
Both programs are sometimes called “bridge” programs, since they take into account your prior education and experience to shorten the usual amount of time you need to earn an ADN or BSN degree.
With either an ADN or BSN under your belt, you’ll be qualified to sit for the national NCLEX-RN exam, which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Once you pass this test, you’ll be a licensed registered nurse.
You might want to consider a similar bridge program if you’re a paramedic interested in nursing. A paramedic-to-RN program draws from the education and experience you hold as a paramedic, offering a BSN in an accelerated time frame.
Watch: The Benefits of an LPN-to-RN Program
What’s the Difference Between the Paths?
Aside from the time it takes to complete each path, there are other differences between the ADN and BSN paths towards RN licensure:
Program length: One to two years
Where can I find these programs? Community colleges, vocational schools, and some universities
What can I expect upon graduation? Earning an associate’s degree will allow you to work as an entry-level RN. You may also have opportunities to manage LPNs.
Program length: Two to four years
Where can I find these programs? Four-year colleges and universities
What can I expect upon graduation? RNs with bachelor’s degrees are more likely to receive promotions and autonomy, manage other nurses, and receive higher pay. Nursing students in BSN programs can also choose specializations, such as pediatrics.
How Your Responsibilities Will Change
LPNs and RNs share some of the same duties—taking vital signs and administering medication—regardless of the letters next to their name. However, because of their additional education, an RN is tasked with more complex duties than an LPN.
Role changes from LPN to RN:
One of the main differences you’ll notice when you transition from LPN to RN is the level of autonomy you gain. As an LPN, your tasks are directed by a higher level nurse whereas an RN has some independence—although they do take direction from a superior as well—allowing them to make decisions in a number of areas. The scope of practice for LPNs differs by state, but generally an LPN isn’t permitted to initiate treatment plans nor are they able to independently take action based on patient information they interpret.
Once you’re working as an RN, you’ll be required to take a certain number of continuing education courses to keep your license current. The types of courses will be dictated by your state or your employer.
Salary Differences Between an LPN and an RN
RNs can earn significantly more than LPNs, although your pay can vary depending on where you work, the type of nursing job you hold, and where you live. Salaries tend to be greater in larger cities and where demand for nurses is high. No matter where you live, the demand for both RNs and LPNs is steadily growing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for both RNs and LPNs shows growth of 9% between 2020 and 2030; about average for all occupations.
Watch: LPN-to-RN Online Program Tips
Online LPN-to-RN Programs
Like many other nursing degree programs, LPN-to-RN online programs are available. Offering schedule flexibility, yet rigorous coursework, an online program is especially useful if you have other obligations, such as work and a family, that make it difficult to get to campus.
Another perk? Some online schools charge lower tuition than their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
Although you can take many of your classes online, most LPN-to-RN bridge programs operate using a hybrid model. This means you’ll still be required to gain clinical experience in person.
Clinical Experience Requirements
When applying to an LPN-to-RN online program, your school will provide you with clinical work requirements. Some programs set students up at a local health care facility, while other schools ask students to find their own clinical site.
If your program asks you to find a clinical site, it’s a good idea to scout out locations early and secure school approval.
Before you begin your search, find out if your program has a list of approved sites. They could range from hospitals to school systems.
LPN-to-RN Bridge Program Curriculum
Before you can begin taking higher level nursing courses, you’ll first have to complete a number of prerequisites. The specific courses and amount will vary depending on your educational background. The length of your program will also be affected by how many prerequisites you need to complete.
Prerequisite Classes You May Take
Prerequisites typically fall in the “general education” category and include classes such as:
- English composition
- Anatomy and physiology
- General chemistry
Be sure to check with your school regarding time limits for prerequisites. In some cases, if you took these courses more than five, seven or 10 years ago, they won’t be considered valid.
If you choose the BSN route, some schools will allow you to use some of your LPN experience as credit. In this case, the length of your program is shortened since you’ll jump into the BSN track around junior year.
Upper-Level Nursing Classes You May Take
Once you’ve completed your prerequisites, you’ll be ready to start your nursing curriculum. If you’re working toward an ADN, you’ll learn about adult health nursing and transitioning to the role of RN. As a BSN student, your coursework will be more comprehensive, including studies in public health, leadership, and nurse management.
Here’s a sample of classes you may encounter during your time in an LPN-to-RN program:
LPN-to-RN Admission Requirements
As you start to get serious about a school, make sure you have what you need before you apply. While every school is different, here are some general guidelines on what you’ll need:
- Current LPN license
- High school diploma
- Six months of LPN experience
- Passing score on entrance exam
The Test of Essential Academic Skills is one of the most common tests required of aspiring nurses. The test evaluates and measures proficiency in math, English, science, and reading.
You’ll be tested on scientific reasoning, algebraic formulas, grammar, and life sciences.
National League for Nursing’s Pre-Admission Examination: Administered by the National League for Nursing, the Pre-Admission, or “PAX,” exam covers reading comprehension, general biology, geometry, algebra, earth science, first aid, and health in a multiple-choice format.