Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) vs. Registered Nurses (RN)

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) vs. Registered Nurses (RN)

best nursing schools massachusettsDeciding between becoming an LPN or RN for your nursing career? Learn about the differences in salaries and educational requirements between LPNs and RNs. If you’re considering a nursing career, you might be wondering whether to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN). The choice can often depend on how much time and money you can invest, but both paths offer opportunities for growth.
Becoming an LPN or an RN is a way to enter the nursing field, with training lasting from 1 to 4 years. These roles share some similar responsibilities, but they have different scopes of practice and educational demands. The time it takes to complete the required training and the salaries also vary.

Key Similarities and Differences

LPNs and RNs share similar foundational nursing duties. They both care for people who are sick or injured, providing medical and functional assistance for a comfortable recovery. Both LPNs and RNs work in demanding situations, often tending to patients in pain or critical conditions.

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However, the settings, job duties, and levels of responsibility for RNs and LPNs differ. The educational and licensing requirements also lead to different statuses and pay.

Understanding LPNs

Licensed practical nurses work closely with RNs, doctors, dentists, and other healthcare professionals. They follow RNs’ directions to give medications and treatments, as well as gather patient data for interpretation by licensed healthcare providers. LPNs usually don’t have the authority to make health assessments, develop care plans, or prioritize patients’ needs like registered nurses can.

Understanding RNs

Compared to LPNs, registered nurses have more independence. They interpret patient information and follow doctors’ orders to care for sick or dying patients. Their work includes case finding, promoting healthcare and patient education, counseling, prioritizing patients, rehabilitative care, and managing chronic pain.

Both LPNs and RNs use their judgment to provide direct patient care. While patients might not notice significant differences between the two, RNs have more autonomy in their practice and can delegate tasks to LPNs within a certain range of care.

LPN and RN Overview

Here’s a quick comparison between LPNs and RNs:

– Education Required: LPN program (1 year)
– Average Annual Salary: $51,850
– RN
– Education Required: Associate degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) (2-4 years)
– Average Annual Salary: $82,750

Both LPNs and RNs often work together in healthcare facilities. RNs, however, are more prevalent in general medical and surgical hospitals, with over 1.7 million RNs working in hospitals compared to 78,090 LPNs. RNs also work in physicians’ offices, while most LPNs (177,960) work in nursing care facilities, and some (89,280) provide home healthcare services.

Roles and Responsibilities

LPNs and RNs share many responsibilities, but their roles can differ based on their work settings. RNs generally have more responsibilities compared to LPNs.

In nursing care facilities, hospitals, and physicians’ offices, LPNs support RNs and physicians in providing basic nursing care, like taking vital signs, helping patients with meals, and assisting with bathing.

What LPNs Do

LPNs provide nursing care to patients who are sick, injured, or dying. They work under the supervision of RNs or other licensed healthcare providers, such as dentists or physicians. LPN roles can vary based on state regulations and settings. For example, in some states, LPNs can start intravenous lines (IVs), while in others, they delegate tasks to medical assistants. Generally, LPNs perform tasks like:

– Monitoring patient comfort levels
– Taking blood pressure and changing bandages
– Providing emotional support to patients and families
– Administering medications as part of a nursing care plan
– Collecting patient data for review by healthcare providers

What RNs Do

RNs generally work more independently, with the ability to interpret patient information and treat patients according to doctors’ orders. RNs have a broad range of roles, including:

– Recording medical histories and symptoms
– Identifying individuals and families with health risks
– Educating patients and families about medication side effects, post-surgical care, disease management, and prevention
– Providing mental health and addiction counseling
– Assessing patients and prioritizing care
– Administering medications and treatments

Education and Licensure

LPNs and RNs follow different educational paths, leading to different levels of responsibility.

Becoming an LPN

LPNs must complete a state-approved LPN program, which usually takes around one year. These programs are offered by technical schools and community colleges and lead to a certificate or diploma. After graduating, you need to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) to become licensed as an LPN. You can also specialize in areas like IV therapy by getting certified from professional nursing associations.

Becoming an RN

To become an RN, you need either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), which take 2 to 4 years to complete. Both degrees qualify you to take the NCLEX-RN exam for licensure. While you can work as an RN with an ADN,

many employers prefer RNs with BSN degrees. Professional nursing organizations also offer certifications for RNs who want to specialize in areas like pediatrics or gerontology.

Salary and Job Prospects

The saying that “the more you learn, the more you earn” holds true in nursing. Getting a higher degree and becoming an RN opens up more opportunities and independence. Both LPNs and RNs have secure job prospects, as there will be a consistent need for more nurses in the coming years.

LPN Salary and Job Prospects

The average annual salary for LPNs is $51,850. This number can vary depending on factors like location, degree, experience, and nursing specialization. As of May 2021, the lowest 10% of LPNs earned less than $37,150, while the highest 10% earned salaries over $63,790.

Government agencies tend to pay LPNs the most, with median salaries of $52,210. LPNs are in demand across various settings. The job outlook for LPNs is positive, with a projected growth of 6% in LPN jobs from 2021 to 2031, resulting in around 58,800 new positions.

RN Salary and Job Prospects

The average annual salary for RNs is $82,750. As of May 2021, the top 10% of registered nurses earned over $120,250. RN salaries differ by setting, with government and hospital RNs earning median annual salaries of $85,970 and $78,070, respectively.

Certifications can lead to higher salaries and expertise for RNs, especially in specialized areas like ambulatory care, adult-gerontology, or pain management.

The job outlook for RNs is similar to that of LPNs. The field is expected to grow by 6%, resulting in the addition of 203,200 RN jobs from 2021 to 2031.

LPN vs. RN: Choosing the Right Career

Deciding between LPN and RN depends on your personal preferences. If you’re looking to become a nurse quickly, LPN might be a better fit. The shorter education time also means lower costs. Additionally, if you decide to become an RN later, LPNs can often transition into LPN-to-RN programs.

Both LPNs and RNs enjoy strong job security, as their job growth is projected to be in line with other careers.

Common Questions About LPNs and RNs

What can an RN do that an LPN cannot?

RNs can work more independently compared to LPNs. LPNs usually work under the supervision of licensed nurses like RNs or advanced practice nurses. Some states don’t allow LPNs to perform IV therapy without supervision. LPNs can insert IVs and draw blood, but they can’t administer IV push medication or start blood transfusions. RNs are authorized to perform health assessments and provide prevention education, and they can create nursing care plans.

Can I do LPN programs online?

Yes. Many LPN candidates can enroll in online diploma or certificate programs, completing core coursework remotely. Online classes often have flexible schedules, but labs and clinical hours usually need to be done in person on campus.

Can I do RN programs online?

Yes. RN programs are available online in full- or part-time formats. This flexibility is great for students who need to work while studying. However, like LPN programs, students generally need to complete clinical hours at local hospitals or designated facilities.

Can I transition from LPN to RN?

Yes. Nursing schools offer LPN-to-RN programs that allow students to earn a BSN in two years or less. This way, LPNs can use their nursing knowledge to move forward in a nursing bridge program. Nursing graduates need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become licensed RNs.

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