Nursing Careers: RN vs LPN

Nurse takes a patient's blood pressure

Those who wish to serve others through a career in nursing may wonder what the difference is between two of the most common types of nurses – registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). These roles vary in vocational responsibilities, job opportunities, education requirements and more. A solid understanding of each job is crucial for those interested in entering the field.

What Is an LPN?

LPN stands for “licensed practical nurse.” They are also known as licensed vocational nurses in some settings.

Educational Requirements of an LPN

LPNs earn a diploma or certificate in nursing. These practical nursing programs can take as little as a year to complete. Many students choose accredited programs at community or technical colleges, which can be shorter in length and less expensive when compared to baccalaureate programs at public or private universities. The vocational program will include supervised clinical experiences in addition to courses in subjects such as biology, pharmacology, anatomy and nursing that aim to provide students with necessary practical skills. Both LPNs and RNs must take a version of the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

Duties of an LPN

LPNs typically work under the supervision of an RN to provide basic patient care. They monitor a patient’s vitals, feed, bathe and dress patients, apply and change bandages and keep records of patient health. LPNs may be responsible for administrative duties at their place of work and can administer medications in some states, except for IVs in most cases. Because nursing often involves varied hours, many LPNs work nights, weekends and holidays in shifts of more than eight hours.

Demand for LPNs

In general, the demand for LPNs is not as high as RNs. For the most part, employers prefer to hire nurses with a more advanced education, so LPNs may consider furthering their education to qualify for more opportunities within the nursing field. Overall, as the need for health care increases, many positions in the field are seeing favorable growth patterns, especially in rural or medically underserved areas. Employment of LPNs is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028 – from more than 720,000 LPNs in 2018 to over 800,000 in 2028.1

What Is an RN?

RN stands for “registered nurse.” This is one of the most sought-after roles in the health care industry, with many students electing to pursue an education with the goal of becoming an RN.

Educational Requirements of an RN

RNs are required to complete at least two years of coursework through an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program, a diploma certificate in nursing, or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. They must also meet all licensure requirements mandated by the board of nursing in their state. In some states, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is becoming the standard for entry into nursing practice. Nurses with an ADN can transition to an RN to BSN program to expand their knowledge and gain access to further job opportunities.

Duties of an RN

RNs can administer medications and IVs and draw blood, in addition to performing Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS). They can also operate medical equipment and develop or contribute to plans of care and wellness for each patient, all while overseeing LPNs. RNs can admit and discharge patients and work to ensure patient safety at all points in the process. RNs typically collaborate with doctors and advanced practice RNs (APRN). Like LPNs, they may work nights, weekends and holidays.

Demand for RNs

There is a notable demand for RNs in the health care industry, with high numbers of employment and above-average projected growth rates. In 2018, over 3 million RNs were employed in the U.S., and with a projected growth rate of 12 percent, that number is estimated to rise to more than 3.4 million by 2028. Since the field can be competitive, RNs with a BSN are expected to have better job prospects than those without.

How to Decide Between Becoming an LPN or RN

The registered nursing field is growing slightly faster than that of licensed practical nursing, and many students and employers alike believe that earning an ADN or BSN is a sound investment considering the potential for increased employment opportunities and earnings. Those interested in having greater responsibility in the workplace may also wish to consider becoming an RN. However, the short duration of nursing certificate programs that lead to employment as an LPN means that students can enter the workforce and start gaining experience sooner. Overall, the right path will vary based on the needs and professional goals of the individual.

If you feel called to become a nurse, Grand Canyon University may have the right program for you. Currently practicing nurses may pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) degree. We also offer the innovative Accelerated BSN program, which can prepare you to sit for the licensing exam in as few as 16 months. To learn more about these nursing degree programs offered by the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, visit our website or click on the Request Info button on this page.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.