What’s the Difference Between an LPN and an RN?

Nursing provides a steady career in the medical field with a lot of opportunity for growth and specialization. These careers allow you to provide medical care to patients and to assist doctors with patient care.

LPNs and RNs are two nursing options you can explore. These roles are both types of nurses yet they are distinguished from each other in certain ways. The following guide breaks down what you could expect from a career as an LPN compared to one as an RN.

LPN and RN Defined

LPN stands for Licensed Practical Nurse. This type of nurse is a level above an entry-level nursing position, which is a certified nursing assistant (CNA). A CNA is technically an assistant rather than a nurse, so an LPN is the first level that works as a nurse. LPNs perform some assisting similar to CNAs, yet they are able to perform more direct nursing care. LPNs often work under the supervision of RNs.

An RN, or Registered Nurse, is the highest level of nursing before you would become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). RNs can perform more direct patient services than LPNs, and they often act as nursing supervisors or case managers overseeing LPNs and CNAs.

How Duties Differ

LPNs can perform a number of patient care and assisting duties, but their role varies depending on the guidelines of each state. LPNs generally assist with medical duties. They may also carry out duties such as giving medication to patients, monitoring patient vital signs and drawing blood.

RNs have a higher level of responsibility. They assess patient conditions and give certain treatments. They also observe patients and take records. They create patient care plans and consult with other medical professionals. Further, they teach patients and loved ones about their diagnoses and how to care for themselves. Many RNs also progress into management positions.

How to Become an LPN or RN

To become a Licensed Practical Nurse, you would need to go through a state-approved training program and pass an exam to get licensed. LPN programs are generally found in community colleges and technical schools, where these nurses learn about biology, nursing and other subjects.

To work as an RN, you need more focused schooling on anatomy, physiology and other medical subjects. At a minimum, Registered Nurses need an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or the rarer option of an approved nursing program diploma through a medical facility. However, many Registered Nurses obtain higher levels of education, such as a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Having an advanced degree often provides higher pay and increased opportunities. RNs also need to be licensed by passing an exam after graduating from a nursing program. To work in certain nursing specialties and places of employment, RNs may need additional certification.

It’s also possible to transition from an LPN to an RN. Completing an LPN to RN education program provides the way to advance from one type of nurse to the other.

What it’s Like to Work in Each Role

RNs can expect to make a higher salary than LPNs because of the different level of schooling and responsibility. As of 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics listed a median average annual salary of $45,030 for LPNs, while the median RN yearly salary was $70,000.

RNs most often work in hospitals, although they are also found in doctors’ offices, outpatient facilities, home healthcare, residential care facilities and other settings. LPNs are most often employed by nursing and residential care facilities, yet they also work in doctors’ offices, hospitals, home healthcare and more. The type of position you would want to hold could determine whether to pursue an LPN or RN role.

Whether you decide to become an LPN or an RN, you get the opportunity to work as a nurse and to help patients with their medical care. This is an in-demand field that provides a broad range of positions and advancement opportunities.