What is the difference between a Licensed Practical Nurse and a Registered Nurse?

Job Description
The expectations of performance are much higher for registered nurses than they are for licensed practical nurses. On the floor, LPNs and RNs may have similar duties, but an RN usually has more medical responsibilities. For the specific legal differences, refer to your states nurse practice act.
Learn more about LPN training.

Bedside care is the primary scope of practice for a LPN/LVN. LPNs tend to be more task oriented, while RNs must see the big picture. They must analyze issues deeper and consider underlying conditions and how they relate to the here and now of a patient’s status. Some of the tasks performed by RNs that cannot be performed by LPNs are: hanging blood, pushing IV’s, titrate drugs, and hanging chemo; however these vary from state to state.

Registered nurses usually perform the initial assessment of a patient. LPNs can also perform their own assessment, but the initial assessment must be performed by a RN. LPNs may also work in conjunction with RNs in patient assessment. The RN is responsible for formulating the diagnosis of the patient and makes plans for their care. In addition, a RN establishes a care plan and initiates the nursing actions to provide care. LPNs/LVNs will be primarily responsible for seeing that the patient care plans formulated by the RN are put into action. Registered nurses can delegate nursing measures to a LPN, but the LPN can only accept those tasks which are within their scope of license/practice in the state they work.

Depending on the place of employment, LPNs are often under the direct supervision of a RN. The two often work cooperatively together. Even in instances of home care, LPNs may have to call and report or get approval from a RN prior to making changes to a patient’s healthcare plan. Overall, the job of a RN is more comprehensive medically than that of a LPN.

Learn more about LPN certification.

Education Requirements
The primary difference in education between LPNs and RNs is that RNs undergo a considerable amount more educational training than LPNs. They are in school for sometimes an additional two to three years beyond LPNs. LPNs can typically complete their training in a year or less. Most RNs pursue either an Associates Degree in Nursing, or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The associate’s degree takes around two years to earn, while most bachelors programs take four. A high school diploma or GED is required to enroll in all RN education programs. Additionally some RN education programs require you to pass the National League for Nursing Exam prior to being accepted.

If you are considering a nursing career, can handle a lot of responsibility, and you have a flexible schedule, then a RN education is a good option as most classes are daylight programs. However, LPN training programs are much more flexible and usually offer part-time, night, and weekend hours. Some educational programs allow potential RNs to sit for the LPN exam (NCLEX-PN) during the program. If they pass, they can then work as a LPN/LVN, gain experience, and still continue their RN education.

Registered nurses in all states must pass the NCLEX-RN prior to becoming licensed to practice.

Work Settings
The work setting for registered nurses versus licensed practical nurses are really no different. Since they often work together, most medical facilities will employ both. The majority of registered nurses, almost 50%, are employed in physician offices. Other industries that employ large percentages of RNs include home health care services, nursing care facilities, employment services, and hospitals. The largest employers of LPNs are nursing care facilities.

According to BLS Entry level RNs earn almost twice as much as entry level LPNs. The median annual salary for a LPN is $40,110, while the median annual salary for a RN is $57,280. There is also much more room to advance, in terms of salary, for registered nurses. They can move into management positions and even becoming professors of nursing at major universities. Such positions pay anywhere from $70,000 to $90,000 annually. Top paid licensed practical nurses will rarely earn more than $55,000, even with years of experience and leadership positions.

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