What Is The Difference Between A Registered Nurse (RN) And A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?

"I have decided to become a nurse. The career option appeals to me because it looks like it will be great money and a reliable job, and also because I want to do a career where I can help people. I am fascinated by biology too, so that’s another plus. There seems to be a whole lot of different kinds of nurses. Most people want to become an “RN.” But I also keep seeing this “LPN”-type of nurse. What is that and how is it different from an RN?"

asked by Meg N. from Burlington, VT

Congratulations on deciding that you want to become a nurse. Nursing is wonderful occupation. You will have a chance to help a lot of people who need it, and you will also be well paid for your hard work. There are a number of different classifications for nurses. Some types of nurses are classified according to the type of work they perform (nurse anesthesiologists, PACU nurses, etc.). The denotations “RN” or “LPN” do not reference specializations, but rather levels of responsibility.

What Is A Registered Nurse (RN)?

As you mentioned, most people with their hearts set on nursing are aiming to becoming RNs. RN stands for “registered nurse.” A registered nurse is the most common type of nurse. Registered nurses work under physicians or surgeons, but still have a reasonable amount of autonomy, and make many small decisions throughout the day on their own based on their own medical expertise. Registered nurses make very good money and can pursue various specializations which allow them to make even more.

What Is A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?

LPN stands for “licensed practical nurse.” In some states, an LPN is known as an LVN, which stands for “licensed vocational nurse.” An LVN is the exact same thing as an LPN. If you become a licensed practical nurse, you are becoming the most basic type of nurse. LPNs have less schooling than registered nurses. They are able to perform a number of medical duties, but are not given as much responsibility as registered nurses. The pay grade is lower, but it can be a great stepping stone if you want to eventually become an RN but do not currently have the money to invest in more education. An LPN program may take as little as a year to complete. Many schools offer bridge programs for LPNs who want to become RNs later without starting all over with a new registered nursing training program.

Let’s explore the differences between registered nurses and licensed practical nurses further. There are benefits to becoming a registered nurse over a licensed practical nurse, but both fields offer plenty of opportunity.

Of course, the investment that you put into making that difference is high as well. To become an LPN, you will probably need to complete a one or two year college program. To become an RN, you might be going to school for up to four years to earn your degree, though some two year RN programs do exist.

If you do not have a lot of money to invest in your education right now, it would make sense to pursue a degree as an LPN and then use some of the money you earn working in that role to go back to school to complete a bridge program. If on the other hand you have the time and money to spend on your education now, you may want to aim to become a registered nurse right away. So whether you are interested in becoming a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse, you are looking at good opportunity.

Becoming an RN ultimately opens more doors than becoming an LPN does in the beginning—but of course becoming an LPN can be a step along the way to becoming an RN, so either way you are embarking on a career path which could lead you in many different directions. LPNs cannot take on as much responsibility as RNs, however, so most of the specialty jobs available to nurses are offered to registered nurses and not licensed practical nurses. As a registered nurse, you can also go back to school to pursue a degree to become a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners (NPs) are able to take on even more responsibility and may even operate their own practices without the supervision of a doctor.

So which is better, becoming a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse? The answer depends on your own situation and goals. Consider your finances and where you stand right now. If it is more important for you to start earning money right away, look into programs for LPNs. If you have more flexibility with your budget and time right now, and want to earn a higher salary and get on the fast track to more opportunity, then look into programs for RNs.

There is a whole new exciting world out there waiting for you, and you are on the road to opportunity! Good luck pursuing a career in the medical world as a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse.

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