Why and How Licensed Practical Nurse Differs From Registered Nurse?

LPN stands for "Licensed Practical Nurse." LPN is the most basic kind of nurse. In California and Texas, an LPN is known as the licensed vocational nurse (LVN).

The most basic difference between an LPN/LVN and an RN is that the former one requires a less formal program. An LPN performs certain medical duties but is not given responsibilities like an RN. An LPN has to work under the supervision of an RN. An LPN program almost takes one year to complete. Licensed practical nurses examine patients, observe crucial symptoms, and assist in wound care. LPNs work in home health care, hospitals, clinics and nursing homes.

Registered nurses have to perform numerous duties, but, of all, the most important is to cater to all the needs of their patients and to ensure that they get adequate comfort in a secured and safe environment. S/he takes note of the orders given by the doctors and executes them correctly. RNs are in-charge of the patients who perform the assessment and develop care plans considering their condition. They are also responsible for providing immediate care if required. RNs usually take leadership positions and apply critical thinking to deliver suitable medical services.

Let's look at the differences between registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.

Differences Clarifying Licensed Nurse vs Registered Nurse-

When going further in your education it is legitimate to have doubts regarding LPN vs RN. We have compared both professions on the aspects of education, curriculum, the scope of practice, workplace, duties, and responsibilities, earning potential and job outlook.

1. LPN vs RN According to the Education:

The route to becoming a practical and registered nurse are quite different. The logical answer for LPN vs RN topic is the path you choose in the beginning. Unlike an aspiring LPN student, it takes around 2 to 3 years for an aspiring RN student to complete Bachelors in Nursing (BSN). While the LPN program completes in a year which awards either a diploma or certificate in practical nursing.

The decision of choosing one of the paths comes down to what you want out of the life. The better clarity you have for your future it will be rewarding for you to get a job with security and satisfaction. The problem in today's world is that people don't know what they want to do. You need to be specific when it comes to deciding the career goals.

LPN: If you wish to become a licensed practical nurse, you are supposed to have a high school diploma or GED to pursue LPN education program. Thereafter, you have to finish 9 to 18 months of the program. Finally, pass a state licensing assessment paper. The education enables you to help an RN while working in a team.

RN: In order to become a registered nurse, you must get a bachelor or associate degree from an approved nursing school. The education of RN can also lead you to the management positions. The longer education rewards you a leadership position. It is enough as a motivation to go by this path if you really want to be a leader in the future.

2. LPN vs RN According to the Curriculum-

The curriculum of both professions varies in terms of cost, the difficulty of subject matter and length.

LPN: The coursework of LPN program is not much longer and covers topics like food and nutrition, first aid, psychology, anatomy, chemistry, biology, fundamentals of nursing, human health and diseases, pharmacology, etc. The clinical internship is also an important part of this course.

RN: RN programs cover the similar topics like LPN programs. But, registered nurses study these topics in depth. The major focus is given to social sciences, psychology, community health, critical thinking and leadership skills. They also need to undergo hands-on program in which practical skills are taught.

3. LPN vs RN According to the Licensing/Certification-

LPN: Most often, the aspirants get a certificate after completion of the LPN program. A few colleges offer an associate degree or a diploma. A diploma/certificate doesn't offer credits for continuing education to become an RN. You should select the course according to what your plans are for the future. If you envision becoming an RN after gaining adequate work experience then an associate degree is right for you. After pursuing the course from a state-approved college, the students are required to pass a licensure test (NCLEX-PN).

RN: The students earn a certificate, diploma or an associate degree after completing the course. Next, the students have to pass the NCLEX-RN test to attain the licensure. Registered nurses may also obtain certifications in a particular specialty.

4. LPN vs RN According to the Scope of Practice-

The scope of practice for an RN is not limited, unlike an LPN. The position of RN allows you to administer the entire nursing staff and work independently without having to report other nurses. An LPN can also reach out to grab the same opportunities but the path will be rather longer. Let’s look at what you can add to your list of LPN versus RN-

LPN: LPNs work under the supervision of registered nurses and doctors. Their scope of practice is limited, and they can become RN after gaining some experience and continue their education. An LPN will need to become an RN first and studying after getting into a job is rather tough than before. Only a strong commitment to the better future can lead further.

RN: A registered nurse with master's degree has much more career prospects. They can become a nurse practitioner, nurse specialist, nurse administrator, or nurse educator. Besides, doctorate degree holders can make careers in practice and policy, administration, and education. The specialization areas for an RN gives a lot of opportunities to choose a field according to the interests. Anytime in the career, an RN can advance the knowledge and position by pursuing the degree for masters of nursing (MSN).

An RN is always ahead of the LPN in terms of doors open for grabbing exciting opportunities in future. If the leadership positions interest you then becoming an RN is right for you.

5. LPN vs RN According to the Workplace-

One more aspect of LPN vs RN issue is when you compare the workplaces. If a particular workplace is advantageous to target for employment then you should go for it. For example, In hospitals, there are more opportunities for RNs. If you want to work as a nurse in a hospital then your goal should be becoming an RN. If you want to quickly finish your education and start working as soon as possible then the profession of an LPN is right for you.

LPN: Most LPNs work in physicians' offices, home health care facilities, nursing care facilities, medical and surgical hospitals and community care facilities. They can also choose to work in psychiatric hospitals, correctional facilities, outpatient clinics, dialysis centers and blood banks.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are only 17% LPN who work in hospitals. This scarcity in the positions in a hospital is due to the high number of LPN positions in long term care facilities and rehabilitation settings.

RN: RNs are majorly employed in general medical and surgical hospitals. They may also find a job in physicians' offices, home health care services and nursing care facilities. Besides, they can opt to work in correctional facilities, schools, summer camps, educational services, government agencies, administrative and support services, and military forces.

You can see in the long term care centers an RN handles the entire beds in the building on her own. It is such an instance when an RN doesn't need to supervise other nurses. This situation alone might be attractive enough for some students while undertaking the course to become an RN.

6. LPN vs RN According to the Duties and Responsibilities-

The difference between a vocational nurse and registered nurse can be explained well with their specific duties and responsibilities. We can draw the lines to separate both on the basis of skills like critical thinking, planning of care, required education to pass the different type of licensure examination and day to day responsibilities. An RN follows the orders given by a physician and makes the plan of treatment which an LPN helps in implementing on patients. Basically, an RN schedules the work of an LPN. So we can say an RN supervises the work of LPN.

More specifically, an LPN is responsible to do the following tasks –

  • On a frequent visit to check up the health of patient an LPN measures the blood pressure to take important signs. To monitor the health of a patient the blood pressure tells a lot about the condition of the patient.
  • It is necessary to use a fresh bandage for great effect on the wounds of the patient. An LPN changes the bandage and inserts the flexible tube leading to the bladder through the narrow opening. The latter task provides an alternative to removing the urine from the bladder.
  • For a patient the simple task of bathing and getting dressed becomes difficult. To provide comfort to a patient in such a task an LPN helps.
  • The patients probably get worried for the problems they are facing. It is the responsibility of an LPN to discuss with the patient about their conditions, concerns, and improvements. The best care in health care facility is not just about treating physically but also psychologically. Therefore, the part of listening to what a patient has to say is also important in providing care.
  • Working under someone requires to report back to the person you are working for. An LPN reports to an RN or physician about the information they have collected from the patient.
  • Keeping the track of the progress in the health of the patient is also required. It is possible when an LPN holds the entire record of the health of a patient.
  • The gain of experience allows an LPN to direct and manage other LPN's and the medical staff who are practicing without a license.

The roles and responsibilities of an RN are listed below-

  • The work of an RN is to coordinate the medical staff including assigning the duties to a certified nurse assistant (CNA) and LPN and among others.
  • Apart from prescribing medications and giving treatment, an RN tells the patients and their families the pieces of advice, lots of emotional support and important information regarding numerous conditions. To make it easier for the patient, a close relative can learn various things that might be helpful and uplifting for the patient. If a family member is standing by the patient most of the time, then it is better that person knows about the tactics to recover the illness or injury.
  • From observing the patient for taking important signs to consulting with the doctor an RN administers the health of the patient.
  • The reason of taking the diagnostic test is to be completely sure about the disease or injury so that treatment plan is in accordance with the condition of the patient. It is the duty of an RN to assist in carrying out various tests and analyzing results.
  • Just preparing the plan of treatment is not enough because it has to be modified according to the present conditions. An RN is expert in handling this responsibility.
  • A health care facility is always equipped with various types of medical equipment. An RN is educated enough to make the most out of the equipment.

Thus, a practical nurse focuses more on performing fundamental responsibilities. An LPN may be forbidden from taking important decisions associated with patient's treatment or starting IVs. An RN performs much more complex tasks without any prior guidance or directions.

7. LPN vs RN according to the Earning Potential-

When it comes to salary, registered nurses generally earn more money than LPNs. It is easy to understand why the salary of an RN is more than that of an LPN. An RN is educated to handle heavy tasks including managing the entire team of nurses. After spending 4 years studying and practicing an RN has potential to earn more money in the initial phase of the career than an LPN. The reason is that an RN has more advanced skills and knowledge.

LPN: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), annual mean wages of licensed practical nurses in May 2016 was $44,090 while meaning hourly wages was $21.20. The top paying states for this profession were Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts and, New Jersey.

RN: In May 2016, as per the calculations of the BLS, the median hourly wages for RNs were $32.91 whereas mean annual wages were $68,450. California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Alaska, and Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York were the top paying states for this profession.

As the duties and responsibilities increase so does the pay. The differences between the salary of an LPN and an RN has a lot to do with the level of responsibility they hold.

8. LPN vs RN according to the Job Outlook-

The growth in the jobs is due to numerous reasons including the fact that people grow old with time.

LPN: 16% increase in the employment opportunities between 2014 and 2024 for LPNs is expected by the BLS. The major employers for these professionals would be home health care facilities and residential care facilities. The reason behind numerous job openings for licensed practical nurses is the retirement of a large number of nurses in the impending decade.

According to the BLS, there were 719,900 jobs that a qualified LPN held in 2014 and this figure is expected to expand up to 837,200 till 2024.

As the population grows older the demand of health care services increases which ultimately create the more opportunities for an LPN and an LVN. The two most common problems which trending today are obesity and diabetes. It is due to the technological changes that not only in hospitals but also in the outpatient care centers there is need of LPN and LVNs. Now there are multiple settings available that you can choose from.

RN: As of 2014 to 2024, the BLS has projected a growth of 16% in the job opportunities for RNs. Escalating demand for health-care services and increasing number of people who have access to these services are the major reasons for better job prospects in this field.

According to the BLS, there were 2,751,000 jobs for an RN in 2014 which is expected to expand up to 3,190,300 till 2024.

An older patient is prone to suffering from the chronic conditions such as dementia, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer's et cetera. A registered nurse has more knowledge and awareness about these conditions after a physician. This credibility of offering precisely what is needed to increase their demand in the health care settings. Owing to various options for specializations the demand has increased in settings preferred for treatment of only head injuries and Alzheimer’s.

In this era, the work setting is not limited. Now there is a multitude of employment providers like physician's office, outpatient care centers and long term care centers. These settings tend to be more RN oriented. Even some people prefer the treatment at home to get all the comfort. Again, an RN fits best to provide care at home.


We hope we have delivered an article which clears your doubt regarding lpn vs rn. It all comes down to aligning interests and skills and the more precisely you do it the more right education you get. It is your call whether you would like to take a jump later in the career or trace your path in such a way that you reach the top in the long term education. Leaving alone the duration of the course, the choice of going with either education also depends on whether you like to work independently or as a member of the team. You may have all the skills in the world to do something but the way you do it may differ. During the entire duration of the course what you must remember is that why did you start at the first place. You will definitely finish the journey if you know why you are on it.