When it comes to the nursing field one of the most common questions we hear people ask about nurses is, “what’s the difference between a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN) and a registered nurse (RN).
After all LPN’s / LVN’s and RN’s are both trained to provide quality care for patients in need of medical assistance and they can both be found working in a wide variety of fields, so what makes them so different?
Well there are a number of differences between the two types of nurses, however the primary difference between an LPN / LVN and registered nurses has to do with the amount of educational training they receive within their respective nursing programs.
LPN’s / LVN’s receive basic medical training which can prepare them to provide basic medical medical assistance to patients in as little as a year.
RN’s on the other hand require 2 – 4 years of educational training (plus additional prerequisite courses) before they are able to begin working in the field.
Both types of nurses are extremely important and vital within the nursing field, however their roles may vary greatly based on the amount of education and training they receive.
The rest of this article will provide more depth into the difference and benefits of each of these roles.
P.S. the abbreviation LPN (licensed practical nurse) and LVN (licensed vocational nurse) may be used interchangeably depending on the state a nurse operates in, so for the rest of this article we’ll use the abbreviation LPN to explain both abbreviations.
LPN / LVN role & responsibilities
A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a nurse who has attended an LPN program and has passed the NCLEX-PN exam in order to earn their diploma/certificate or degree.
Licensed practical nurses receive basic medical training while attending an LPN nursing program, which prepares them for roles that “generally” focus on long-term patient care and rehabilitation.
One of the advantages of training to become an LPN is that most individuals can become LPN’s within 1 year, or two years if they want to receive an associates degree.
LPN’s may perform basic care for patients such as helping patients with mobility, providing medication, assisting patients with cleaning, showering and getting dressed, feeding patients that are unable to assist themselves, performing emergency CPR/AED support, cleaning wounds and applying bandages and performing proper infection control and prevention.
In order to provide patients with proper medical care LPN’s will monitor their patients medical condition and report any issues or abnormalities to trained registered nurses, doctors and/or physicians that are capable of providing the patient with additional medical care.
Because LPN’s receive less education and training than RN’s they are often supervised by trained registered nurses or physicians that can step in and take over if a patient is in need of advanced care.
Although LPN’s do not receive the same level of training as registered nurses they are a vital and indispensable part of healthcare.
In fact LPN’s provide much of the day to day care for their patients and often build long lasting friendships with the individual they help, leaving a long lasting positive impact on everyone involved.
LPN’s also allow other medical professionals such as RN’s and physicians to spend less time on activities that do not require their attention so that they can focus on other medical tasks and assist patients that require advanced medical care.
Lastly, because LPN’s are able to enter the medical field quickly it is a great way for students to learn about nursing and get first hand experience before making the decision become a registered nurse.
For those who are uncertain about working in the medical field or for those who can’t wait to get started, becoming an LPN is a great way to figure out ones career goals before investing additional time and money into their education.
In fact many registered nurses have started their career working as LPN’s.
Benefits of being an LPN
Those who choose to become LPN’s can enjoy a number of benefits that will help them achieve their medical career goals.
LPN’s can either choose to advance within their existing career and become supervisors to less experienced LPN’s and nurse assistants/unlicensed personnel, or apply their education and training towards becoming a registered nurse.
Aside from these career path options other LPN benefits include:
- Being able to quickly enter the nursing field, gain critical experience, earn a salary and make better informed career decisions
- Being able to train as a nurse while going to school to become an RN
- Being able to build up resume experience and a work portfolio
- Developing important professional relationships and connections, which can help when searching for a job or looking for career advancement opportunities after completion of the RN program
Note: LPN’s who are interested in transitioning into a career as a registered nurse may choose to participate in an LPN to RN program which will allow them to transfer their education credits and training into an RN program so that they can graduate faster.
Registered nurse role & responsibilities
A registered nurse (RN) is a nurse who has received extensive training within the RN program and has passed the NCLEX-RN exam in order to obtain their license.
As with LPN’s registered nurses provide medical care to patients who require medical assistance, however RN’s receive additional education and training which allows them to provide a higher level of medical care to the patients they assist.
Because of the advanced training registered nurses receive they have the opportunity to move into more specialized roles within patient care such as emergency room (ER) nursing, critical care, pediatrics, clinical care, forensics and holistic care just to name a few.
The RN program that registered nursing students take provides a more comprehensive educational foundation on important subjects such as human anatomy and biology, medicine, healthcare procedures and patient care among other medical topics and requires students to spend more time learning the college curriculum before they are able to enter the medical field.
In fact while an LPN can receive their diploma in as little as a year registered nurses require 2 – 4 years of educational training in order to earn their degree and begin practicing in the field.
Aside from being able to perform higher level medical care registered nurses also have the opportunity to go back to school and earn their masters or PhD in nursing, which opens up opportunities to become a nurse practitioner or nurse educator.
Benefits of being a registered nurse
Registered nursing offers medical professionals a host of benefits in the medical field.
Those who are interested in advancing their nursing career as registered nurses have many different opportunities and paths they can take, which can accommodate almost any personality and interest from education and research to pharmacology and entrepreneurship.
Aside from being able to choose from a wide variety of career options registered nurses can also enjoy benefits such as:
- Higher income potential
- More opportunities for career growth
- A wider diversity of roles and responsibilities
- High job stability
- Ability to become a specialized nurse practitioner
Which career path is right for you?
There is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing which career path you want to pursue as a nurse.
If you are unsure about whether or not the medical profession is right for you then starting off as an LPN is a great way to learn about nursing and make an informed decision before you invest more time into a career.
Starting off as an LPN is also a great way for aspiring RN’s to gain critical work experience and build up a resume while working towards a registered nursing career.
If you’re certain you want to become a registered nurse and just want to jump head first into the RN program than that can also be an excellent option.
Focusing strictly on becoming a registered nurse means you’ll be able to spend more time studying and less time working, which may be the best choice for you.
It all comes down to understanding your career goals and what strategies work best for you when it comes to succeeding in school.
Would you do well while working as an LPN on the side or are you better dedicating your time to an RN program?
Are you even interesting in becoming an RN or is working as an LPN you’re ultimate goal?
These are important questions and spending the time you need to find the right answer is definitely worth your time.
There is no right or wrong path, only the path that’s best for you.