LPN vs RN – Understanding The Differences

When it comes to the nursing field, one of the most common questions asked is, “what’s the distinction between a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and a registered nurse (RN)?

After all, they’re both trained to provide patient care and work in diverse healthcare settings.

Although this is true, there are several differences between the two types of nurses.

Primarily, these healthcare professionals differ in the education and training they receive within their respective fields.

As a result, a patient’s level of medical care is considerably affected by their knowledge and skills.

To illustrate, LPNs receive basic medical training to provide limited patient support.

Some LPNs complete training within a year and quickly apply for work.

Therefore, LPNs enter healthcare faster than registered nurses and provide vital support to understaffed areas.

With that said, their restricted training limits the care they can provide.

Conversely, RNs need 2 – 4 years of educational training (plus prerequisite courses and clinicals) before working in the field.

Moreover, RN programs can be highly competitive, making entry difficult for new students.

However, the training RNs receive allows them to provide more effective medical care with more significant responsibilities.

Ultimately, both types of nurses are essential within the nursing field.

However, their roles vary greatly based on their education and training.

This article provides an expanded view of these healthcare providers’ roles.

It also explains the differences and benefits of each profession.

LPN vs. RN: Primary Differences

LPNs and RNs provide care to patients in need of medical care.

However, there are numerous differences between the two professions.

These areas include four categories: education, work responsibilities, salary, and employment opportunities.

Each category significantly impacts their career path, income, training, and responsibilities.

Although LPNs aren’t as well trained and specialized as RNs, there are opportunities for advancement and growth.

LPN Education

There are several differences between LPN and RN education and training.

As a result, these specialists provide different levels of medical care and fulfill unique roles within the healthcare system.

Firstly, LPN students can complete the LPN program within a year.

However, depending on the program and student’s status (part-time or full-time), it can take up to two years before becoming an LPN.

It allows students to quickly enter the field, earn money and gain work experience.

However, students don’t receive the same level of training and education as registered nurses.

Therefore, their roles and patient care skills are relatively limited compared to registered nurses.

Fortunately, LPNs can join an LPN to RN program to gain additional expertise and transition into an RN career.

Moreover, the LPN to RN program allows these professionals to fast-track their education.

They don’t need to retake or complete the same training as non-experienced students.

RN Education

Registered nurses receive 2 – 4 years of education before becoming licensed.

They must also take prerequisite courses, compete for entry into the RN program, take clinicals and pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

As a result, becoming a registered nurse takes longer and is more complex than becoming an LPN.

However, registered nurses have more autonomy, career advancement opportunities, and significant medical care roles.

Overall, the RN program provides a comprehensive educational foundation on essential subjects and medical topics.

It includes human anatomy and biology, medicine, healthcare procedures, and patient care, among other topics.

As a result, students spend more time learning the college curriculum before entering the medical field.

Finally, over 75 specializations for registered nurses allow more significant career advancement opportunities.

RNs work in the emergency room, critical care, pediatrics, clinical care, forensics, and holistic care.

Some registered nurses even start a business or practice as APRNs.

Work Duties

Because LPNs receive less education and training than RNs, they are often supervised by trained registered nurses or physicians.

RNs, physicians, doctors, and other medical professionals can take over if a patient needs advanced medical care.

Although LPNs do not receive the same level of training as registered nurses, they are a vital and indispensable part of healthcare.

LPNs perform numerous tasks during a typical day to ensure adequate patient care.

They primarily assist patients with daily tasks and monitor their condition to ensure stability and function.

If any issues or abnormalities arise, LPNs inform trained staff members to provide oversight and address medical issues.

LPNs provide much of the day-to-day care for their patients.

As a result, they regularly build long-lasting friendships with the individuals they support, positively impacting everyone affected.

LPNs also allow medical specialists to spend less time on activities that do not require their expertise.

In turn, they can focus on other medical tasks and assist patients who require advanced care.

LPN Daily Responsibilities

  • Helping patients with mobility
  • Providing medication
  • Assisting patients with cleaning, showering, and getting dressed
  • Feeding patients that are unable to help themselves
  • Performing emergency CPR/AED support
  • Cleaning wounds
  • Applying bandages
  • Performing proper infection control and prevention

Registered nurses provide attentive medical care to various injuries, illnesses, and ailments patients.

These medical professionals work directly with patients to monitor and assess their condition.

During this process, RNs perform vital assessments, document and update medical records, administer medication and treatments and collaborate with other medical professionals.

They also educate patients and family members on their conditions and answer questions to provide clarity and comfort.

Because RNs have advanced training, they can supervise LPNs, CNAs, and nursing assistants.

It allows them to spend more time on higher-level medical tasks necessary to ensure optimal patient care.

RN Daily Responsibilities

  • Assess their patient’s medical condition (observe and interpret symptoms)
  • Evaluate patients throughout the rehabilitation process
  • Administer medications and treatments
  • Educate patients about their injury, illness, and ailments
  • Collaborate with nurses and doctors/physicians to develop patient care plans
  • Update medical records and documentation
  • Supervise LPNs, CNAs, and nursing assistants
  • Assist patients in the ICU, ED, critical care, trauma unit, and other sensitive environments

Finally, registered nurses can specialize in a particular field, such as the ICU or pediatrics, allowing for more comprehensive patient care.

They can also earn their MSN or DNP degree to specialize as (APRNs) advanced practice registered nurses.

At this level, APRNs have the most career flexibility, authority, and responsibilities within the nursing profession.

Salary Opportunities

Salary is another significant factor that distinguishes LPNs from RNs.

Registered nurses earn significantly more in terms of pay.

It is because they receive lots of training and education to provide higher levels of patient care.

There are also more professions for registered nurses to specialize in throughout their careers.

Highly motivated RNs earn six figures yearly with a side hustle or entrepreneurial business.

Although salaries vary depending on the state, RNs can earn 50% more yearly than LPNs.

It doesn’t include overtime, career specialization, or other factors influencing income.

Furthermore, registered nurses can earn an advanced degree and become advanced practice registered nurses.

APRNs, earn six-figure salaries and have the most autonomy among those in the nursing field.

Employment Opportunities

As a profession, LPNs and RNs have excellent career potential.

Both fields are seeing continual growth year over year.

It means numerous incentives for healthcare facilities to offer increased pay, benefits, and job security.

There are other incentives to hire highly skilled LPNs, and RNs as facilities often deal with staff shortages.

As a result, well-trained healthcare professionals often find jobs quickly, assuming enough demand.

Moreover, nurses interested in earning more money or changing locations can apply for work in cities or higher-paying places.

That is, as long as they’re willing to travel.

With that said, registered nurses have the advantage of career opportunities.

While LPNs can become LPN supervisors and work in numerous settings, registered nurses have remarkable opportunities for specialization.

However, some hard-working LPNs can train to become RNs, expanding their occupational possibilities.

Advantages of Becoming an LPN

Those who want to become LPNs enjoy several benefits that help them achieve their medical career goals.

LPNs can choose to advance within their existing career and become LPN supervisors.

In this case, they supervise less experienced LPNs, nurse assistants, and unlicensed personnel.

Alternatively, LPNs can apply their education and training to become registered nurses.

It allows them to fast-track their education and earn an RN degree faster than non-experienced students.

Aside from these career opportunities, there are several other benefits for those who become LPNs.

LPN Benefits Include:

  • Quickly entering the nursing field to gain experience, earn a salary, and make better-informed career decisions
  • Training as a nurse while going to school to become an RN
  • Building up resume experience and a work portfolio
  • Developing critical professional relationships and connections
  • Advancement opportunities after completion of the RN program

As previously mentioned, LPNs interested in transitioning into a registered nursing career may participate in an LPN to RN program.

Primarily, the program allows LPNs to transfer their education credits and training into an RN program to graduate faster.

Limitations of LPNs

Although LPNs benefit from faster entry into the medical field, there are limitations.

Firstly, LPNs earn significantly less money than registered nurses.

In other words, a much lower starting wage and income ceiling exist for those wanting to make a high salary.

LPNs also have fewer career advancement and specialization opportunities due to their limited education and training. 

As a result, LPNs only have a handful of career paths they can specialize in throughout their profession.

It can be pretty limiting for those who want to provide higher levels of medical care.

Finally, full-time workers wanting to transition into the LPN to RN program have less time to study due to their profession.

It can make getting into the nursing program, studying, and passing courses more challenging than dedicated full-time students.

Therefore, LPNs must determine whether they want to reduce their hours to complete the RN program in a timely and focused manner.

Benefits of Becoming a Registered Nurse

Registered nursing offers many benefits for those working in the medical field.

For instance, registered nurses interested in advancing their careers have numerous opportunities to specialize in distinct professions.

The RN field can accommodate almost any personality and interest, from education and research to pharmacology and entrepreneurship.

As a result, registered nurses can move into a different occupation if their current one doesn’t suit them.

RNs also have a high earning potential compared to other professions.

RNs earn $100,000 annually with the right specialization and training on the high end.

Lastly, RNs can become advanced practice registered nurses allowing for greater autonomy, income, and opportunities.

To illustrate, nurse practitioners prescribe medications, diagnose patients, act as primary care providers, and even open clinics.

Registered Nurse Benefits

  • Higher-income potential
  • More opportunities for career growth
  • A wider diversity of roles and specializations
  • High job stability
  • Ability to become an advanced practice registered nurse

As you can see, becoming a registered nurse opens up unique opportunities for those working in the medical profession.

Overall, the diversity of occupations, income potential, and autonomy RNs make them valuable healthcare workers.

That said, LPNs also bring a lot to the healthcare system and provide an excellent opportunity for students to enter the field quickly.

It’s also ideal for those unsure whether they want to pursue healthcare long-term.

Which Career is Right For You?

Choosing which career path to pursue as a nurse is not correct or wrong.

If you are unsure whether the medical profession is right for you, starting as an LPN is a great way to learn about nursing.

As a result, you’ll be able to make an informed decision before investing more time into a career.

Starting as an LPN is also great for aspiring RNs interested in gaining critical work experience.

It allows them to build a resume while working towards a registered nursing degree.

Pursuing the RN program is an excellent option if you want to become a registered nurse.

By focusing strictly on becoming a registered nurse, you’ll spend more time studying and less working.

In addition, you can get excellent grades and become a registered nurse as quickly as possible.

Ultimately, it comes down to understanding your career goals and what strategies work best to succeed in nursing school.

Would you do well as an LPN on the side, or are you better off dedicating time to an RN program?

Are you even interested in becoming an RN, or is working as an LPN your ultimate goal?

These are essential questions, and spending the time you need to find the correct answer is worth your time.

After all, there is no right or wrong career path; only the path is best for you.