What’s the Difference Between Practical Nurses vs. Nurse Practitioners?

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) vs. Nurse Practitioner (NP): What’s the Difference?

Nurses are among the most in-demand professions in the healthcare industry, with about 1.8 million job openings projected per year until 2032. Within that vast number of opportunities, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) can expect to see about 54,400 job openings each year, and nurse practitioners can expect to see 29,200 job openings per year. To put it simply, both career paths are brimming with opportunities for prospective caregivers to make an impact.

But don’t be fooled by the similarly-sounding titles. While both Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Nurse Practitioners (NPs) contribute significantly to patient care, their roles, responsibilities, and career trajectories differ considerably.

Below, we’ll explain the differences between an LPN vs. nurse practitioner, such as their job duties, educational requirements, work environments, and salary potential.

What is a licensed practical nurse (LPN)?

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) provide basic medical care and comfort to patients who are sick, injured, and disabled. They monitor patients’ progress, listen to patients’ needs, and relay patient concerns to registered nurses (RNs) and doctors. They also work under the direction of a registered nurse (RN) or physician, carrying out basic nursing tasks like taking vital signs and dressing wounds.

But, the actual work of an LPN goes beyond patient care. These practical nurses are often patients’ primary point of contact during their visits or stays, meaning LPNs have the unique ability to make a difference in patients’ experiences (and lives).

Additional job responsibilities include:

  • Administering medication and IV fluids (in some states only)
  • Assisting with bathing and dressing
  • Changing bandages
  • Collecting laboratory samples and running basic lab tests
  • Discussing care with patients and listening to their concerns
  • Documenting patient care and maintaining records
  • Ensuring patients are comfortable and tended to and reporting needs back to a doctor or nurse
  • Monitoring patients’ health by checking body temperature, blood pressure, and other vitals

What is a nurse practitioner (NP)?

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) with a graduate-level degree. This graduate degree allows NPs to perform more advanced care duties, including some traditionally performed by physicians. As such, nurse practitioners have greater authority and responsibility than registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses.

Nurse practitioners work collaboratively with the healthcare team while seeing and assessing patients, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, diagnosing conditions, creating treatment plans, and prescribing medication for their patients. They also help patients manage chronic conditions and adjust their treatment plans. Often, nurse practitioners or APRNs serve as primary care providers for patients in need.

Practical nurse vs. nurse practitioner educational requirements

Due to the varying levels of responsibility and autonomy in these careers, the steps to becoming an LPN or nurse practitioner are quite distinct.

To become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), candidates must complete a state-approved LPN program where they gain experience and learn the fundamentals of nursing care, pharmacology, anatomy, and physiology. These programs are typically offered at the diploma or certificate level. Therefore, they are much shorter than college degree programs, sometimes taking as few as 12 months to complete. Upon completion, LPN candidates take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) exam to become licensed as LPNs.



Learn how to become an LPN at Goodwin here!



Nurse practitioners must complete a longer stretch of education and experiential requirements before earning an APRN license. For example, nurse practitioners must first earn their registered nurse (RN) licensure before pursuing a graduate program.

Many graduate nursing programs will ask that candidates have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), but some schools offer RN-to-MSN programs that allow students with their Associate degree in Nursing (ADN) and RN license to enroll.

Then, candidates need to complete their advanced degree from an accredited APRN degree program to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), such as nurse practitioners (NPs).

Many colleges and universities, like Goodwin University, offer flexible and affordable nurse practitioner programs that can be completed in as little as 20 months part-time.

At Goodwin, students who want to become specialized nurse practitioners can pursue the following programs:

Nurse Practitioner (NP) degree programs teach students how to perform specific tasks that RNs are not licensed to perform. Some of these advanced tasks include conducting advanced physical assessments, diagnosing and treating illnesses and infections, ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests, and writing prescriptions.

Nurse practitioners must also be nationally certified through the Nurse Practitioner National Certification Examination, and candidates can choose to become certified in a specialty, such as family nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, or other.

After earning an advanced nursing degree and passing the national certification exam, candidates can submit their application for their nurse practitioner license, receive their license number, and officially practice as a nurse practitioner.



Learn about the APRN pathways at Goodwin here!



LPN vs. nurse practitioner work environments

Licensed practical nurses and nurse practitioners both work in various healthcare settings, including:

  • Clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Private homes
  • Rehab centers and facilities
  • Residential care centers

Licensed practical nurses work full-time with shifts longer than eight hours and some working nights, weekends, and holidays. Nurse practitioners also work full-time, but those in physicians’ offices typically work during regular business hours, while those in other healthcare facilities may work night, weekend, and holiday shifts.

Practical nurse vs. nurse practitioner salary potential

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), licensed practical nurses make a median annual wage of $54,620, with the highest ten percent earning more than $72,650 annually.

Nurse practitioners can expect to earn a median annual salary of $125,900, with the highest ten percent earning more than $208,080 per year. The high earning potential is reflective of the autonomy that nurse practitioners have in their professions and the increased investment they’ve made to higher education.

While there is a difference in salary potential between an LPN vs. nurse practitioner, both occupations are incredibly rewarding and in demand, especially for those driven by compassion and with strong communication and problem‑solving skills.

LPN vs. nurse practitioner: Which career is right for you?

Licensed practical nurses comfort and support others by easing the anxiety and distress of patients and their loved ones, while also providing basic patient care.

Nurse practitioners provide comfort, of course, but also serve as primary care providers. They are responsible for diagnosing patients, treating conditions and illnesses, and counseling or educating patients on preventative care.

Candidates should consider how much time and money they can devote to their education, the types of nursing roles they want to hold, the environment they want to work in, and the level of care they want to provide when choosing to become a practical nurse vs. nurse practitioner. Regardless of your path, candidates can be assured they will be entering an in-demand field and have a fulfilling, rewarding, and financially stable career helping people in need.

Goodwin has a variety of program options for both aspiring LPNs and nurse practitioners. Learn more about our nursing programs by contacting us today. We can’t wait to help you get through college and into a great career!