Registered Nurses (RNs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) are each essential members of the health care team. Both career paths lead to direct patient care roles, helping others in need. And, now more than ever, there is a need for these nursing professionals. As the elderly population reaches record-high numbers, and we continue to face a shortage of healthcare professionals, the nation needs caring, qualified nurses to step up to the plate.
As you consider your future in nursing, you may be wondering how the RN and LPN career paths differ in terms of their scope of work, daily duties, salary, and training requirements. These are important factors to consider when deciding which title aligns with your career goals. Let’s take a look.
LPN vs. RN Similarities and Differences
At a high-level, both LPNs and RNs are dedicated to meeting the fundamental needs of their patients. They care for those who are sick, injured, and disabled, providing medical and functional support to help patients recover comfortably. However, these nursing careers are very distinct in their responsibilities and scope of work.
Registered Nurses (RNs) are responsible for most aspects of patient care, from administering medications to coordinating treatment plans. Their RN license provides these nurses with great autonomy in their careers, in which they have the ability to assess, diagnosis, and treat patients independently.
Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), on the other hand, provide more basic nursing care to patients and usually work under the supervision of RNs and other medical professionals. With this, an LPN may assist an RN with basic tasks like administering medicine, monitoring patient progress, and taking patient vital signs.
The RN and LPN scope of practice varies greatly due to their level of licensing and training. RNs require more time in nursing school and more comprehensive training as a result. This prepares them for more self-governing roles in healthcare, when compared to an LPN.
LPN vs. RN Duties and Scope of Practice
Examples of RN Duties:
- Evaluate patients’ conditions and symptoms
- Record patients’ medical histories
- Observe patients and record their progress
- Help perform diagnostic tests and analyze results
- Help formulate diagnoses based on observations
- Consult and collaborate with physicians, doctors, and other advanced professionals
- Set up and coordinate treatment plans, or contribute to existing care plans
- Administer medications and treatments (including IVs and medications through central lines)
- Perform emergency care response when needed, such as Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS)
- Operate medical equipment and devices
- Educate patients and families on how to manage/prevent illnesses or injuries
- Teach patients about post-op care and at-home treatments
- Measure patients’ vital signs as and detect/address abnormalities
- Take directions from physicians, doctors, podiatrists, APRNs, and other advanced professionals
- Supervise and delegate tasks to Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), per your state’s guidelines
Examples of LPN Duties:
- Measure and monitor patients’ vital signs, such as blood pressure
- Ensure basic comfort for patients, including helping them bathe or dress
- Perform physical assessments under the direction of an RN
- Administer oral, rectal, and topical medications for patients
- Change bandages and wound dressings
- Insert and care for urinary catheters
- Perform emergency CPR when needed
- Safely transfer patients in and out of bed, or using a wheelchair
- Collect specimens for testing, such as capillary blood, stool, and urine
- Care for patients with ventilators, tracheostomy tubes, nasogastric tubes, and/or gastrostomy tubes
- Keep records on patients’ health and progress
- Communicate with patients on their needs and comfort, and report these to medical team
- Identify changes in patients’ health that require a call to appropriate nurses or physicians
For more information, check out our RN vs. LPN infographic here.
It is important to note that different states have implemented different scopes of practice for LPNs and RNs. For example, in many states, LPNs cannot administer IVs. However, this is allowed in some states with certification. As you consider the LPN vs. RN scope of practice, be sure to research your local laws or ask your nursing school for details. Below are examples of definitions of the LPN and RN scope of practice in Connecticut.
Connecticut RN Scope of Practice:
In Connecticut, a Registered Nurse (RN) is licensed to diagnose health problems, provide supportive and restorative care, educate and counsel patients or families, refer and find cases, collaborate with the total healthcare team, and administer medical regimen under the direction of a licensed physician or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Learn more here.
Connecticut LPN Scope of Practice:
Connecticut Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) help to share the responsibility of nursing practice and perform selected tasks under the direction of an RN or APRN. The LPN duties can overlap with that of other nursing staff, including support with patient care, health counseling and teaching, and executing tasks as directed by physicians and advanced practice professionals.
LPN vs. RN Training and Licensing
As noted above, LPNs and RNs have different training requirements, which helps to inform the scope of practice in their careers. Again, different states will have distinct requirements for LPNs and RNs. In general, however, the same trend holds true: RNs require a longer commitment to nursing school than LPNs. Their curriculum covers more advanced topics, technical skills, and clinical experiences than an LPN diploma program. This leads RNs to maintain a more autonomous career, which many RNs will tell you, is well-worth the extra investment.
Today, Registered Nurses are required to complete an associate degree in Nursing. At Goodwin University, this can be completed in just 20 months part-time, on top of your prerequisite courses. The associate degree in Nursing qualifies graduates to complete the NCLEX-RN examination, which provides nurses with RN licensure. An RN license is required to practice and provide patient care. However, some RNs choose to go back to school or continue their education with a Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN), to qualify for more advanced nursing roles.
Licensed Practical Nurses are required to complete a state-approved practical nursing program, in which they learn the fundamentals of nursing care. These are typically shorter in length than college degree programs, taking at least 12 months to complete. After completing an LPN training program, aspiring practical nurses are required to take a licensing examination to become an LPN, the NCLEX-PN exam. This is also required to practice.
When considering which path is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:
- How much time can I, or am I willing to invest, in nursing school?
- How much impact do I want to have on the nursing field?
- How much do I aspire to earn in my field?
- Will I wish to seek advancement opportunities in nursing?
The benefit of pursuing an associate degree in Nursing, rather than taking the LPN route, is that a few extra months in nursing school can translate to a more independent career, a greater impact on patients’ lives, higher earning potential and marketability, and more upward mobility in your role. Ultimately, the more education you have, the more likely you are to advance in healthcare.
On average, Licensed Practical Nurses earn $48,070 per year in the United States. Meanwhile, Registered Nurses earn an average of $77,600 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. When looking at these figures, the added investment in school makes sense.
However, if you are seeking to get into the field fast, and seeking a short-term program after which you can have an immediate impact on patients, the LPN career path may be right for you. Consider the LPN vs. RN scope of practice closely, and ask yourself which path most aligns with your personal and professional goals.
If you are interested in learning more about the nursing programs at Goodwin University, do not hesitate to request more information online. Whether you are just starting your nursing journey, or are an LPN and thinking about becoming an RN, we have options for you.