The main differences between LPNs and RNs

The main differences between LPNs and RNs 27

The duties of RNs and LPNs may often overlap, but the scopes of their duties differ significantly. These specialized nurses often work together in a healthcare collaboration environment, especially in hospitals, private or government establishments and healthcare facilities. Interestingly, there is an increase in demand for RNs and LPNs, and it is possible to cross over from one to the other at any point in your career.

What is the difference between RN and LPN?

The main difference between RN and LPN lies in the educational requirements and types of licenses these two roles require.

As a registered nurse (RN), you must have completed an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor of science (BSN). In rare cases, a university may accept a diploma certificate for enrollment as an RN. In addition to this, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become a licensed RN.

A licensed practical nurse (LPN), also referred to as a licensed vocational nurse, is expected to have completed a diploma or bachelor’s in a related field. You must have obtained a specific LPN certificate that may take up to two years. You can complete an LPN certification at vocational colleges instead of universities. Like the RN, you must pass the NCLEX-PN exam to become a licensed LPN.

RNs earn an average of 35% more than LPNs. Another significant difference is that RN education takes longer to complete and is more expensive than LPN education. Within professional settings, LPNs are expected to report to RNs; hence RNs are considered higher in rank to LPNs.

What are LPN job duties?

As a licensed practical nurse, you will have a variety of job duties. You will be tasked with administering recommended oral, topical and intravenous medications to patients. This may require special certification in some US states. In addition, you will monitor intravenous sites.

Daily duties include performing physical assessments on patients, documenting and preparing patients’ records and measuring patients’ vital signs and symptoms. You will be responsible for safely transferring patients in and out of chairs, beds and any other assisted living device, as well as feeding, dressing and performing related duties hygienically on patients.

An LPN’s typical day will be dynamic. Besides monitoring in-patient medical settings, you may also assist with wound dressing, performing emergency CPRs, collecting patients’ specimens like urine, stool and capillary blood, and inserting urinary catheters and providing related care. You will also need to make calls to physicians after recognizing changes in a patient’s condition and execute nursing care plans created by a registered nurse and communicate any shift reports.

Other specialized tasks include providing ostomy care, providing care for patients who require kidney dialysis, providing care for patients placed on ventilators and tracheostomy tubes, and inserting, feeding and providing care for patients on nasogastric tubes.

What is included in the standard curriculum for RPNs?

The standard courses in an RPN curriculum should include the following:

  • Introduction to the nursing career
  • The legal and ethical components of nursing
  • Nursing theories
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical terminologies and documentation
  • Human lifespan growth and development
  • Human infection control and prevention
  • Patient safety
  • Patient medication administration
  • Primary patient care: mobility, hygiene, comfort and rest
  • Surgical nursing
  • Mental health

What are RN job duties?

A registered nurse is expected to perform all the duties of an LPN listed above in addition to specific tasks such as maintaining patients’ safety within the facility, developing a care and wellness plan for patients, accessing and managing patient populations through the regulated interventions, checking vital signs and addressing abnormalities in treated patients, and processing verbal orders from physicians regarding patients.

Additional responsibilities include administering and monitoring patients’ intake or use of medications (including intravenous medications), handling emergency response using essential life support technology, advanced cardiac life support and related facilities, and assessing wound care in patients. You will need to be comfortable with handling chemo-therapeutic and anti-neoplastic substances, blood product collection and use, fistulas and other patient medications. You will also need to check and administer implanted infusion devices in patients.

Besides medical responsibilities, RNs are also responsible for keeping accurate patient documentation and will be tasked with admitting, documenting and discharging patients safely and efficiently.

RNs are also placed in a leadership position and will be responsible for supervising all LPNs under them, delegating tasks to LPNs according to state regulations, supervising junior RNs and other specialized nursing units, updating and educating other nurses, and acting in other care facility leadership positions.

What is included in the RN course standard curriculum?

The typical curriculum for RN studies should include the following components:

  • Fundamentals of nursing
  • Nursing ethics
  • Nursing theory
  • Biomedical statistics
  • Human microbiology
  • Physiology and anatomy
  • Human nutrition
  • Human chemistry
  • Nursing assessment
  • Pharmacology
  • Human psychology
  • Gerontology
  • Obstetrics
  • Mental health
  • Population-based practice and care
  • Clinical rotation in nursing

What skills do both RNs and LPNs use?

Despite considerable differences in their job requirements, you will need to use specific skills when discharging your duties as an RN or LPN.

You will need to learn and develop technical skills as an RN or LPN; more of these are expected if you are an RN. Technical skills include using medical equipment to perform diverse roles in making patients live good quality lives within regulations. You will be expected to be skillful in placing catheters, IVs and standard equipment like monitors and thermometers.

Knowledge of medical terms and applications are skills you must also learn to become an RN or LPN. You must have the specific knowledge and training to identify medical conditions and treatment practices and effectively communicate these medical conditions to other medical personnel.

Communication skills are crucial to the discharge of nursing duties. Since RNs and LPNs work directly with patients and other medical staff, it is essential to learn good listening skills. Some patients can be too weak to speak; however, good communication skills can help you interpret signs of discomfort and the need for urgent help.

Good communication skills also mean you can clearly explain medical conditions, treatments and procedures to patients. You must also possess organizational skills to keep accurate patients’ records and note any progress made during treatment.

Teamwork management skills are expected of you as an RN or LPN. You will be part of a medical team comprising other LPNs, RNs, nursing aides, social workers and doctors. When you acquire the skills to work well within a team, your efficiency improves, and patients will get the best medical attention.

You must learn to communicate with other people within the team and offer assistance to them when they need help. It’s also important to learn to take responsibility for your errors, which are bound to happen.

Strong analytical thinking is another skill you must acquire as an RN or LPN. With strong analytical thinking, you will be able to gather, assess and process the information needed to resolve complex issues, especially with patients. You will face complicated medical issues with patients regularly, hence the need for using analytical skills to evaluate symptoms and determining the best intervention to discharge a patient.

Another area of focus is to be compassionate, which will help you connect better with patients. This skill cannot be taught but can be developed on the job. Being compassionate with your patients means learning to listen and show concern for your patients’ conditions and developing a meaningful relationship that will cater to their emotional needs. Most patients feel more secure when nurses build trust in them through compassion.

LPN vs. RN – Job role differences

RNs and LPNs perform healthcare services for patients, but it’s important to learn the scope of duties of each to thoroughly understand the differences between the two roles.

RNs often have greater responsibilities than LPN; hence, they provide higher-level patient care jobs. This means you will need many educational qualifications to earn an RN license. As an RN, you can work independently in most nursing practice fields. LPNs, on the other hand, must work under a physician. If you want more job independence, you will be better off as an RN than an LPN.

Since RNs are required to provide higher-level patient care, they can be assigned to one patient at a time or two nurses to one patient in extreme cases. Since LPNs perform slightly lower-level patient care services, they may be assigned more patients at a time. LPNs may be assigned more than ten patients in one shift.

LPN vs. RNs – Education requirement differences

The education requirement is one of the most significant differences between LPN and RN. Then LPN course duration is much shorter than the RN program. As a result, you must invest more time in becoming an RN than an LPN. With the more extended educational period requirements come more respect and a higher salary.

A typical RN degree may take between 18 and 36 months to complete. You can enroll in one of the available nursing fast-track programs if you already have a diploma and some work experience. Elmhurst University offers degree programs for those who are entering nursing as a second career. Remember, the duration of studies for an RN degree will also depend on the specialization of RN you opt for. You can also pursue a bachelor of science in nursing or an associate degree in nursing (ADN).

The diploma in nursing certificate is only available in some states, while the bachelor of science may take up to four years to complete. The ADN or diploma in nursing certificate may take up to two years to complete. While each educational program for RN and LPN certification varies, having some clinical work experience is essential to success.

In most cases, you will need to take extra behavioral and physical sciences classes to fulfill the requirements needed to become a registered nurse.

The main educational requirement to become a licensed practical nurse is a 12-month practical nursing diploma. You can complete this program at a community college or vocational school. In addition to the diploma program, you must undergo a few months and up to one year of supervised clinical practice at an attached institution. You are expected to take courses in pharmacology, biology and nursing.

RN vs. LPN – Salary differences

The salary difference between RN and LPN should motivate you to opt for an RN license ahead of the LPN specialty. Salary differences between the two specialties may vary from one state to the other and will likely depend on each state’s living costs and demand for the type of nurses.

According to a report released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2019, the RN median salary stood at $73,300, compared to $47,480 for LPNs.

Salaries for RNs and LPNs will vary further by experience, educational qualifications and specialty. RN nurses who possess significant work experience and went on to acquire a master’s degree earned more than $85,000 in 2019. The higher the number of years of experience in both RN and LPN fields, the higher the salaries earned.

RNs who specialize in critical care nursing and work in the ICU, emergency department, operating rooms and labor & delivery rooms are the highest-paid specialties in RN.

Differences between RN and LPN licensing and certification

Prospective LPNs must complete a state-approved and accredited nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nursing, also known as NCLEX-PN. Upon completing the NCLEX-PN, you will become a licensed nurse eligible to be employed in your field of expertise.

Similarly, RNs are mandated to complete state-approved accredited programs and must earn a passing status set by the NCLEX-RN.

RNs are usually allowed to become certified in at least one specialty area, e.g., the emergency department, critical care or labor and delivery. As an RN, you may enter a specialty area after working for about a year in a similar position.

RN vs. LPN – What are the career advancements?

Contrary to the opinions in certain quarters that only RNs have opportunities for career advancement, LPNs also make progress throughout their career.

Career advancement in the LPN specialty will allow you to move into the alternative care work environment, which includes working in a physician’s office, mental institution, geriatric institution and home care.

If you intend to advance your career, enroll for an advanced education certificate, such as the LPN to RN bridge program, which will allow you to become a registered nurse.

Just like the LPNs, RNs also have excellent career advancement opportunities.

RN or LPN – Which should I go for?

Consider several factors when deciding whether to go for RN or LPN certification. You need to pause and think about your short- and long-term career goals. The most important factors you should consider in addition to your career goals are:

  • Available resources and time
  • Background education
  • Work history

Available resources will determine whether you should go for RN or LPN education and training. If you can’t afford to enroll in a university for a bachelor’s degree in nursing, you will probably do better by starting with an LPN diploma, which costs much less. Since LPN diploma programs take one year or less, you will be ready for an entry-level position in nursing and can always switch to RN specialization afterward. Seeking an RN license may become more expensive if you have to travel out of state for your program and pay for additional living costs.

Your background education may also determine whether to pursue either an RN or LPN nursing specialty. If you meet the prerequisite to enter university directly from high school, you should go straight for an RN license. Many students who don’t attend university often end up in vocational centers and colleges where they upgrade their knowledge. If you start with the RN diploma, you can apply for the fast-track degree to the RN specialty.

Your work history can also have an impact on whether to choose LPN or RN as a nursing career. Having some years of work experience in the nursing field may count towards your time in nursing school. First-year nursing courses often cover basic courses in nursing, and with your work experience, you can enroll for any of the two specialties.

As a registered nurse, you can advance your career within public and private healthcare establishments. You can move into leadership roles like nurse manager or educator, where you can become a policy formulator and carry out community outreach projects. Some senior nursing managers also become independent nursing consultants, where the work is more financially rewarding.

You can also pursue further higher education to advance your career. A master’s in nursing degree is one of the prerequisites to becoming a senior or nursing manager. You can also acquire a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), which may propel you to the pinnacle of the nursing field.

Conclusion

With all the evidence on the ground, the RN nursing specialization is much more rewarding than the LPN specialization. With higher rewards comes more responsibility; hence, you must be prepared to handle more work pressures as an RN. While career growth can take you from LPN to RN, nurses are fine with switching from RN to LPN, though RNs sometimes perform the roles of LPN when there is a staff shortage. You need to look into your personal goals and long-term objectives before deciding whether to start a career in RN or begin from LPN.

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