Licensed Practical Nurses vs. Registered Nurses: What are the Differences?

LPN stands for “Licensed Practical Nurse.” LPN is the most basic kind of nurse. In comparison to the registered nurses, they require less formal program. They have to perform certain medical duties, but are not given responsibilities like an RN. They work under the supervision of an RN. An LPN program almost takes one year to complete. Licensed practical nurses examine patients, observe crucial symptoms, and assist in processes such as catheterization and wound care. LPNs work in home health care, hospitals, clinics and nursing homes.
Registered nurses have to perform numerous duties, but, of all, the most important is to cater to all the needs of their patients and to ensure that they get adequate comfort in a secured and safe environment. S/he takes note of the orders given by the doctors and executes them correctly. RNs are in-charge of the patients who perform assessment and develop care plans considering their condition. They are also responsible for providing immediate care, if required. RNs usually take leadership positions and apply critical thinking to deliver suitable medical services.

Let’s look at the differences between registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.

1. Education

The route to become a practical and registered nurse are quite different.

  • LPN- If you wish to become a licensed practical nurse, you are supposed to have a high school diploma or GED to pursue LPN education program. Thereafter, you have to finish 9 to 18 months of program. Finally, pass a state licensing assessment paper.
  • RN- In order to become a registered nurse, you must get a bachelor or associate degree from an approved nursing school and then clear the NCLEX-RN exam to gain RN licensure.

2. Curriculum

Program programs for both the professions vary in terms of cost, difficulty of subject matter and length.

  • LPN- The coursework of LPN program is not much lengthy and covers topics like food and nutrition, first aid, psychology, anatomy, chemistry, biology, fundamentals of nursing, human health and diseases, pharmacology, etc. Clinical internship is also an important part of this course.
  • RN- RN programs cover the similar topics like LPN programs. But, registered nurses study these topics in depth. The major focus is given on social sciences, psychology, community health, critical thinking and leadership skills. They also need to undergo hands-on program.

3. Scope of Practice

  • LPN- LPNs work under the supervision of registered nurses and doctors. Their scope of practice is limited, and they can become RN after gaining some experience and continue their education.
  • RN – A registered nurse with master’s degree has much more career prospects. They can become a nurse practitioner, nurse specialist, nurse administrator, or  nurse educator. Besides, doctorate degree holders can make careers in practice and policy, administration, and education.

4. Workplace

  • LPN– Most LPNs work in physicians’ offices, home health care facilities, nursing care facilities, medical and surgical hospitals and community care facilities. They can also choose to work in psychiatric hospitals, correctional facilities, outpatient clinics, dialysis centers and blood banks.
  • RN– RNs are majorly employed in general medical and surgical hospitals. They may also find a job in physicians’ offices, home health care services and nursing care facilities. Besides, they can opt to work in correctional facilities, schools, summer camps, educational services, government agencies, administrative and support services, and military forces.

5. Duties and Responsibilities

  • LPN- A practical nurse focuses more on performing fundamental responsibilities, such as noting patient’s crucial signs, heart beat and blood pressure. An LPN doesn’t work by herself/himself, rather s/he is always supervised by a registered nurse. They may be forbidden from taking important decisions associated with patient’s treatment or starting IVs.
  • RN – An RN performs much more complex tasks such as handling medications and other drugs along with the medical tests and reports of a patient. They have more responsibilities and can also assume administrative and managerial roles. They can carry out various tasks on their own without any prior guidance or directions.

6. Earning Potential

When it comes to salary, registered nurses generally earn more money than LPNs.

  • LPN-According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), annual mean wages of licensed practical nurses in May 2017 was $45,710 while mean hourly wages was $21.98. The top paying states for this profession were Connecticut, Rhode Island, Alaska, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
  • RN-In May 2017, as per the calculations of the BLS , the mean hourly wages for RNs were $35.36 whereas mean annual wages were $73,550. California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Alaska and Oregon were the top paying states for this vocation.

7. Job Outlook

  • LPN– 25% increase in the employment opportunities between 2012 and 2026 for LPNs is expected by the BLS. The major employers for these professionals would be  home health care facilities and residential care facilities. The reason behind numerous job openings for licensed practical nurses is retirement of a large number of nurses in the impending decade.
  • RN– As of 2012 to 2026, the BLS has projected a growth of 15% in the job opportunities for RNs. Escalating demand for healthcare services and increasing number of people who have access to these services are the major reasons for better job prospects in this field.
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