RN or LPN What's the Difference?

In the U.S. there are two distinct classifications of nurses; the Registered nurse (RN) and the Practical/Vocational nurse (LPN/LVN).

Education and Training Dictate Licensure and Scope of Practice

In the U.S. there are two distinct classifications of nurses; the Registered nurse (RN) and the Practical/Vocational nurse (LPN/LVN).

The classification is based on education and training. The licensure and scope of practice (what the nurse is allowed to do) is also based on education and training. Nurses throughout the world are classified according to their education and training.

Registered Nurses

The RN training can take several different routes, from the nearly defunct diploma nursing programs which were mostly programs run by hospitals to train nurses, to bachelor degrees in nursing and beyond. The ADN or associates degree in nursing is a two-year program which is offered in community colleges, private schools and some vocational schools. Writemyessay.NYC's tip: In choosing a school, make sure it is accredited.

The BSN is a four-year bachelor's degree program from colleges and universities; both public and private. Most administrative levels of nursing require a BSN. It is also a prerequisite for an advanced degree in nursing. The diploma or ADN nurse can advance her education through RN-to-BSN programs. Or they may even consider an RN-to-MSN program.

Those who have a bachelor's degree in another subject can apply for an accelerated program to become a BSN or MSN depending on the program and speciality area chosen.

Advanced Practice Nursing

Nursing offers master's degree programs in a variety of specialty areas as well as a doctorate or Ph.D. in nursing. Nurse practitioners are some of the most familiar advanced practice nurses with additional education. NPs are now master's degree-prepared nurses. Nurse anesthetists and advanced practice clinical specialists also require advanced education such as an MSN as do nurse-midwives.

Nurse educators are usually MSN or Ph.D. prepared nurses; however, with the shortage of educators impacting the number of students a college or university can admit, qualified nurses with a BSN may be considered. They are usually required to be in or to begin a master's degree program as part of their hiring contract.

The Practical/Vocational Nurse Program

The LP/VN program is a 12-18 month program usually offered through vocational schools, adult education schools, private schools or community colleges. In Texas and California, the practical nurse is known as a vocational nurse or LVN. All other states and the District of Columbia issues licenses as practical nurses or LPNs.

While RNs are trained in providing more advanced care for patients as well as administrative roles, the practical or vocational nurse is trained for more basic and bedside nursing care.

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What a Practical Nurse Typically Does

The duties for a practical nurse are typically task oriented and can include such procedures as taking vital signs, administering medications (oral and injectable) giving enemas, inserting and managing Foley catheters, providing wound care/dressing changes, and assisting patients with ADLs such as hygiene, grooming, feeding, and mobility. They can assist patients with passive and active Range of Motion (ROM) exercises.

With additional training some states allow LP/VNs to draw blood and to hang and sometimes start IVs (intravenous fluids). The LP/VN works under the supervision of a physician or RN and often assists in procedures. LP/VNs also provide patient education. In some cases such as in nursing homes, experienced LP/VNs can become charge nurses and supervise other LP/VNs.

The practical nurse also has the option to continue his/her education to become an RN through LPN-to-RN or LPN-to-BSN programs.

Employment Outlook and Salaries

The employment outlook for all nurses is excellent for the next two decades due to a severe shortage of nurses and an aging and growing population. The median salary for an RN in 2006 was $57,280 and for the LP/VN it was $36,550. This information is from the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-9 Edition; a publication from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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