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LPN vs RN: What's the Difference?

Embarking on a career in nursing offers a variety of educational paths, each leading to distinct roles within the healthcare system.

Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) both contribute essential skills to patient care, but understanding the disparities between the two credentials is crucial for aspiring nurses.

In this guide, we'll explore the differences between LPN and RN credentials, shedding light on job responsibilities, educational requirements, salary differentials, and the evolving landscape of the nursing profession.

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LPN vs. RN: What's the Difference?

In the vast landscape of healthcare, LPNs and RNs play different yet complementary roles. RNs typically assume more autonomy and engage in acute care settings, while LPNs often work in post-acute areas like skilled nursing facilities. Understanding the variations in job descriptions is vital for those considering a career in nursing.

LPN vs. RN: Scope of Practice

The scope of practice for LPNs and RNs varies, influencing the tasks they can undertake in a healthcare setting. RNs generally have a broader scope of practice, allowing them to perform certain tasks that LPNs cannot. It's essential to be aware of these distinctions to make informed decisions about your nursing career.

What Can LPNs Do?

Full-body Assessments:

LPNs and RNs can assess under supervision, and do repeat assessments.

Nursing Care Plans:

LPNs assist in carrying out and monitoring care plans, and communicate with the interprofessional team and families.

Intravenous Catheters:

Insert peripheral IVs and do lab draws from them.

Foley Catheters:

Insert and remove intrauterine catheters.

Blood Administration:

Monitor vital signs during blood transfusions.

Feeding Tubes:

Insert NG tubes that do not need a guide wire for insertion.

What Can RNs Do?

Full-body Assessments:

Perform first assessments on patients.

Nursing Care Plans:

Create care plans, develop and change them, and triage patients. RNs also communicate outcomes with the care team, and are a resource for families.

Intravenous Catheters:

Administer IV push medications and access central lines.

Foley Catheters:

Activate order protocols when a patient qualifies for a Foley.

Blood Administration:

Only RNs and some trained LPNs can initiate blood transfusions.

Feeding Tubes:

Insert NG tubes with a guidewire.

LPN vs. RN: Educational Requirements

LPN Education Requirements

The educational journey to become an LPN or RN is a critical factor for aspiring nurses. LPN programs typically take one to two years, offering vocational training in basic nursing skills.

RN Education Requirements

In contrast, RNs can choose between associate degree programs (ADN) and bachelor's degree programs (BSN), with completion times ranging from two to four years.

LPN vs. RN: How Long Does It Take to Get Licensed?

If you're eager to enter the workforce swiftly, opting for a career as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) is the ideal path. Completing an LPN course and obtaining your license can be accomplished in as little as a year, with additional time for registration and exam preparation.

Notably, LPN programs typically do not have prerequisite classes, making this route potentially half as time-consuming as the educational journey to become a Registered Nurse (RN).

In contrast, even abbreviated RN programs necessitate completion of courses such as chemistry and biology before commencing the core nursing curriculum. When factoring in these prerequisites alongside nursing school requirements, the total duration for most RNs to become eligible for the licensure exam can range from three to five years.

RN vs. LPN: Where Can They Work?

Registered Nurses (RNs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) share many workplace settings, but their responsibilities differ slightly. RNs often assume supervisory roles, while LPNs contribute to care tasks and support the team under supervision.

Explore some of the key areas where RNs and LPNs are employed:

Inpatient Units
  • RNs provide direct care to patients with acute illnesses.

  • LPNs, although less common in this setting, are not unheard of.

Skilled Nursing Facilities
  • RNs supervise the care of residents.

  • LPNs focus on performing skilled care tasks.

Home Healthcare
  • RNs conduct initial home visits to assess patients' needs and establish baselines.

  • LPNs handle routine visits, administering medications, and assisting with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs).

Ambulatory Care
  • RNs conduct initial assessments to comprehend patient needs.

  • LPNs contribute to care plan delivery and administer treatments under supervision.

If you're looking for high-paying, flexible per-diem LPN or RN jobs, Caring Staff offers some of the best opportunities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic US.

LPN vs. RN: Salary

One significant consideration for prospective nurses is the salary and career outlook associated with LPN and RN roles. While LPNs have a shorter educational track, RNs generally earn higher salaries due to their expanded scope of practice, education level, and potential for career advancement.

The average LPN salary in the U.S. is $55,860 per year. The state with the highest salary for LPNs is Washington, with an average of $69,950 annually.

The average RN salary in the U.S. is $89,010 per year. The state with the highest salary for RNs is California, with an annual average of $133,340.

LPN vs. RN: Why RNs Get Paid More

The considerable contrast in average wages between Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs) is influenced by several factors. While individual salaries are contingent on location, experience, and certifications, LPNs typically earn less. The key reasons for this wage discrepancy include:


RNs undergo nursing school for a duration approximately twice as long as LPN courses.

Practice Scope:

RNs enjoy a broader scope of practice, encompassing all tasks within the LPN domain and additional responsibilities.


LPNs operate under the supervision of an RN or another clinician, indicating that RNs shoulder more responsibility and assume greater risk in their professional roles.

Career Advancement:

RNs benefit from a myriad of opportunities for certifications and continuing education, facilitating career advancement and potentially higher wages.

LPN vs. RN: Career Outlooks

The notion that Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) could be phased out in the near future has circulated for decades, but practical nursing remains a resilient and enduring field. Contrary to concerns, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates similar growth rates for both RN and LPN job opportunities. Projections indicate a 6% growth for RN positions and a 5% growth for LPN roles.

Healthcare roles consistently prove to be stable employment choices, and the demand for both LPNs and RNs is expected to increase as the U.S. population ages. When evaluating job outlooks for LPNs and RNs, it is advisable to consider your own career goals.

If you seek a stable job with a quick entry into the workforce, the LPN track may align with your aspirations. On the other hand, if you aim for a leadership role with greater responsibilities, pursuing the RN path is a commendable choice.

Even after making a decision, there are opportunities for LPNs seeking to transition to the RN role. Some choose to obtain their LPN license, gaining work experience while concurrently pursuing further education in nursing. Both paths offer flexibility, allowing for specialization, professional growth, and exposure to diverse work environments.

Choosing between LPN and RN credentials is a decision that involves weighing factors such as job responsibilities, educational requirements, salary differentials, and career outlook. As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, both LPNs and RNs play crucial roles, offering diverse opportunities for specialization, growth, and contribution to patient care.

By understanding the nuances of each nursing path, aspiring nurses can make informed decisions aligned with their professional goals.


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