Careers in nursing are widely diverse and in high demand. Read on for more information about the similarities and differences between registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.

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Comparing Registered Nurses to Licensed Practical Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are both important medical careers with promising growth potential. These highly-trained professionals are responsible for a wide range of essential patient care duties in many different settings, yet their specific functions are different. The following article will explain the key similarities and differences between these two careers.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Registered Nurse Bachelor's degree $68,450 16%
Licensed Practical Nurse Postsecondary non-degree award $44,090 16%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Registered Nurses vs. Licensed Practical Nurses

While both RNs and LPNs are trained to provide nursing care in a variety of settings, there are significant differences between these two careers. RNs and LPNs must both earn and maintain state licensure through testing, on-the-job training, and continuing education; however, RNs typically complete a more rigorous course of study that can take up to four years to complete, while LPNs can usually earn their certificate in about a year. RNs and LPNs both work in similar environments, but RNs work with a specific patient population, while LPNs can administer basic care in a variety of different departments. In the hierarchy of patient care, RNs report directly to doctors, while LPNs work under the supervision of RNs and doctors.

Registered Nurse

Registered nurses not only provide medical care, advice, and emotional support to patients and their families, but also help educate patients and the general public about important health matters, managing medical conditions, and preventing illnesses and infections. RNs most often work in hospitals and doctors' offices, but can also be found in home healthcare agencies, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, schools, correctional facilities, and serving in the military.

RNs must complete a course of study that can take anywhere from two to four years and pass a licensing exam in order to receive their certification. Nursing is a physically demanding occupation, requiring significant lifting, bending, walking, and standing; RNs are also at increased risk of injury or illness because of their close contact with infectious diseases and potentially hazardous medical equipment. RNs must adhere to a strict safety and sterilization protocol to prevent harm to themselves and their patients.

Job responsibilities of a registered nurse include:

  • Keeping accurate patient records, including medical history, symptoms, and treatment
  • Administering medications and treatments such as intravenous fluids and oxygen
  • Communicating effectively with patients to provide advice and education on treatment aftercare and follow-up
  • Monitoring, observing, and recording patient progress
  • Working as part of a team to determine and manage patient care plans

Licensed Practical Nurse

LPNs provide basic nursing care in a variety of settings, though they are most often found in nursing homes, hospitals, medical offices, and long-term care facilities; many LPNs also work in private residences as in-home healthcare providers. LPNs must complete a post-secondary certificate or diploma program--typically offered through a community college or technical school--as well as pass a state licensing exam. Most states offer advanced certifications for LPNs who wish to focus their careers on a specific kind of patient care, such as IV therapy or pediatrics.

LPNs must frequently transfer patients to and from wheelchairs, into and out of bed, and assist with personal care, so those interested in this career should be in good physical condition and able to lift, stretch, carry, and stand for long periods of time. Compassion, patience, and good communication skills are also essential characteristics for anyone considering a career as an LPN.

Job responsibilities of a licensed practical nurse include:

  • Taking and recording patient vital statistics, including blood pressure, temperature, height, and weight
  • Collecting patient samples for lab testing
  • Providing patient comfort by assisting with feeding, dressing, or bathing
  • Reporting to nurses and doctors regarding patients' current status, progress, questions, and concerns
  • Communicating with and listening to patients regarding their plan of care

Related Careers

Those interested in a career as an RN might also consider becoming a physician's assistant, medical professionals who are trained to examine, diagnose, and treat patients. If you find a career as an LPN interesting, you may also enjoy learning more about becoming a certified surgical technologist, helping surgeons prepare for and perform operations.

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