LPN vs RN Nursing Major Differences Between

If you are thinking about a nursing career, it is important to understand the differences between Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs).

These two different levels of nurse sound similar, but their job duties and salaries have little in common, actually.

Let’s take an up close look at the major differences between LPN vs RN:

Job Duties

LPNs provide basic nursing care for patients, including checking blood pressure, cleaning and bathing, insertion of catheters, ensuring the general comfort of the patient, helping them to dress, and reporting the status of the patient to RNs and doctors.

RNs provide a higher level of care to patients, as they administer medications and more advanced medical treatments to them. They also coordinate patient care plans, perform many types of diagnostic tests and analyze the results, and instruct patients on how to better manage their illness. RNs also oversee the work of LPNs nursing aides and home health care workers.

How to Choose: If you want to simply get into the nursing field in the quickest and most affordable way, becoming an LPN could be the route for you.

On the other hand, if you want to maximize your salary and career options from the start, you may want to go ahead and become an RN with at least an associate’s degree.


LPNs generally earn a certificate in nursing that takes up to a year to earn. Most of these one and two year programs are offered at community colleges. Coursework involved includes basic nursing skills, biology, nutrition, anatomy, physiology, chemistry and pharmacology. Clinical rotations also are mandatory. After they graduate, they then can sit for their NCLEX-PN examination.

Remember that there really are no online programs for LPNs; most of these programs are taught at vocational schools and community colleges in your area. You do have the option of becoming an RN later, and many of those programs may be done online.

An RN has three educational options, and many of them can be done largely online:

  • Earn an associate’s degree in two years and take your NCLEX-RN examination to become a practicing RN.
  • Earn a diploma of nursing from an approved nursing program that takes a year or so to complete, then take your exam.
  • Earn your bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and then take your certification examination. By earning your four year degree, you will have the highest level of RN education and will earn a higher salary.

An RN’s education consists of these types of courses:

  • Health assessment
  • Healthcare policy
  • Clinical nursing
  • Nursing research
  • Information management
  • Patient care technology

RNs must also have a thorough background in biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and statistics.

As you are thinking about becoming a nurse, you should know that more and more employers in the healthcare field want their nurses to have a bachelor’s degree. It is well known that nurses with a BSN have a higher level of education and provide a higher level of care.

Therefore, if you are planning to be an LPN or an RN with a two year degree, that can be adequate for the present and to gain good nursing experience. But understand that you will probably need to get your BSN at some point to maximize your career options.

Licensing and Certification

For LPNs, after you complete your LPN program, you receive your certification in practical nursing. Then you must take your NCLEX-PN examination so that you can begin to work in your state.

All RNs whether they have a two or four year degree must take and pass the NCLEX-RN examination. After they pass it, they can work as an RN in their state. Some RNs also may decide to specialize in other forms of nursing, and they may become certified through professional associations in those specialties.

Online RN Degree Programs

One possible career path is to become an LPN by taking a program at a local vocational college, gain nursing experience, and later earn your associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing online. Some of the best options include:

LPN to RN (Associate’s Degree)

Allegany College of Maryland offers an 18 month, entirely online program that is designed for an experienced LPN who wants to earn her associate’s degree in nursing. Although all of the classes are completed online, you must complete 700 clinical hours in your local area.


One of the most sought after online LPN to BSN programs is North Dakota State University. The online classes that you will take in this accredited online program are:

  • Complex Issues in Adult Health
  • Psychosocial Nursing
  • Integrated Family Nursing
  • Leadership and Ethical Reflection
  • Transition from LPN to BSN
  • Nursing as a Scholarly Profession
  • Public Health Nursing
  • Nursing Management
  • Nursing Issues and Career Development

Another option for LPN to BSN online is Wayland Baptist University. To attend this program, you must have an active LPN license, and you will have 22 credit hours credited towards your BSN degree.

Your coursework will take three years full time and consists of these courses:

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Pathophysiology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Computer Applications
  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Nursing Theories and Research
  • Ethical and Legal Issues in Nursing
  • Pharmacology
  • Nursing Management Fundamentals
  • Adult Health Nursing Issues

RN Advantages

It is entirely understandable for some professionals who want to get into the nursing profession with as little education as possible and become an LPN first. However, it is worth reviewing the specific advantages of becoming an RN from the beginning:

  1. You will earn more money as an RN. The median annual salary according to the US government for RNs in 2014 was $66,000. For LPNs, it is only $42,000. So, for going to school two or three years longer, you will earn at least $20,000 more per year for much of your career.
  2. RNs have many more specialization options. RNs may work on their own and do not have to be supervised as LPNs do. RNs also are better able to tailor their careers to their interests as they become more experienced. If you stay an LPN, your career path is quite limited. As an RN, you can focus on oncology, pediatrics, geriatrics, mental health, diabetes, neonates and more. These specialized career options often result in more pay.
  3. RNs have more options to advance. You will never be able to be a team nursing leader as an LPN. You will always be on the bottom of the totem pole. While this may be fine for two or three years, do you want to always be at the bottom of the responsibility and pay scale for 10 years? You also will see nurses who are RNs with less experience than you have make more money and gain advancements.
  4. RNs have better job security. As noted earlier, most healthcare employers want their nurses to eventually become RNs, and many want them to have bachelor’s degrees. Nurses with higher education and more specialized skills are usually more critical to the operations of the hospital and are the last ones to be laid off.