Nearly 4 million licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) care for patients across the U.S., according to 2022 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Hospitals, residential care homes, and other healthcare facilities rely on nurses to provide exceptional patient care. Due to the ongoing nursing shortage, the demand for nurses will continue to grow, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
There are many different kinds of positions in the nursing field, from certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to advanced practice RNs (APRNs). Many aspiring nurses interested in becoming either an LPN or an RN want to know how these two jobs differ. In this comparison of the two roles, LPN vs. RN, we explore each role’s responsibilities, job outlook, and educational requirements.
What Is an LPN?
A licensed practical nurse provides basic medical care under the supervision of registered nurses or physicians. LPNs monitor patients’ blood pressure, record their vital signs, and report medical information to other members of the care team.
LPNs work in nursing and residential care facilities, in hospitals, and for home healthcare agencies. Educational programs for LPNs typically take around one year to complete. In some states, such as Texas, LPNs are known as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs).
LPN Duties and Responsibilities
The duties and responsibilities of an LPN include providing basic patient care, such as changing patients’ bandages or assisting them with dressing. LPNs also monitor patients’ vital signs, document their care, and discuss their care plans with them, their families, and other healthcare professionals.
Particularly in home healthcare settings, LPNs assist patients with their daily living activities, including feeding and bathing. They may relay concerns from patients and their families to RNs or physicians. LPNs also communicate medical instructions to patients and their families.
Some states allow LPNs to place intravenous lines and administer IV medications. LPNs can draw blood in most states.
Because they work closely with patients, LPNs need strong communication and interpersonal skills. These nurses also must be able to effectively convey relevant information to other healthcare professionals. LPN roles require a detail-oriented outlook and the ability to multitask as well, because LPNs often have multiple patients to care for.
Successful LPNs bring compassion and caring to their role. The job also requires physical stamina, because LPNs often stand for much of their shifts.
What Is an RN?
A registered nurse cares for patients as a critical part of the clinical care team. RNs administer medical treatments, educate patients about their care plans, and assist physicians during medical procedures.
RNs primarily work in hospitals, while others work in physicians’ offices, ambulatory healthcare departments, and nursing and residential care facilities. Educational programs that provide the knowledge and skills needed to qualify for an RN license can take as little as two years to complete. Prospective RNs can also earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing, which can take as long as four years.
RN Duties and Responsibilities
Registered nurses play a central role in patient care. Like LPNs, RNs have hands-on responsibilities in patient care. But RNs have a broader scope of practice. They not only provide patient care, they also conduct health assessments, administer medication, and create patient care plans.
RNs provide holistic care to patients. This means, alongside their duties managing their patients’ care, they apply evidence-based practices to promote their patients’ health as well. They educate patients about how to manage their medical conditions and maintain their health.
RNs can specialize in any of a number of areas, including cardiovascular care, critical care, pediatrics, or public health.
On clinical care teams, RNs act as coordinators and leaders. In many settings, RNs manage LPNs and act as a bridge between patients and physicians. These roles require strong communication, organizational, and leadership abilities.
RNs rely on their critical thinking skills to modify patients’ care plans and react to changes in their health status. In critical care settings, RNs must also be able to act quickly and cope with stress. Like LPNs, RNs must bring compassion to their role, and they must have physical stamina.
Differences Between an LPN and an RN
While both LPNs and RNs provide vital patient care, the two nursing roles differ in critical ways. When it comes to LPN vs. RN roles, the main differences include:
- Job responsibilities: LPNs provide basic patient care, while RNs have a broader scope of practice. RNs act with greater autonomy and often monitor LPNs.
- Educational requirements: LPN programs typically take one year, while RN programs require a minimum of two years. RNs complete additional coursework and clinical training.
- Earning potential: Because RNs have greater responsibilities, they typically earn higher salaries than LPNS. LPNs can increase their earning potential by enrolling in an LPN to RN program.
- Career advancement. LPNs can become RNs, while RNs can advance their education to become nurse practitioners or take on other advanced practice RN roles.
Job Outlook: LPN vs. RN
Both RNs and LPNs are expected to be in high demand across the country for many years to come. According to BLS projections, RN jobs will grow 6% from 2022 to 2032, while LPN jobs will grow 5%.
More than 193,000 job openings for RNs are expected to be available every year over the next decade, while over 54,000 job openings for LPNs are expected to be available every year in the next decade, according to the BLS. Retirements and the growing need for healthcare services will drive this demand.
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