LPN vs. RN: What’s the Difference?

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Written by Marie Hasty, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Two men discuss the responsibilities between LPN vs. RN in the hospital.

If you’re interested in becoming a nurse, there are a few different educational routes to choose from. Both registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) bring essential skills to patient care. But there’s more than one difference between LPN vs. RN credentials, and of the two, you might prefer one track over the other.

Registered nursing is the largest healthcare profession in the U.S., and RNs outnumber LPNs by nearly 5 to 1. Generally, you’ll find RNs in more acute care and hospital-based roles, while LPNs often work in skilled nursing facilities and other post-acute areas.

If you’re trying to understand the difference between LPN and RN credentials, there are four key things you should be aware of: job autonomy, scope of practice, education, and career outlook.

LPN vs. RN: Job Duties

RNs and LPNs have different roles, whether they’re on inpatient units or in skilled nursing facilities. LPNs work under the supervision of a nurse manager, while RNs have more autonomy and a wider scope of practice. When facilities hire, they’re typically looking for one or the other.

If you’re considering work as an RN or LPN, it might be helpful to see the difference between job descriptions for the two roles. Here’s a snapshot of the contrast between LPN duties vs. RN duties:

Registered Nurse
Licensed Practical Nurse
Plans of care Builds care plans using the nursing process, evaluating patient response and progress towards goals. Contributes to the development/revision of the care plan by offering data and suggesting potential goals and interventions for the RN’s review.
Assessments Gathers and analyzes assessment data to determine actual or potential diagnoses, problems, and issues. Engages in vital sign gathering, patient assessments, evaluating nursing care requirements through the collection and interpretation of pertinent data.
Interventions Implements the identified plan, coordinates care delivery, and employs strategies to promote health and a safe environment. Implements the identified plan under RN supervision, ensuring tasks have been completed.
Documentation Maintains meticulous and accurate patient records, ensuring comprehensive documentation of assessments, treatments, and outcomes in adherence to regulatory standards and organizational protocols. Documents assessments, procedures, patient/family education, and the communication of information to appropriate members of the healthcare team in a timely manner.

Notice that, while both nurses are essential members of the care team, their roles have some key contrasts. LPNs contribute to essential care tasks, while RNs tend to lead patient care.

What Can an RN Do That an LPN Cannot?

LPN vs. RN scope of practice have some key distinctions, in that there are several tasks that RNs can do that LPNs cannot. Scope of practice for LPNs can differ by state, so check your state’s nursing practice act for more information.

Here’s a table breaking down some common differences in practice scope between an RN vs. LPN:

LPN and RN
RN Only
Full-body assessments LPNs and RNs can assess under supervision, and do repeat assessments. Perform first assessments on patients.
Nursing care plans LPNs assist in carrying out and monitoring care plans, and communicate with the interprofessional team and families. 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 Insert peripheral IVs and do lab draws from them. Administer IV push medications and access central lines.
Foley catheters Insert and remove intrauterine catheters. Activate order protocols when a patient qualifies for a Foley.
Blood administration Monitor vital signs during blood transfusions. Only RNs and some trained LPNs can initiate blood transfusions.
Feeding tubes Insert NG tubes that do not need a guide wire for insertion. Insert NG tubes with a guide wire.

LPN vs. RN: Education Requirements

Another major difference between RN and LPN qualifications is the amount of education that you’ll be required to complete for each. Both require a high school diploma or GED at baseline, and the LPN track is a faster route to practice. Here’s a comparison between the two educational requirements:

LPN Educational Requirements

Courses take one to two years to complete and are offered through private training schools, community colleges, and technical schools. This vocational training consists of basic skills like bathing, assisting in ADLS (activities of daily living), IV insertion, and more.

RN Educational Requirements

Nursing school takes between two to four years to complete, and there are two different degree tracks: ADN vs. BSN. Associate degree programs are shorter and typically offered through community colleges, while bachelor’s degree programs take four years or more, and are usually completed through colleges and universities. Both qualify you to take the licensure exam to be an RN.

Both LPNs and RNs sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). LPNs take the practical nursing version, while RNs have their own version that covers more nursing care plans, research, and delegation.

LPN-to-RN Programs

If you’re an LPN/LVN who is considering pursuing an RN license, there are many programs out there for you to choose from. Need to save some money? When you’re an IntelyPro, you can receive a steep tuition discount from Excelsior University for its LPN to RN program.

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

If you’re looking to start practicing faster, pursuing nursing as an LPN is the right track for you. In total, taking an LPN course and getting your license could take as little as a year, plus a few months to register and take the exam. There are usually no prerequisite classes for LPN courses, so this track can take half as long as becoming an RN.

Even the shorter RN tracks require you to take courses like chemistry and biology before you can start. These classes, combined with nursing school, can mean that it actually takes three to five years for most RNs to be qualified to sit for the licensure exam.

RN vs. LPN: Where Can They Work?

RNs and LPNs can work in much of the same settings, but their roles are slightly different. RNs tend to have a more supervisory role, while LPNs help perform care tasks and assist the team under supervision. Check out some areas where RNs and LPNs work:

  • Inpatient units: RNs perform direct care to patients with acute illnesses. LPNs are less common, but not unheard of, in this setting.
  • Skilled nursing facilities: RNs supervise care of residents, while LPNs perform more skilled care tasks.
  • Home healthcare: RNs may do first-time home visits to assess patient’s needs and baseline, while LPNs do more routine visits to administer medications and assist with ADLs.
  • Ambulatory care: RNs perform first assessments to understand patient needs, while LPNs assist with care plan delivery and administer treatments under supervision.

RN vs. LPN Salary

Another key difference in LPN vs. RN credentials is the salary and career outlook you can expect. Here’s the average and highest salaries according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The average LPN salary in the U.S. is $60,790 per year. The state with the highest salary for LPNs is California (where LPNs are referred to as LVNs, or licensed vocational nurses) with an average of $76,580 annually. Check out the other highest-paying states for LPNs:

The average RN salary in the U.S. is $94,480 per year. The state with the highest salary for RNs is California, with an annual average of $137,690. Here are the other highest-paying states for RNs:

Why RNs Make More Money Than LPNs

There’s quite a difference between average wages for LPNs and RNs. Although your salary will depend on your location, experience, and certifications, LPNs tend to make less. There are a few reasons for the discrepancy in wages between these roles:

  • Education: Nursing school for RNs takes about twice as long as LPN courses.
  • Practice scope: RNs have a larger scope of practice and can do all the tasks that an LPN can do and more.
  • Supervision: LPNs must work under the supervision of an RN or another clinician. This means that RNs carry more responsibility and more risk in their job roles.
  • Career advancement: There are more opportunities for RN certifications and continuing education, which can increase wages.

LPN vs. RN: Job Outlook

You might have heard that LPNs could be “phased out” in the coming years, but this idea has been around for decades, and practical nursing doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects both RN and LPN job opportunities to grow at similar rates. For RNs, BLS projects a 6% growth in jobs, while LPN roles are expected to grow by 5%.

Healthcare roles tend to be stable choices for jobs, and need is expected to rise for both roles as the U.S. population ages. Since job outlooks for LPNs and RNs are similar, a better assessment of job outlook might come from thinking about your own goals.

Find RN and LPN Jobs That Match Your Goals

Now that you understand the key differences between LPN vs. RN credentials, you might be curious about salaries and job postings. Our tailored job boards make it easy to find careers for LPNs, RNs, NPs, and more.