Differentiating RN And LPN Roles: A Close Look Into Their Differences

by Ann Steele Community Director, NurseJournal.org   

RN vs LPNOnce you have made the decision to return to school and take the courses required to become a nurse, you may find yourself facing the decision of whether to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN). The initial difference between the two options that you may notice is the type of degree that you will earn. As an RN, you will receive a professional nursing degree, which often consists of more courses, and take a longer time to complete, while as an LPN, you will receive a practical nursing degree. With both options, you will need to pass the NCLEX exam, before you can initially declare yourself an RN or LPN.

What Is a Registered Nurse?

An RN is generally considered to be at the top of the nursing hierarchy ladder, in charge of various duties, as well as ensuring that the patient’s needs are always met, and that they are receiving the best quality of healthcare available, in a secure, safe environment. Often, an RN will receive written and verbal requests from the physicians within the hospital or healthcare facility at which she or he works, and will be regarded as the head of the rest of the nursing staff.

RNs are responsible for carrying out the initial assessment of a patient, and helping to develop a plan of care and treatment for patients according to their individual needs and circumstances. The variables that can determine which care path is most suitable for a patient can include dietary needs, sex, religious preferences, level of independence, and whether the patient currently has support from friends and family. An RN must take all aspects of a patient’s situation into account when he or she is making a care plan.

A registered nurse is also responsible for deciding which patients should receive immediate care first, based on the symptoms they are exhibiting and the severity of their primary complaints. An RN will have completed at least a two year nursing program, and will have at least an associate’s degree in nursing. Typically, their salaries per year fall at a median of about $65,470.

What Is a Licensed Practical Nurse?

Known in some circles as a licensed vocational nurse, an LPN, or licensed practical nurse is capable of fulfilling most of the functions of a registered nurse. Although the initial assessment of a patient must be performed by the registered nurse, an LPN can also implement a patient assessment as requested by a physician as part of a daily ritual devoted to assessing the patient’s care, and development. He or she may also take orders from physicians to provide the best standard of care for his or her patient, and may perform some duties in caring for wounds, drawing blood, starting IVs, assisting with procedures, and providing essential care.

Although LPNs are not permitted to start PICC lines or give IV push meds, they are still valuable and necessary members of the nursing field, performing a great deal of the necessary routine care a patient needs on a daily basis. They assist the RN in ensuring that the certified nursing assistants perform the necessary nursing tasks, and make notes regarding changes in the patients’ status, before reporting them to the RN accordingly. An LPN will have been required to complete a one year training program, and the average salary they receive per year will typically fall at a median of $41,540, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Growth for Both Roles

One of the main factors that can influence the education we choose to pursue, is whether we are sure that there will be a job in our field once we graduate. If you decide to become an LPN or an RN, the answer is typically yes.

According to the BLS, the availability of jobs in the LPN market is expected to grow by approximately 25% through to 2022, and the availability of RN jobs is expected to grow by approximately 19% in the same time frame.

Because technology is constantly improving, medical professionals are capable of treating a greater number of ailments and diseases than ever before, which means that more people will be attending medical facilities for various healthcare procedures.

Making the Choice

As an LPN or RN, you can be sure that you will be a valuable part of the nursing community. Although there is something of a hierarchy to consider when it comes to nursing, it is important to remember that both roles are needed for the team to be able to function efficiently, and effectively, providing the safest, most successful healthcare.

If you are attempting to decide whether you should pursue a career as an LPN or an RN, you will need to take the time to consider how much responsibility you want to deal with, how much time you may want to invest in your schooling, and how large of a salary you would be happy with. Whichever path you do choose, it’s bound to be a rewarding one.

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