LPN Certificates vs Nursing Associate Degrees: How Do They Differ?

by Ann Steele Community Director, NurseJournal.org   

Certificates vs degreesIf you decide that you want to be a nurse, there are a number of different options out there for you. There are both degree programs you could take part in, as well as certificate programs. Choosing between these will depend mainly on what you want to achieve with your career, what you are able to afford and how much time you have available. To help you decide which option may be right for you, let’s take a look at the differences between an LPN (licensed practical nurse) certificate and an ADN (associate’s degree in nursing).

Licensed Practical Nurse – LPN Certificate

To become an LPN, you need to take part in training that lasts up to a year and a half. You will learn about general patient care, human physiology and anatomy and touch on some nursing theories. Once licensed, you are be able to work while being supervised by a registered nurse (RN). The training is reasonably short, but the responsibilities you can have at work are very limited as well. As a result, the salary is much lower than that of an RN.

There is a high demand for nurses, fortunately, and this has caused the LPN program to change significantly so that LPNs have more responsibilities at work. However, there are still restrictions in place in terms of where they can work and what they can do. For instance, an LPN is not able to work in critical care or emergency rooms. Most LPNs now work in assisted living, care homes and residential services rather than hospitals. Most medical facilities encourage LPNs to continue to study so that they can earn a full degree and become an RN. This has led to the development of LPN to RN programs, which are fast tracked ways to earn a nursing degree. In terms of job prospects, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has calculated the average LPN wage at $20.21, which equates to an annual wage of $41,150.

The advantages of obtaining an LPN certificate include:

  • It is quick to get the certificate.
  • The price is very affordable.
  • You don’t have any professional legal responsibility.
  • You can enroll in an LPN-RN program later.

The disadvantages of obtaining an LPN certificate, however, include:

  • You don’t earn as much as you would if you were an RN.
  • If you do want to work towards your RN eventually, your overall study costs will be higher.
  • Your job opportunities can be somewhat limited, as most LPNs work in residential care.
  • You don’t have much independence at work and will always be supervised by an RN.

Nursing Associate Degrees – ADN

The ADN is seen as the quickest possible way to become a registered nurse. The degree takes around two years to complete, although you could also choose a four year college option. You will learn about the foundations of nursing and receive hands-on training in various clinical settings. The program, being only two years in length, is cheaper, too. Furthermore, many of these programs are available online, which means you could study towards them while maintaining other professional or personal responsibilities. It means that you are flexible in terms of obtaining your degree. However, many colleges want you to have had prior training in such things as nutrition and human physiology. This may take as much as a year to complete, which means that your full degree program would actually take around three years. Furthermore, it can be quite difficult to get financial aid for these packages.

The ADN allows you to take the NCLEX-RN exam, which means you can become a registered nurse even if you don’t hold bachelor’s degree. RNs are the largest proportion of the nursing workforce, which means there are lots of employment opportunities out there as well. You could work in hospitals, home health, nursing homes and so on.

The scope of your work is based on doing assessments, critical thinking and making judgements based on your education and training. This means that you can manage complex situations, including the administration of drugs and working with those who are critically ill. Furthermore, once you are an RN, you have a lot of different paths that you can specialize in, such as legal nursing, research, information technology, and so on. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly rate for an RN is $31.71, equating to an annual salary of $65,950.

The advantages of opting for an ADN include:

• It is a rather quick educational pathway.
• The prices for these courses are reasonably affordable.
• RNs with an ADN earn around the same as those with a bachelor’s degree, with the exception of specialty and management positions.
• You can study towards a bachelor’s degree later by taking part in an RN to BSN program, and these are often funded by employers.
• There are lots of different job opportunities you could enjoy.

However, there are disadvantages to holding an ADN as well. These include:

• You will need more schooling in order to retain your license.
• Your advancement opportunities can be quite limited. This is because higher qualifications tend to be required for specialized and management positions.
• You may find that some job opportunities are limited. This is because more and more hospitals now want to have Magnet Nursing Status, which means they have to employ more nurses who have a bachelor’s degree.

As you can see, the differences between LPN certificates and nursing associate degrees are quite clear. As an LPN, you have far fewer responsibilities and you will also earn less. Only if you hold an ADN at least will you be able to become a registered nurse and enjoy the status that comes with that. However, both the positions have easy bridging programs for those who want to continue their education. As such, the LPN certificate may be the better option if you are unsure about whether or not the field of nursing is what you want to do with the rest of your life.



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