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LPN vs RN - Learn The Difference Between an LPN And RN


It’s an argument that seems as old as time. Which type of nurse works the hardest and does the most, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or registered nurses (RNs)? Some RNs will hold up their years of education and medical training as a sign of being the better nurse, while LPNs are equally as quick to point out that they alleviate the burdens many RNs have on their shoulders by providing vital patient care.

The truth is, all nurses at every license level work very hard, and it is unfortunate that they do not receive the recognition or pay they deserve. However, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that there are major differences in the type of work LPNs and RNs do. Some times the differences are big and sometimes they don’t appear to exist, particularly if the LPN has just as much experience and education as an RN. That doesn’t negate the fact that both types of nurses are critical to providing patients with the best care possible.

The main difference between LPNs and RNs

One of the main things that differentiate the LPN and RN is the type of license they have. The licensure of a licensed practical nurse limits the autonomy he or she has in her work. LPNs must work under the supervision of a doctor or registered nurse. Some of their duties entail taking vital signs, talking to patients and noting their responses, and administering medication. However, they cannot assess patients, interpret medical data, or make medical decisions about the patient’s care. These are left to the physician or RN in charge.

Registered nurses are often considered one step below a doctor because the scope of their work is vast. Because of this, it seems like licensed practical nurses do much less than their RN counterparts. As noted before, this is not always true. While an LPN cannot legally diagnose or treat a patient like an RN, many accumulate years of training and experience that allows them to make unofficial assessments of a patient’s condition and recommend possible treatment options. The LPN officially cannot act without the approval of the supervising medical professional, but in actual clinical practice this is not always the case, especially in emergency situations.

It is not unusual, in fact, for LPNs to become RNs after working in the profession for a number of years. This is accomplished by enrolling in a degree program at a community, vocational, or four-year school. Accelerated programs are also available for those that want to enter the RN profession quickly.

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Requirement

Some in the profession want to differentiate LPNs as technical nurses and RNs as professional nurses. The nursing industry is debating within itself whether or not to require all nurses to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (or equivalent) degree. Since LPNs are not required to attain this level of education, and thus many do not, these nurses would be faced with a critical decision if BSNs were required.

The discussion about requiring a minimum BSN has been discussed for a long time. However, it never moved beyond a conversation because of the nursing shortage. With fewer RNs entering the field, employers are hiring more LPNs to fill in the gaps. This has the unfortunate side effect of stalling the change in educational requirements.

In recent years, however, the tide appears to be turning. Employers are beginning to require nurses to have a BSN to qualify for employment. This may be related to studies that indicate that a nurse with a bachelor’s degree provides better patient care. A medical facility with a nursing staff that has BSNs experience improved patient outcomes and reduced patient mortality. This isn’t to say that less educated nurses are more dangerous, but there is no denying the positive impact of higher education.

The Nurse Hierarchy

All nursing roles are important, but there is a definite hierarchy. It is one born of necessity since there are different nursing professions that require varying degrees of education and experience to enter. The positions are also somewhat segmented with CNAs, LPNs, RNs, and advanced RNs performing different functions in medical facilities. However, they all work as a team to take care of patients’ needs.

At the end of the day, it’s not about what license you hold as a nurse. It’s about enjoying your job and doing your best to take care of people when they need help the most.