What's the Difference Between an RN and an LPN?

image of nurses both RNs and LPNs
Written by
Lori Fuqua
Reviewed by
Miranda Kay, RN
September 8, 2022

A registered nurse (RN) completes either an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing and therefore has authority to assess and administer treatments, as opposed to a licensed practical nurse (LPN) who completes a shorter nursing program and accordingly provides more direct patient care.

The medical field is an influential, expansive giant made up of many people with varied backgrounds, training, experiences, and motivations. Its members make cutting-edge advancements in health treatments and advocate for better healthcare outcomes. They save lives in hospitals and ambulances, treat broken bones and all other physical injuries and mental health conditions, and help women bring new life into the world.

As is the case with anything influential, there are a few commonly held beliefs that people maintain about the industry: the doctor's handwriting will be illegible, they will worry about medical care costs even after insurance, and most likely, a nurse will be the most accessible for direct patient care.

There are several clinical designations with nurse in their title. While many generalize them down to simply "nurse," it's essential to have a basic understanding of the roles each type of "nurse" embodies. But what type of nurse will they be, and does it matter? For our purposes today, we'll explore the two most common.

Is a Registered Nurse and Licensed Practical Nurse the Same Thing?

No. Registered nurses (RNs) and Licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs) are called nurses, but outside that commonality, their education and occupational roles in the medical setting are decidedly different. 

An RN completes an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing and therefore has authority to assess and administer treatments, unlike an LPN or LVN, who completes a shorter nursing program and provides more direct patient care.

Moreover, the gap in financial earnings between the two is significant, which doesn't mean one is more important than the other. Not at all! The gap between the two correlates to the difference in education (more education costs more) and the differences in their scope of practice. 

What is the scope of practice? Scope of practice refers to the responsibilities and tasks a licensed clinician is expected and allowed to perform. The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines the scope of practice as "the services that a qualified health professional is deemed competent to perform, and permitted to undertake – in keeping with the terms of their professional license." Let's explore the scope of practice for both RNs and LPNs, to provide you with a concrete understanding of each.

RN Roles and Responsibilities

RN job responsibilities typically include the following:

  • conduct assessments and physical exams
  • evaluate diagnostic tests and information gained from assessments and patient interviews to develop a plan of care
  • administer medications, which includes starting IVs
  • draw blood for testing
  • supervise LPNs and CNAs
  • patient education about their diagnosis
  • collaborate with other medical professionals to coordinate treatments
  • designated team leader in the team nursing model of care

LPN Roles and Responsibilities

Alternatively, LPN job responsibilities include less autonomy or independence than an RN's. They generally encompass the following tasks:

  • distribute prescribed oral medications
  • assist patients with ambulation
  • support patients with activities of daily living such as bathing, toileting, eating/drinking, dressing
  • check and document patient vitals
  • check blood sugar

Most LPNs in the nation have jobs in nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities. In this work setting, LPNs often have the additional job responsibility of resident intake assessments. In some states, regulations will allow LPNs to supervise other LPNs and non-licensed medical workers, such as certified nursing assistants (CNAs).

Comparing RN and LPN Salaries

As previously mentioned, there is a gap between the two regarding their earning power. The average RN salary was $82,750 for 2021, or $39.78 hourly. The highest paying states for RNs are California, Hawaii, Oregon, the District of Columbia, and Alaska. Alternatively, the average LPN salary in 2021 was $51,850, or $24.93 per hour. The highest paying states for LPNs are California, Alaska, Washington, Massachusetts, and Nevada.

Certification in a specialty is one way for RNs and LPNs to elevate their earnings. RNs have over 100 specialties to choose from, compared to LPNs, who have a smaller list of specialties available to them: IV therapy certification, long-term care, and pharmacology, among the some of the most prominent. Another popular way for RNs and LPNs to maximize their income quickly is to work PRN jobs.

How to Find PRN RN and LPN Jobs Near You?

PRN jobs are popular with clinicians because they're shifts that usually offer top hourly rates, but they aren't part of a regular employment schedule. This gives you the freedom to choose when and where you work. 

Finding PRN jobs near you is quick and easy when you download the Nursa smartphone app. Facilities and hospitals nationwide post their PRN shifts on the app then LPNs, RNs, CNAs, and other allied healthcare workers can search for those jobs within their location radius and apply. It's that simple! Download today, follow the steps to verify your license and start working PRN shifts this week.

Lori Fuqua
Blog published on:
September 8, 2022

Lori is a contributing copywriter at Nursa who creates compelling content focusing on location highlights, nurse licensing, compliance, community, and social care.

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