LPN vs. RN: What's the Difference?
March 13, 2014
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If you've been thinking about nursing school, but you're caught in the LPN vs. RN battle, there are a few key factors you want to consider when making your choice between the two. Of course, salary comes into play, as does the amount of time you have to invest in education, and what kind of work conditions and responsibilities you want in your day-to-day routine.
Show Me the Money
Yes, a registered nurse (RN) makes more money than a licensed practical nurse (LPN). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage for an LPN as of 2012 is $19.97 an hour, and the RN average wage is $31.48 per hour. Yet both positions also expect greater than average growth than other professions, and even the average LPN wage is certainly very competitive when compared with other professions.
The Fast Track or the Long Run?
When deciding between being an LPN or an RN, you'll also want to consider how long you can afford to stay in school and juggle your other responsibilities. The great thing about the LPN program is you can completely it quickly and start working. After completion of the admission prerequisites, most LPN programs last two semesters. Best of all, if you decide to go back later to get your RN, you'll be halfway toward your associate degree with college credits and have some real life experience to draw on for your studies.
If you can buckle down and go for your registered nurse training right away, you'll have a couple of options. You can do a two-year associate degree, or go for the four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). There are some slight differences in job opportunities, but most nurses will earn the same wages as a registered nurse with an associate degree as a bachelors' degree. Some of the jobs that do usually require a BSN include things such as research, becoming a nurse educator, or some management positions.
To Be in Charge, or Not to Be in Charge
When weighing your options, don't forget to consider what kind of conditions you're seeking in your work environment. Some people love to be in charge, and some, not so much. If you're a registered nurse, you'll likely work more independently and be more in demand in acute care settings and home health case management. You'll also be more likely to supervise others, including LPNs and certified nursing assistants. And if you do work in long-term care, don't be surprised if you're the only registered nurse in the building at times, and in charge of the whole house on top of your individual unit responsibilities. This can include covering intravenous medications on other units, handling any kind of complaints that come up after hours, and handling staffing issues such as sick calls and finding replacement staff.
If you're an LPN, you'll find some acute care opportunities, but a lot of the available jobs will be in long-term care. You may find yourself supervising CNAs, but you'll likely work under the supervision of an RN. For some nurses, they prefer not to be charge nurses or building supervisors, so the reduced pay that goes along with reduced responsibilities is a trade off they don't mind making. In some facilities, an LPN may simply have to focus on administering medications to residents while the charge nurse or unit manager deals with all the other issues that come up during a shift.
There are many considerations when making the decision between becoming an LPN or RN, but the great news is that even if you start out as an LPN, you can always go on later and earn your RN if you discover you need that higher level of education and licensing. Nursing is a great profession with endless opportunities, regardless of which path you choose.
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