Medical students in lab

LPN vs. RN vs. BSN — What is the Difference?

Nursing School

There are many different types of providers working in healthcare settings. Healthcare providers often use acronyms to identify their role, for instance: MD, RN, LPN, LVN, DO, LNA, SW.

If you’re considering a role in the nursing profession, you may have heard different acronyms used to describe nurses. Some of these include LPN, RN, and BSN. What is the difference between an LPN vs. RN vs. BSN? In this post, we’ll explain what each of these acronyms refer to, why they are important in the world of nursing, and the differences between them. Let’s dive in!

What is an LPN?

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a type of healthcare professional that provides nursing care. LPNs function under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or a medical doctor (MD). They are employed in various healthcare settings like nursing homes, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers. Some LPNs provide home care or work in outpatient clinics.

In some states (like California and Texas), these nurses are called licensed vocational nurses (LVN). Both LPNs and LVNs have the same educational/licensing requirements and are eligible for the same job roles.

Role and Responsibilities of an LPN/LVN

An LPN/LVN functions under the supervision of an RN or MD. They typically provide direct nursing care to patients. LPN/LVNs work closely with other healthcare team members to ensure that patients are receiving optimal patient care.

Common job duties of the LPN/LVN:

  1. Monitoring patient’s vital signs by taking measurements like blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature
  2. Tending to basic patient care needs including assisting with toileting, feeding, and hygiene
  3. Identifying and reporting changes in patient condition to supervising RN or MD
  4. Medication administration of certain types of medications with limitations determined by the state
  5. Performing interventions such as dressing changes, specimen sample collection, and electrocardiograms
  6. Documentation by updating medical records with care provided or with changes in patient’s medical status

5 Necessary Skills of the LPN/LVN:

  1. Clinical Competence – LPN/LVNs must be able to deliver safe patient care with activities of daily living, medication administration and dressing changes.
  2. Communication Skills – LPN/LVNs must be able to listen empathetically and communicate effectively with patients and healthcare team members of various backgrounds.
  3. Time Management – LPN/LVNs must balance the needs of multiple people at the same time. The ability to prioritize and multi-task is essential.
  4. Physical Stamina – In most roles, LPN/LVNs are on their feet for long periods of time. The role also requires helping move patients and can require physically demanding tasks.
  5. Technological Skills – Most jobs require the LPN/LVN to work on the computer with electronic medical records and utilize other medical software programs.

Becoming an LPN/LVN

Becoming an LPN/LVN requires a training program and a license. This role has some career advancement opportunities.

The LPN/LVN must complete a state-approved education program that usually takes about 1 year. These programs are typically offered through technical schools or community colleges.

After completing an approved educational program, the LPN/LVN must pass the NCLEX-PN exam before they are eligible to hold a job position as an LPN/LVN.

Career Advancement
LPN/LVNs can obtain additional certifications and training in various specialties, like becoming certified to administer intravenous infusions. Additionally, many LPN/LVNs pursue post-secondary education to obtain their RN, which offers more career advancement opportunities.

What is an RN?

Registered Nurse working in a clinicalA Registered Nurse (RN) is another type of healthcare professional that provides nursing care. They may perform any of the tasks within the LPN/LVN scope of practice, but they are also able to manage more advanced-level healthcare tasks. It’s worth noting that RNs work in a wide variety of environments and the tasks of a registered nurse can vary depending on the environment. Typical responsibilities include conducting patient assessments, developing care plans, and monitoring patient progress. In many jobs, the RN provides oversight of assistive personnel (nursing assistants and LPN/LVNs). They coordinate patient care, educate patients and provide emotional support.

RNs are employed in various settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, public health departments, and schools. Some RNs are trained in a specialty, like critical care or labor and delivery.

Role and Responsibilities of the RN

The role of an RN can vary greatly depending on the setting of employment. Some RNs do not work directly with patients and thus, their role may look much different than a nurse who works at the bedside. However, about 59% of RNs work in the hospital setting providing direct patient care (Source).

Common job duties for a bedside RN:

  1. Assess patient’s conditions and providing nursing interventions if the patient condition changes
  2. Administer medications and treatments including medications that are given intravenously
  3. Provide patient care through tasks like placing foley catheters, nasogastric tubes and IVs
  4. Develop plans of care for each patient and monitor patient progress towards goals
  5. Perform diagnostic tests like EKGs and lab tests
  6. Educate patients about the healthcare process and how to manage their condition

5 Necessary Skills of the RN:

  1. Teamwork – RNs in most roles must work collaboratively with members of the healthcare team, including doctors, other nursing staff, assistive personnel, therapists and social workers.
  2. Critical Thinking – RNs must be able to pick up on both subtle and extreme assessment changes in their patients and respond appropriately.
  3. Adaptability – In the ever-evolving healthcare field, the RN must be open to change on both a short-term and long-term basis.
  4. Emotional Resilience – RNs provide support to patients and families during difficult times. They must be able to cope with varying degrees of human suffering and stress.
  5. Leadership – The RN must delegate to other members of their team, so the ability to provide leadership is important in this role.

Becoming an RN

Becoming an RN requires a post-secondary degree and a nursing license. There are many career advancement opportunities available for RNs.

Earning an RN requires education and training. The most common routes to an RN education are through pursuing post-secondary education at a college, university, or other higher education institution.

Associate of Science in Nursing (ADN) – Typically takes two to three years to complete

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) – typically takes three to four years to complete. BSN programs like the one offered by Arizona College of Nursing can be completed in just three years.

Every RN must have a nursing license to practice in their state. After graduating from a nursing program, students must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and pass a criminal background check before they can officially earn their RN license.

Career Advancement
Many career advancement opportunities exist for registered nurses. An RN typically begins as a staff nurse, but with experience and excellent performance, some RNs will be promoted within their role. Some of these promotions might include charge nurse or managerial roles.

After working in a specialty, many RNs pursue certification in a specialty. Depending on the specialty, this process requires experience, continued education, and passing an additional certification exam. Registered nurses can also pursue graduate education to become a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse educator, or nurse leader.

What is the difference between LPN/LVN and RN?

While both the LPN/LVN and the RN are nursing roles in the healthcare setting, there are some major differences between the two roles. Below are some differences between the LPN/LVN vs. RN roles.


  1. 1-year certification program
  2. Works under the supervision of an RN or MD
  3. Narrow scope of healthcare tasks – generally assists with basic nursing tasks
  4. Typically works in nursing homes, hospitals, clinics


  1. Three-to-four-year degree program
  2. Broad scope of healthcare tasks – performs assessments, develops and implements a plan of care
  3. Responsible for more advanced-level nursing work compared to LPNs
  4. More diverse work environments and increased career advancement opportunities

What is a BSN?

Faculty member discusses coursework with nursing students at our school. While LPN/LVN and RN are types of nursing roles, a BSN refers to a type of nursing degree. BSN stands for Bachelor of Science in Nursing. To become an RN, you can pursue education from an associate degree program (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree program (BSN). Both degrees can result in an RN license, but a BSN degree provides more comprehensive training and offers a nursing student more career advancement opportunities.

BSN Curriculum

A BSN program is usually a three to four year program at a college or university. However, some programs (like Arizona College of Nursing) offer BSN programs that can be completed in as little as three years.

The BSN curriculum typically contains foundational course work found in any nursing program. However, there are key differences between an BSN program and an ADN program:

  1. The ADN program focuses on clinical skills and core nursing course work
  2. The BSN program includes clinical skills and core work, but also provides training in important concepts such as: leadership, evidence-based practice, healthcare policy, interprofessional collaboration, and population health. These important concepts provide a broad understanding of the healthcare system and develop a well-rounded RN capable of providing more comprehensive care.

Why you should consider pursuing a BSN vs ADN

There are benefits to becoming a BSN-prepared RN compared to an ADN-prepared nurse. One of the biggest reasons to consider a BSN is that healthcare employers generally prefer to hire BSN-prepared nurses over ADNs. A study from the American Association of College of Nursing (AACN) found that 72% of employers strongly preferred to hire a BSN graduate over an ADN.

In addition to better hiring prospects, earning a BSN degree puts you in a stronger position to pursue more advanced nursing degrees in the future. For example, if you wish to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), most programs will require you to earn a BSN degree first.

Start Your Future in Nursing Today

Nursing School Faculty In LabIf you’re considering a career as a registered nurse (RN), Arizona College of Nursing is here to help you pursue your dream. Our BSN program enables you to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in just 3 years or less with qualifying transfer credits. We’ve helped hundreds of students to earn a BSN degree and enter the nursing profession – and we’re ready to support you on your path to becoming an RN.

Why Choose Arizona College of Nursing?

  1. Earn a BSN degree in 3 years or less with eligible transfer credits
  2. Campus locations throughout the US
  3. Night classes for general education courses
  4. Hybrid Online/In-Person format for general education classes
  5. Nursing education is all we do
  6. CCNE-Accredited Program*
  7. NCLEX-RN success coaches and exam preparation class
  8. Financial aid available to those who qualify

Discover Your Path to a Career in Nursing


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses (visited February 22, 2024).
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses (visited February 22, 2024). Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Initiative on the Future of Nursing, at the Institute of Medicine. The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011. PMID: 24983041.
  3. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2021. The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  4. National Center for O*NET Development. 29-2061.00 - Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses. O*NET OnLine. Retrieved February 25, 2024
  5. National Center for O*NET Development. 29-1141.00 - Registered Nurses. O*NET OnLine. Retrieved February 25, 2024

Information in this post is accurate as of .

*The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program at Arizona College of Nursing is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education ( All Arizona College of Nursing and Arizona College campuses are institutionally accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (, a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency.