What is the difference between an RN and LPN?


Are you thinking about the possibility of having a rewarding career a Nurse?  Are you curious about the difference between a Registered Nurse (RN) and a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?  What about pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) as opposed to an Associates Degree?  Often times, many people do not know that the profession of a “nurse” has a hierarchy of various levels, and what education and job responsibilities are associated with each classification.

The RN’s main responsibility is to ensure that the patient’s needs are being met and that they are receiving the proper medical treatment in a safe environment.  The RN takes verbal and written orders directly from a physician and works under minimal supervision.  Depending on the work environment, an RN typically performs the following:

  • Assesses, analyzes, evaluates and documents patient conditions and symptoms
  • Creates treatment plans with other members of the healthcare team
  • Communicates with patients, families and other health team members
  • Conducts clinical research
  • Creates treatment plans and communicates with patients
  • Works in collaboration with physicians and members of other healthcare disciplines to provide patient care

All nurses need a core body of knowledge to deliver safe, quality care to patients. There are several types of programs that will provide the education needed leading to eligibility to take the licensing exam to become a registered nurse. A person can enroll in a Bachelor of Science nursing program at a college or university where the nursing courses are built on a foundation of science and liberal arts.  A person can also attend a nursing program at a community college and receive an Associate Degree in Nursing or receive a diploma in nursing at a hospital-sponsored program (found mostly on the east coast). Individuals who already have a baccalaureate degree in another discipline can enter a second degree nursing program and complete only the upper division nursing courses and receive eligibility for the licensing exam. Graduates from each program type take NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse)

An individual who is desires to become a Registered Nurse must complete an Associates Degree or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN) from an accredited college such as Arizona College, and must pass the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) in order to practice.

The advantage to obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree vs. an Associates Degree is:

  • Many employers will only hire BSN graduates because of the Institute of Medicine recommendation that 80% of the nursing workforce be educated at the BSN level by 2020
  • Better patient outcomes in patients cared for by BSN prepared nurses
  • The opportunity for professional employment advancement and leadership roles

A Licensed Practical Nurse or LPN also fulfills an important role in patient care.  The LPN has more limited duties than a registered nurse and is monitored closely by the RN or physician. LPNs generally are employed in long-term care facilities or doctor’s offices.

Nursing can be a very rewarding career that allows you to help people on a daily basis.  Nursing is a fast growing occupation in the US. Nurses make up the majority of the healthcare industry and that number is going up…  Why?  There are a lot of reasons, including an aging population and a shrinking nursing workforce. The RN and the LPN are both valuable members of the nursing team.  If you are trying to decide between pursuing your career as an RN or LPN, you may need to consider how much time you have to invest, your financial situation, how much responsibility you want and what income potential you desire.

Arizona College offers a program leading to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.  Our new Mesa campus is the home of our nursing program, has a modern nursing laboratory with simulation, and a highly educated staff waiting to answer questions you may have on How to Become a Registered Nurse.

If you want to make a difference in someone’s life and make a change in your future, contact Arizona College today to learn more about our degree and diploma programs offered at our Glendale and Mesa campuses.

Information in this blog post is accurate as of May 29, 2014.