What is the Difference between RN and LPN?

The term “nurse” can mean either a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Although both are important to the provision of nursing care, they are not identical. These two branches of nursing have key differences in job duties, education, required examinations, and salary ranges. In the area of direct patient care, both types of nurses have many responsibilities:

  • They observe, assess, and record patients’ symptoms, responses to treatment, and progress.
  • They provide assistance to physicians and other health care providers during examinations and treatments.
  • They administer medications and take vital signs.
  • They help patients rehabilitate and heal.
  • They educate patients about long-term health.

Each state regulates the practice of nursing and the scope of practice for RNs and LPNs may differ from one state to another. In general, LPNs have a more limited scope of practice than RNs.

Job Duties

The LPN is authorized to provide direct patient care only under the supervision of an RN or a physician. LPNs cannot practice independently. LPNs provide basic nursing care such as:

  • Checking blood pressure and inserting catheters.
  • Ensuring the comfort of patients by helping them bathe or dress.
  • Discussing health care with patients.
  • Reporting the status of patients to RNs or doctors.

Other job duties may include performing wound care, administering medications, starting I.V.s, and performing blood draws. Under licensure, the LPN cannot interpret data or make decisions for the patient.

The RN provides some of the same direct care as the LPN, but the RN is also expected to take leadership roles, apply critical thinking skills, and deliver more complex care than LPNs. RNs provide more advanced nursing care by:

  • Performing initial patient assessments.
  • Developing a patient care plan.
  • Charting conditions and symptoms.
  • Teaching patients how to manage their illnesses or injuries.
  • Supervising LPNs.

The RN is the head of the nursing staff. Though there is somewhat of a hierarchy in nursing, the LPN and the RN are both required for the team to function effectively and in order to provide safe and effective health care.


Educational requirements for LPNs and RNs are very similar, but there are a few key differences.

LPNs must:

  • Complete a one-year accredited practical nursing program, consisting of basic nursing courses.
  • Obtain practical experience in patient care.
  • Pass the NCLEX-PN exam.

RNs must:

  • Complete a two-year accredited associate’s degree program or a four-year accredited bachelor’s degree program, consisting of advanced nursing courses.
  • Obtain practical experience in patient care.
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

Both RNs and LPNs require courses in basic nursing, biology, anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology, but the RN must also master more complex topics such as psychology, nutrition, and community health issues.


Registered nursing and licensed practical nursing are both careers that ensure future job security and competitive salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, LPNs earned an average annual income of $41,540 (or $19.97 per hour) in 2012. RNs earned an average annual income of $65,470 (or $31.8 per hour) in 2012.

Job Outlook

Nursing is now the fastest growing occupation in healthcare and is among the 10 occupations projected to have the largest number of new jobs in the future. In fact, the American Nurses Association and Bureau of Labor Statistics project that employment for nurses will grow by 22% from 2008 to 2018.

Next Steps

If you have decided that a career in nursing is right for you, now is the time to take the next step. Cambridge Institute of Allied Health & Technology will help you obtain your goal of becoming an LPN or an RN. Contact Cambridge Institute about applying to a nursing program. Visit the Web site at www.cambridgehealth.edu.php53-25.ord1-1.websitetestlink.com/ or call 1-888-772-0570 to begin your journey into the field of nursing.