Nursing is a worthwhile career with excellent job security, options for promotions, and the knowledge that every day you will be helping others, often when they are at their most vulnerable. It is also a challenging career, where no two days are the same, and there is always something new to learn.
If you have decided that a nursing career is thethethe right option for you, you need to consider your route into nursing and what entry-level position you will initially hope to get. When someone talks of wanting ‘to become a nurse’, we may think we know exactly what they mean. However, there are two entry-level positions for nurses: a registered nurse (RN) and a licensed practical nurse (LPN).
While there are some similarities in the two roles, there are also many key differences, so anyone wanting to become a nurse should consider exactly what they expect and want from their position. These differences start from the qualifications you must acquire before becoming a nurse. It is, therefore, important to consider which part best suits you before researching your training options and taking your first step toward this rewarding career.
While those pursuing a nursing career are inspired primarily by the wish to help others, nobody wants to work for nothing; The potential salary is a factor to consider before starting a new career. The wages of the two respective positions of RN and LPN show a marked difference, with the earning potential of an RN being significantly higher. The exact figure will vary based on experience, hours worked, and even from state to state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, the median salary of an RN was $77,600, while that of an LPN was $48,070. For many, this is one of the key factors for opting for training that leads to an RN position rather than an LPN. The difference in salary remains large throughout your career as, even after promotion, an RN can aim for higher-paid posts than an LPN.
Training is necessary to become a nurse, regardless of whether you aim to become an RN or an LPN, and there are some similarities between the courses. However, there are also some significant differences between the two systems. However, there are also some important differences between the two methods. However, there are also some significant differences between the two courses. However, there are also some significant differences between the two courses. Any system will include classes on nursing skills and ethics, with clinical placements to experience the real working environment of the nurse and get hands-on clinical experience. Regardless of the course, some qualifications and exams must be passed to become a nurse at any level.
An LPN training course typically takes one year and can be undertaken at a junior college or vocational school. A typical curriculum will include nursing theory, anatomy, and physiology, patient safety, infection control, and prevention. The exact number of clinical placement hours varies from state to state but will likely be several hundred hours of clinical experience under supervision.
To become an RN, you will need an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) from a community college, which usually takes about two years, or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at a university, which can take four years. This study time is increased if courses are undertaken part-time, though these courses offer greater flexibility. The curriculum is more extensive than for an LPN and includes specialist modules such as obstetrics and gerontology. Again, several hundred hours of clinical experience may need to be completed depending on the individual state’s requirements. Although the ADN course is quicker, many employers prefer RNs to hold a BSN. If you already have a place of employment in mind, it is worth checking their preference to enhance your chances of working there once you are fully qualified.
The family’s financial needs can often limit the amount of time prospective nurses can take out of employment to study, which can often lead them to take the quicker LPN or ADN option into nursing. However, for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree, even in an unrelated subject, there is also the option of an accelerated BSN (ABSN), which could result in qualification in as little as 16 months through full-time study.
The rise of online study programs can facilitate more study time by cutting out the travel time needed to attend courses in person and allowing students to access the course materials at any time. Although some may worry that an online system is not as rigorous as attending a university in person, this is untrue. Universities offer online courses just as challenging as their physical courses. Universities are also generally aware of the need to provide adequate support to their students, whether they are attending in person or online. To a good university, online students are never just a number but are as important as in-person students.
On a nursing course, although the course materials can be online, the system also needs to include clinical placements for practical, hands-on experience. Many universities will take the worry out of this by helping students find posts convenient to their location. For example, Elmhurst University’s accelerated RN program has a rigorous online curriculum, a dedicated clinical placement team to help secure the necessary clinical rotations, and two on-campus residencies. With the ability to qualify quickly, these courses allow student nurses to aim for the greater earning power of an RN without needing to take too much time out of the workplace without earning. Instead, with quicker qualifications, it is possible to return to the workforce soon with greater earning power than before.
Licensing and certification
Upon successful completion of any nursing course, it is necessary to gain the required licensing and certification before applying for work. You should carefully check the state’s requirements for where you want to work. Both RNs and LPNs will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination. For RNs, this will be the NCLEX-RN, and for LPNs, it will be the NCLEX-PN. RNs can also gain certification from professional associations in certain specialties, usually only required for advanced positions. In both cases, the license will need to be renewed every two years by completing your state’s required hours for continuing education.
Once working, there are significant differences between the roles and responsibilities of RNs and LPNs. RNs are more committed and can work independently in most areas. LPNs, on the other hand, carry out lower levels of dedication and must work under the supervision of a physician or an RN.
As LPNs aren’t giving the same level of patient care, they will have higher patient loads on each shift, often caring for at least a dozen patients throughout their growth. As LPNs aren’t giving the same level of patient care, they will have higher patient loads on each shift, often caring for at least a dozen patients throughout their growth. As LPNs aren’t giving the same level of patient care, they will have higher patient loads on each shift, often caring for at least a dozen patients throughout their growth. As LPNs aren’t giving the same level of patient care, they will have higher patient loads on each shift, often caring for at least a dozen patients throughout their growth. RNs also give higher patient care, constantly working at a nurse-patient ratio of 1:1, or even sometimes two RNs per patient. At any given time, an RN has between three and five patients.
RNs and LPNs will often work in the same environment but usually carry out different duties within the clinical setting. Although these can vary depending on exactly where they are working, the LPN’s typical duties are as follows:
- Giving oral medication.
- Basic medical care, such as checking blood pressure.
- Inserting catheters.
- Charting and collecting vital signs.
- Assisting patients in daily living, such as eating or getting dressed.
- Personal care such as bathing and toileting.
An RN may also carry out the same duties as an LPN, but they are also likely to have several additional responsibilities beyond the scope of an LPN. These can include:
- Starting IVs.
- Giving oral and IV medication.
- Assessing patients and analyzing results.
- Taking blood samples for testing.
- Informing and educating patients and families.
- Carrying out physical examinations.
- Counseling duties.
- Working with a physician on treatment plans.
- Coordinating treatments across healthcare departments and settings.
- Overseeing other healthcare professionals, including LPNs and home aides.
Typically, an RN has a more varied role, overseeing the patients at all stages, from initial assessment to treatment and outpatient care.
RNs and LPNs have considerable opportunities for career advancement and promotion through their work experience and the chance to undertake further qualifications. LPNs have a substantial choice of working environments beyond the hospital. They might choose to work in a physician’s office, a mental health facility, or a senior care facility, allowing them to follow an area of interest. They can also work in home healthcare.
Many LPNs also choose to qualify as an RN to advance their careers. To do this, there are bridging programs to allow them to gain an ADN or BSN. These courses will usually acknowledge the experience that the LPN already holds and exempt them from the requirement to study an already familiar area. As a result, they may gain their qualification quicker than someone starting from scratch. Having qualified as an RN, they may choose to remain in that role, rising to the challenge of the new responsibilities, or, after holding that position for a few years, take advantage of the promotions and advancements an RN can aspire to.
RNs can also work in many different clinical settings. This variety can help them choose a role that fits into their life. For example, a physician’s office may be the best fit for someone who needs to know their regular hours for childcare purposes. At the same time, telehealth or becoming a school nurse is a good option for nurses as they get older and find the physical demands of the career more challenging.
They can also undertake further study to open up new roles as a possibility for career advancement. It is usually recommended that an RN works in the position for two years before undertaking further qualifications to gain experience and confidence in the role. The other qualifications that an RN can gain include a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), a Nurse Practitioner (NP), or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These can be taken in person at universities nationwide or through high-quality online courses. In both cases, additional clinical placements will be a course feature to increase expertise.
Having gained higher qualifications, other roles become available to the RN. They may attain a leading role in the hospital, taking on some of the administrative tasks, influencing hospital policies, and becoming responsible for managing more staff members. Others choose to become a nurse practitioner or a family nurse practitioner, overseeing their patient practice and working with patients at all stages of their lives, from maternity and neonatal to geriatrics. Another option for advancement is to move into an educator role, taking responsibility for training the new generations of RNs, or to move into research, helping to develop the treatments and practices that will further improve patient care.
Which is best?
Deciding which route into nursing and what position to aim for is a personal choice. RNs and LPNs fulfill valuable roles, helping people daily and playing a vital part in the healthcare system. Dedicated professionals fill both, but it is impossible to say which of the two roles is the best. However, it is possible to say which is the best for you, though you are the only one who can confidently state it! While becoming an LPN is the quickest role into nursing, if your ultimate goal is to become an RN, then it is likely to make sense to qualify directly as an RN, particularly if you can take advantage of the accelerated programs that do not need to take a lot longer than the LPN courses.
If financial constraints and commitments make it important for you to minimize your time out of the workforce and you are unable to undertake an accelerated RN program, then becoming an LPN first may make more sense – or you can investigate the possibility of a flexible online course that allows you to study part-time, fitting it in around work and family commitments.
Both RNs and LPNs have good long-term career prospects. The high demand for both roles will likely increase over the next years, offering excellent long-term job security. Both can be interesting, varied roles with options for promotion. They both offer a wide selection of possible workplaces with different conditions that suit different lifestyles. However, you should carefully consider your long-term goals. Qualifying as an RN may take a little longer, but a considerable salary difference can make the extra time needed to prepare a worthwhile investment. Both roles involve helping others, so you need to consider whether the more varied duties of an RN appeal. It would be best to considerether you are more comfortable working under supervision as an LPN or wheoy the greater autonomy that an RN experiences. Longer term, qualifying as an RN makes sense if your ultimate goal is to move into leadership, research, or educational roles.
Whichever role you think is best, there are plenty of training options for you to consider, from a new start at a university or college to convenient online study in the comfort of your home. Research your potential choices carefully, as being on the right course will make all the difference. As well as seeing what each class has to offer, look for testimonials from past students to see what they made of the system and whether their career has taken the direction you hope yours will. As well as the curriculum, ensure that the system is accredited so you can undertake the relevant licensure after qualification.
Beyond the curriculum, look at what support is offered. Nursing is an exciting career, but it is also challenging, and good student support will make all the difference if you have any difficulties on the course. There is always something new to learn in nursing that never changes throughout your career. Whether through formal classes or simply the changing practices at your workplace, you will be continually improving. With no two days the same, it may be that even a day without learning something new will become a rarity. Whether you decide to go down the LPN route or want to qualify as an RN, starting your course will be the first part of a life-long journey of learning. With the demand for good nurses in all roles growing, there has never been a better time to start your nursing career.