RN vs LPN Scope of Practice: Duties, Responsibilities, and Salary

RNs and LPNs attend to patients and perform vitals. They work in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices. Both follow treatment plans and orders of physicians. But how do you decide between RN vs LPN? We’ll list differences between the two to get you started on your decision process.

LPN vs RN Education

One of the largest differences in the debate of RN versus LPN is the amount of education you receive.

LPNs, also called LVNs or licensed vocational nurses in some states, complete a practical nursing program which takes about one year. They then proceed to take the NCLEX-PN to become licensed practical nurses.

RNs, on the other hand, can enter their field by following paths:

  • An associate’s degree in nursing which takes from 2 – 3 years
  • A bachelor’s degree in nursing which takes from 4 – 5 years to complete

They, then, proceed to take the NCLEX-RN to become registered nurses.

Difference between RN vs LPN scope of practice

While both LPNs and RNs follow physicians’ orders generally, RNs practice far wider scope and greater independence than LPNs.

LPNs must work under the supervision of RNs or directly under the responsibility of a physician in smaller settings.

The responsibility of RNs allow them to perform patient care management planning, practice their critical thinking skills, do more complex tasks, assess patients, and perform or assist in invasive procedures.

LPNs perform routine tasks in patient care. Their tasks include bedside care for the patients, taking vital signs, and doing administrative tasks. They must report to their supervising RN any change monitored about the patient’s condition. They don’t have the freedom to decide on any deviation from their daily routine or the patient’s condition.

The actual scope of practice and responsibilities of LPNs and RNs are defined by the Nurse Practice Act which varies between states.

LPN or RN Salary: Who gets paid more?

BLS Quick Facts for 2012 show that LPNs (or LVNs) earn a median pay of $41,540 per year or $19.97 per hour. The profession, with 738,400 recorded jobs in 2012, has a projected increase of 25% from 2012 to 2022.

RNs, on the other hand, earn a median pay of $65,470 per year or $31.48 per hour. There were 2.7 million RNs employed in 2012 and this figure looks up to 19% projected increase in the next 10 years.

Both LPNs and RNs have job outlooks faster than the average for all occupations.

Difference work settings for an RN or LPN?

Both LPNs and RNs are found working in hospitals, clinics, physicians’ clinics, healthcare facilities, and in long-term care settings, such as assisted-living centers, nursing homes, and rehabilitation facilities.



BLS reports that 29%, or almost 1/3, of LPNs work in long-term care facilities, while only 27% work in hospitals and clinics. More than half, or 54%, of RNs work in hospitals and clinics, while only 5% work for long-term care.

This shows that clinical settings (hospitals and clinics) have higher demand for RNs than for LPNs, aside from the fact that RNs have a population of more than three times that of LPNs. This suggests that the skills and the duties RNs are legally allowed to perform are much more needed than those of the LPNs.

However, with the increase of the ageing population and the need for assisted-living care systems, the demand for LPNs will expectedly continue to rise.

Career advancement

There is a big gap between RNs and LPNs in terms of career advancement. RNs have more opportunities for promotion.

For RNs with BSNs, they may pursue higher learning and earn a master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing to become advance practice nurses, hospital administrators, researchers, and educators.

They have the world to conquer, so to speak. Even RNs with ADNs have brighter prospects ahead. They may take additional units to earn a BSN; or undergo additional training to pursue specialty areas.

LPNs may need to start from the beginning should they consider expanding their fields. It’s usually a dead-end. The one-year LPN program does not usually get credits for units earned when and if an LPN decides to pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Fortunately, there are accelerated LPN-to-RN programs; seek if these are available in your area. The exposure to the profession and the experience gained, though, provide valuable insights to LPNs should they decide to become RNs in the future.

LPN vs RN: The bottom line

The time commitment required for becoming an LPN is obviously shorter than that required for becoming an RN. Take note, however, that it’s not that significantly long if you become an RN with an associate’s degree.

In which case, the difference will be just around one year of additional toil in school. In exchange for this little sacrifice, you get to enjoy the advantages of being an RN – bigger pay, higher chance of promotion, better working conditions, and more room for advancement.

You may then also allow yourself to dream bigger and plan for a brighter career path.
However, if your resources today limit your ability to get into an RN program, don’t be dismayed.

You may still go on becoming an LPN; it’s not always a dead-end for people who have the will to move higher.

Remember that we mentioned about LPN-to-RN accelerated programs? Become an LPN and find work in your area. This can be your stepping stone for obtaining better resources. Besides, there are hospitals and healthcare facilities that pay to send their promising employees to nursing school.



I hope this helped you with the debate about an RN vs LPN scope of practice.

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