If you are considering a career in nursing, then one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is what kind of nurse you’d like to be. Generally, these health care professionals are either registered nurses or licensed practical nurses. Choosing one of these routes will affect your educational and career path.
Most people with some nursing experience will tell you that it’s easier to become a licensed practical nurse or LPN than it is to become a registered nurse or RN. That’s because the training required is of a much shorter duration. This also means that it costs a good deal less to complete the program. Accordingly, many people will choose this route when they want to enter the workforce as soon as possible. Training to become an LPN requires successful completion of an accredited program. Most of these programs take approximately one year to finish. Students earn a certificate after graduating and are considered ready to take the NCLEX licensure test for practical nurses. Occasionally, prospective LPNs enter an associate of applied science degree program, which may take about two years to finish. At this time, this is the exception rather than the rule.
Students who aspire to become registered nurses typically have a longer educational path. Though some are still choosing to earn a straightforward nursing diploma from an accredited program, the vast majority are selecting either an associate of applied science degree or a bachelor of science degree. The associate degree typically requires two years of full-time study while the bachelor degree usually requires four. Although it requires the most time and is the most expensive option, students are increasingly selecting the bachelor degree program because it affords the most flexibility and career choices in the future. Completing a diploma or degree program prepares graduates to sit for the NCLEX licensure test for registered nurses.
Some nurses may begin their careers as LPNs only to decide that they want more professional options at a later time. Many community colleges and universities provide degree programs that are designed to meet the needs of experienced LPNs who want to become RNs. In these programs, LPNs can earn either associate or bachelor degrees that will prepare them to take the registered nurse licensure test.
The on-the-job responsibilities of LPNs and RNs tend to look quite different. In general, LPNs assume less responsibility and are not expected to make critical decisions. Frequently, they are employed by long-term care facilities or nursing homes where they monitor patient vital signs and administer basic care that may include duties like inserting catheters or changing the dressing on wounds. Many LPNs take on administrative duties that may see them dealing with paperwork and records. They may also assist patients or residents with basic self-care tasks, and they are typically responsible for reporting any changes in a patient’s condition to a registered nurse or doctor.
The vast majority of RNs work in hospitals, though they may seek employment at care facilities too. Because of their more in-depth education, they are considered qualified to take on more advanced responsibilities and are expected to utilize sound critical judgment. They are more likely than LPNs to be assigned to give patients treatments and medications. RNs may be asked to assist with diagnostic tests or to educate patients about how to care for themselves while dealing with an illness. Often, RNs are expected to either formulate a care plan or contribute to a care plan with other health care professionals.
Demand for nurses is strong, but statistics suggest that RNs can expect the most job opportunities in the next few years. However, qualified LPNs also play a vital role in patient care, so both are sound options for people who are interested in nursing.