Nursing is a profession for those committed to making a difference in the lives of others. The long hours you work are devoted to helping heal sick or injured people. And the scrubs you wear are a protective cloak that can withstand even the most wretched bodily fluids.
If this sounds intriguing, read on.
After you’ve made the decision to go back to school and become a nurse, there’s still another big decision ahead of you, and it comes with a debate: licensed practical nurse (LPN) versus registered nurse (RN).
The biggest immediate difference between the LPN versus RN career path is the degree you’ll earn. RNs earn a professional nursing degree, while LPNs earn a practical nursing degree. A professional nursing degree consists of more courses, so it takes more time to complete than a practical nursing degree. However, with either option you must take and pass the NCLEX exam before officially becoming an LPN or RN.
We’ve already covered the advantages of being an LPN, so we’ll lay out the opposing viewpoint here: How you can reap the benefits as an RN.
1. RNs receive a higher salary than LPNs
Money likely wasn’t the motivation for your decision to become a nurse, but finances can be hard to ignore, especially if you have a family.
Put simply, RNs generally earn more money than their LPN counterparts. In 2010, RNs received an annual median wage of $64,690, while the median wage for an LPN during the same time period was $40,380, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
So while earning a professional nursing degree takes longer than becoming an LPN, the payoff in the end is a higher salary.
2. The availability of RN jobs is growing
Before you earn your degree you may wonder: Will there be jobs in this field after I graduate? If you decide to become an RN, the answer is likely “yes.”
The availability of RN jobs is expected to grow 26% through 2020, adding 711,900 jobs to the workforce, according to the BLS.
Of course, the LPN job market is also expected to stay strong – the availability of LPN jobs is expected to grow 22% through 2020.
The BLS attributes the job growth of both fields to technological advancements: With greater technology on hand, medical professionals are able to treat a greater number of ailments and thus, more people will be going to medical facilities for various procedures.
3. RNs have a wealth of career growth and educational opportunities
Your nursing skills – as well as your career goals – will undoubtedly change throughout your career. It’s possible you’ll spend 20 years as an RN and then explore other career paths. Move on or stay put, as an RN you’ll have flexibility.
Job opportunities are “wide open” for RNs because they don’t need to work under the supervision of other nurses like LPNs need to, says Eileen Sollars, a 35-year nursing veteran who was an LPN for eight years before becoming an RN.
If you do decide to further your nursing career, you have options. Earning a Master’s or RN to BSN degree will enable you to pursue a different career that will still focus on nursing, such as nurse educator or nurse practitioner.
If you begin your career as an LPN and then decide you want these job opportunities, you’ll need to become an RN first.
LPN vs. RN: The Decision
Becoming an LPN might immediately seem like an attractive choice because you’re spending less time in school, but being an RN has clear advantages. RNs generally take home a higher salary, have better options for a career change and have a strong job outlook.
And one final perk you might have overlooked? Sollars says that RNs receive more respect from physicians and colleagues – though the issue of respect in nursing is highly debated in online forums.
If these advantages further your interest in nursing, then you might be ready to do what it takes to become an RN. Before jumping in, though, remember to do your research to find a nursing school that fits your needs.