Deciphering the options for a career in nursing can be just as stressful as the dreaded TEAS test. There seem to be more tracks in nursing than the average career, each one sponsored by certain degrees and certifications. If you’ve started doing your research, you’ve likely come across the discussion between becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN).
The biggest initial difference in the LPN versus RN debate is the education required. RNs will need to earn a professional nursing degree, which can take anywhere from 18-36 months, depending on the type of degree you choose to obtain. LPNs must earn a practical nursing degree, which can be earned in as few as 12 months.1
Many students like the idea of becoming an RN, but aren’t sure if they can justify the extra effort, time and money required when an LPN track would put them in the workforce faster. Does this dilemma sound all too familiar?
If you’re looking for some tangible reasons to go down the RN path, you’re in luck because there are plenty! We combined government data and expert insight to identify four facts that suggest this is the right route for you.
1. RNs have higher earning potential
Put simply, RNs make more money than their LPN counterparts. The median annual salary for RNs in 2014 was $66,640, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Compared to the $42,490 reported for LPNs, we’re talking nearly $25,000 more annually!2
So although you may be investing more upfront for the extended education, you’ll have a higher return on your investment once you enter the workforce.
2. RNs have more options for positions and specializations
Job opportunities are “wide open” for RNs because they aren’t required to work under the supervision of other nurses like LPNs are, according to Eileen Sollars, a 35-year nursing veteran. She worked as an LPN for eight years before becoming an RN.
What’s more is that RNs can tailor their job to match their skills and interests as they progress in their career, while LPNs have less opportunity for specialization and advancement, according to Nursing Licensure.
Nursing specialties vary from working with a specific health condition, such as a diabetes management nurse or an oncology nurse; a specific group of people, such as a geriatric nurse or a pediatric nurse; or a specific workplace, such as an emergency room nurse or a school nurse.
If you like the idea of specializing in a certain facet of nursing, or fine-tuning your career with the kind of work you most enjoy, the RN route is most likely your best option.
3. RNs have more opportunities for professional advancement
It’s hard to picture your nursing career ten or twenty years down the road when you haven’t even started it yet. But that extra forethought can help you decide if becoming an RN is worth the investment.
“You can never become a team leader as a LPN,” says Seth-Deborah Roth, CRNA and owner of Hypnotherapy for Health. “You will always be at the bottom.” If you’re at all interested in future advancement and leadership opportunities, she believes the RN route is the right choice for you.
RNs looking to climb higher in the world of nursing can choose to advance their education even further by earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). This opens the door to becoming a nurse educator, nurse practitioner or other advanced positions. This isn’t to say these options aren’t available to LPNs, but they’ll have a longer path considering they’ll need to first go back to school to become an RN.
4. RNs enjoy long-term job security
“The minimum requirements for nurses are forever evolving,” says Kathleen Cullum, MSN, CRNP at Mercy Medical Center. “Most organizations are now requiring that nurses have their RN license and many are requiring a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN).”
Cullum has watched firsthand as the LPN position has become scarcer in hospital settings. A majority of these professionals are employed in long-term care or rehabilitation facilities. In fact, a mere 17 percent of LPNs are working in hospitals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
“If your goal is to be a nurse for many years to come or in a hospital setting, obtain your RN license,” Cullum insists. She believes the demand for an RN license will only increase as the years progress. LPNs who want to branch out in the future might find themselves hitting a ceiling in terms of job opportunities.
“Go as far as you can go,” Roth advises, encouraging all future nurses to value themselves and leave room in their careers for growth and potential. “When you get older (and you will) you will be so grateful that you put in the extra time while life gave you the extra time.”
Is the RN route right for you?
Now you have a better understanding of the LPN versus RN debate and are better equipped to make a decision for your future. But a little more research never hurts!
Does the information above have you leaning towards becoming an RN? If so, learn more about the ins and outs of the job by checking out our article: What Does a Registered Nurse Do?
There are two sides to every story! Check out our other article to learn the advantages of becoming an LPN!
1Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and courses completed each term.
2Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in May 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2016. Insight from Eileen Sollars remains from the original article.