Practical Nursing vs. Professional Nursing

Once you’ve narrowed down the career field you’re interested in, it may take time to decide on the exact path that makes the most sense for you. If you’ve already decided to enter the healthcare field and work as a nurse, the next decision you need to make is whether you want to pursue a degree in practical nursing or professional nursing. Read on to discover the big differences between practical nursing and professional nursing degree programs and careers:

Practical Nursing
With the practical nursing track, you can earn an Associate’s degree or a diploma. The program usually takes one year to complete. Graduates must pass their National Council Licensure Exam for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) after graduation to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

Some skills that will help expand your marketability in practical nursing are advanced technical skills, high-touch patient skills, being comfortable working with all ages, and experience in hospital, clinics, and nursing homes.

LPN Duties:
According to the Rasmussen College 2012 Healthcare Job Outlook eBook, LPNs are responsible for some administration duties, taking vitals, feeding, dressing, and moving patients, as well as taking blood samples. LPNs spend a lot of time with patients and get to know them on a personal level. They also keep track of histories and observe patients.

In addition, the ebook states, “An LPN also offers patients physical and emotional support by communicating treatment plans, speaking with families, and assistance with personal hygiene.”

LPNs work under supervision of physicians and registered nurses (RNs).

Where LPNs work:
LPNs typically work in a physician’s office or a clinic. They may also work in a private home, nursing home or hospital. Most LPNs work full-time.

Practical Nursing Courses:
All LPNs are given practical and theoretical training. Practical nursing degree and diploma courses at Rasmussen College include:

  • Nutrition and Diet Therapy
  • Maternal-Child Nursing
  • Healthcare Ethics

LPN Opportunities:
Once you are an LPN, there are many opportunities to further develop your career. Rasmussen College has the option for LPNs to earn a Practical Nursing Associate’s Mobility degree (LPN to ADN Bridge) which takes about nine months to complete. The degree prepares you for a career as a RN, and provides you with the necessary tools and knowledge to take the NCLEX-RN.

Professional Nursing
With the professional nursing track, you have the option to earn either an Associate’s degree or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, which are both approved by the Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Florida Boards of Nursing. Both degree holders must pass their National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN) after graduation to become a licensed RN. You will need either degree, in addition to a license to receive an entry-level professional nursing position.

RN Duties:
According to the Rasmussen College 2012 Healthcare Job Outlook eBook, “Registered nurses (RNs) are a vital role in the treatment, education, and support of patients and their families on both medical and emotional levels, using compassion and caring as the cornerstone of support.”

RNs are responsible for assessing the medical history and symptoms of patients, planning individualized care, implementing their recovery plan based on diagnostic tests, and administering treatments and medications. They also consult with physicians and other healthcare professionals, among many other duties.

In addition, educating patients and their families is another key role of being a RN. The RN must be confident in teaching the patient and their family how to care for the ill or injured patient as well as assist in rehabilitation and therapeutic care. Nurses also take on the task of providing grief counseling for those in a critical care setting.

Where RNs work:
Some RNs work specifically in hospitals and specialize in various areas including, oncology, gynecology, surgical care, and cardiology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), three out of five nurses work in hospitals. Other RNs may choose to work in a clinic providing restorative and preventative care to patients.

Another path includes being a critical care nurse that works in an intensive care or emergency unit at a hospital and provides initial evaluations and care for patients with life-threatening conditions. According to the BLS, hospital nurses are more likely to work nights and weekends compared to office nurses due to the increased need for 24-hour patient care.

Professional Nursing Courses:
Nursing education will include both in-classroom, and hands-on training (also known as clinical training) with an experienced nurse, according to the BLS. Professional nursing degree courses at Rasmussen College include:

  • Nursing Foundations
  • Comprehensive Pharmacology
  • Adult Medical Surgical Nursing

RN Opportunities:
As an RN—the largest healthcare occupation—you may be given the opportunity to manage others by becoming an assistant unit manager or head nurse. However, to receive such a promotion usually requires a higher level of education. Rasmussen College offers an RN to BSN program for RNs with a Professional Nursing Associate’s degree or diploma.

To learn more about a nursing career and other healthcare field positions, check out the Rasmussen College 2012 Healthcare Job Outlook eBook.

External links provided on are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Jennifer is a Content Marketing Specialist at Collegis Education who researches and writes articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about learning and higher education and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

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