Practical Nursing vs. Professional Nursing: Understanding the Differences

practical versus professional nursing

Two paths, one destination: nursing.

It’s a broad field that’s comprised of many roles – but which one is right for you? If you have the heart and motivation to be a nurse, the first step is deciding between the field’s two branches: practical nursing versus professional nursing.

Here, learn about the differences between practical and professional nursing careers and determine which is the perfect fit for you!

What you need to know about practical nursing

On the practical nursing track, you can earn a diploma in as few as 12 months. 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 hospitals, clinics and nursing homes.

What do LPNs do?

LPNs are responsible for some administration duties, taking vitals, feeding, dressing and transporting 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 observe patients and keep close tabs on medical histories. LPNs work under the supervision of physicians and registered nurses (RNs), according to the Rasmussen College Healthcare Career Guide.

Where do LPNs work?

Most people assume all LPNs work in nursing homes, which is not the case. In fact, only about 29 percent of LPNs work in this setting, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They can also find employment in physician’s offices, home health care agencies, addiction clinics or ambulatory surgical centers.

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 career path

Once you are an LPN, there are many opportunities to further develop your career. LPNs can go onto pursue their associate degree in nursing (ADN), which typically takes as few as 12 to 18 months to complete. The degree program prepares you for a career as an RN and provides you with the necessary tools and knowledge to sit for the NCLEX-RN.

What you need to know about professional nursing

On the professional nursing track, you have the option to either earn an ADN or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). You’ll have to pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN) after graduation to become a licensed RN, regardless of which degree you earn.

What do RNs do?

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 several other duties.

Educating patients and their families is another important 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 while also assisting in rehabilitation and therapeutic care. RNs may also take on the task of providing grief counseling for those in a critical care setting.

Where do RNs work?

Hospitals are the most common work environment for RNs, with 61 percent working in this setting, according to the BLS. RNs can specialize in various areas of the hospital, such as oncology, gynecology, surgical care or cardiology.

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

RNs also have the option to work in physicians’ offices, nursing care facilities or home health care services. There are also government RN positions available in correctional facilities, schools, clinics or even in the military.

Professional nursing courses

Nursing education includes both in-classroom and hands-on training, also known as clinical training. Some professional nursing degree courses to look forward to at Rasmussen College are:

  • Nursing Foundations
  • Comprehensive Pharmacology
  • Adult Medical Surgical Nursing

RN career path

As an RN, you may be given the opportunity to manage others by becoming an assistant unit manager, head nurse or nurse manager. However, to receive such a promotion usually requires a higher level of education, such as a BSN.

Choose your path

There are plenty of options within the nursing field to get your foot in the door and start doing what you love. Now that you understand the differences in practical nursing versus professional nursing, what are you waiting for? Nurses are in demand and the job satisfaction of helping others and saving lives is incomparable.

If you think practical nursing is the perfect path for you, learn more about the daily duties of an LPN.

If professional nursing sounds like a better fit, get the inside scoop on life as an RN.


AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published on June 2012. It has since been updated to reflect information relevant to 2015.


Kristina Ericksen

Kristina is a Digital Writer at Collegis Education where she creates informative content on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about the power of education and enjoys connecting students to bright futures.

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This piece of ad content was created by Rasmussen College to support its educational programs. Rasmussen College may not prepare students for all positions featured within this content. Please visit www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of programs offered. External links provided on rasmussen.edu 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. Rasmussen College is a regionally accredited private college and Public Benefit Corporation.

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