According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for RNs in 2016 was $68,450 per year. The 2016 median pay for LPNs was $44,000 per year – a difference of over $24,000 per year. For both LPNs and RNs the basic essentials of nursing are the same. They both provide care for people who are suffering, and both must contend with the mental and emotional distress of dealing daily with patients in pain. However, the major differences in the scope of practice between the two is a major reason for the pay differential.
Differences Between an RN and LPN
The first, most obvious difference between an RN and an LPN, is the amount of education required. An LPN certificate can be acquired in as little as one year, while an RN typically takes two years, and a BSN takes four years. Some argue that LPNs learn just as much as the RN does, but statistics – and the hospitals that hire – say otherwise. It is not so much a difference in skills but in depth of knowledge. RN students also learn a lot about management and delegation that the LPN training doesn’t provide.
While in actual practice, the lines between RN and LPN may be blurred, there are real legal limitations. LPNs work under the supervision of an RN. LPNs cannot interpret data, or make decisions for the patient. They must report findings to the RN or doctor, and they make the decisions and delegate care. Even though the LPN may know all about a patient’s condition from years of practical experience, the LPN cannot assess or proceed without direction from the supervising nurse or physician.
RNs can specialize in certain areas of the nursing field and command higher wages for their specialized knowledge. LPNs are limited in their chances for specialization. This also limits the areas where LPNs can work. Most hospitals, for example, won’t allow LPNs to work in critical care or the ER, despite their experience. RNs aren’t as limited in job opportunities. Besides caring for patients, RNs may work as nurse educators, consultants, researchers, administrators, or in sales for pharmaceutical and medical supply companies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the highest percentages of LPN employment is in nursing care facilities, home health care, and nursing homes.
Many LPNs Continue their Education
Many LPNs believe the discrepancies between the RN and LPN are not fair. However, because of the reality of the limitations and the lower pay, many LPNs seek to advance their nursing career by obtaining an RN or BSN through accelerated or bridge programs, which utilize their prior basic education and experience. Using these programs, an LPN can obtain a degree in as little as half the time it would take for the traditional RN or BSN, saving time and money – often while continuing to work as an LPN.